The Last Word: Are Artificial Food Dyes Bad for You?


While it may be fairly obvious that a bottle of green ketchup (a happily short-lived product) contains artificial dye, most people might be surprised to know that butter’s yellow hue isn’t all-natural either.

Artificial food dyes are in so much of what we eat or drink that we may never give the wild rainbow of colors in the things we consume a second thought. After all, the color additives used in these products have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and thus are generally considered safe to consume. Nine of the approximately three dozen color additives allowed in our food by the FDA are artificial dyes.

Although a number of major food and beverage manufacturers, including Mars, General Mills, and Kellogg, pledged to remove artificial colors from their products several years ago, none have met that goal. Synthetic food dyes are especially prevalent in products marketed to children; one study found that 43 percent of more than 350 grocery store items contained artificial colors, including nearly all candies (96.3 percent) and fruit-flavored snacks (94 percent), and the majority of drink mixes (89.7 percent).

But the chorus of advocacy groups calling for the removal of artificial dyes from foods is getting louder lately, and they’re citing some very troubling concerns about a broad range of potential health risks, such as allergic reactions, cancer, and neurological problems. Just this month, the advocacy group Consumer Reports called for the removal of Red No. 3 from Peeps marshmallow treats over concerns about potential cancer risks associated with the food coloring.


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