Why You Should Opt For Natural Food Coloring

Posted by Cathy Doe on July 25, 2014 (0 Comments)

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety and security of most of our nation’s food supply. When it comes to artificial food coloring, the FDA currently allows the following seven to be added to food:


  • FD&C Blue No. 1 – Brilliant Blue FCF, E133 (blue)
  • FD&C Blue No. 2 – Indigotine, E132 (indigo)
  • FD&C Green No. 3 – Fast Green FCF, E143 (turquoise)
  • FD&C Red No. 3 – Erythrosine, E127 (pink)
  • FD&C Red No. 40 – Allura Red AC, E129 (red)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 – Tartrazine, E102 (yellow)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 – Sunset Yellow FCF, E110 (orange)


These food colorings are ubiquitous, and they're not just in obvious items like Jell-O and Twizzlers, but also in more unexpected places like macaroni and cheese, pizza, yogurt, pickles, cereal, cake mix, and even in white foods like marshmallows.

Artificial food colorings are commonly made from coal tar or petroleum byproducts. (Natural food colorings are generally considered to be derived from anything found in nature, including plants, insects, and minerals.) Compared to natural food colorings, artificial food colorings can be much easier and cheaper to produce and manipulate to achieve the desired effect.

So are artificial food colorings dangerous to your health? The safety of artificial food colorings has been debated since they first came into use in the early twentieth century. While some people believe that artificial food colorings are toxic, carcinogenic, and cause conditions like Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD), studies have been conflicting and/or inconclusive. The FDA has found that the current data is insufficient to warrant banning all artificial food colorings. It is possible that exposure to limited amounts of artificial food colorings can be harmless, and that any adverse reactions that have been documented may be more similar to an allergic reaction affecting just a few people rather than the general population.

However, other countries have already banned at least some of the food colorings that the FDA allows. And Consumer Reports found that an artificial caramel coloring called 4-methylimidazole (4-Mel) that is commonly used in sodas was present in higher levels in some nationwide brands sold in some areas than is generally considered safe, since 4-Mel is a potential carcinogen. There's even a science experiment conducted by a sixth grader that concluded Yellow No. 5 severely impaired the ability of mice to navigate a maze.

It may be difficult to completely avoid artificial food colorings, but you can certainly limit your exposure by becoming an avid label reader. Avoid foods that list artificial food colorings in the ingredients list. Telltale giveaways are phrases that include a color and a number, such as "Blue 1" or "Red 40." Look for foods that use natural food colorings, such as beet powder and vegetable or fruit juice. If you don't have time to read the full label, a good rule of thumb is to avoid processed foods, especially those with bright colors, such as candy.

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