Artificial colorings are chemicals that are added to processed foods, drinks, and condiments to maintain or improve their appearance.
Food coloring consists of chemicals used to add color to food and beverages, especially processed foods. These chemicals can be artificial or naturally derived. Artificial colorings must be certified for safe consumption by the FDA. Currently, the FDA has approved seven artificial food colorings, which are preceded by “FD&C” on food labels. Natural food colorings are usually derived from plant sources such as seeds and spices. They are exempt from FDA certification.
What is it used for? To enhance colors in food products and to offset color loss due to light exposure and other environmental elements. Bright colors are often added to make foods look “fun” and attractive to children.
Found in: Many processed foods and beverages, including juices, candy, snack foods, breakfast cereals, baked goods, frozen desserts, flavored yogurt, ketchup, mustard, salad dressing
- Studies have linked artificial food-coloring agents to aggravated symptoms of ADD and ADHD; for more info, see: feingold.org
- Although most natural food colorings are derived from plants, some come from insects. For example, cochineal or carmine, a red dye, comes from the cochineal insect; make sure to check food labels carefully if your family follows a vegetarian or vegan diet
The most commonly used color-retention agents in food are potassium nitrite and sodium nitrate. Both nitrite and nitrates are used in curing meat and poultry.
What is it used for? Potassium nitrite and sodium nitrate are added to cured meat to preserve its color, to prevent fats from going rancid, and to stop bacteria from growing.
Found in: Most commonly used in cured meats (hot dogs, bacon, ham, lunch meat, sausage), but also occur naturally in vegetables and fruits, like spinach and celery; synthetic nitrogen fertilizers can also raise nitrate levels in crops grown in treated soil
- Removed from baby food in the 1970s
- When exposed to high heat during cooking, nitrites can convert to nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens
- Excessive consumption beyond a normal diet has been linked to numerous diseases and cancers; also known to cause infant health problems and pregnancy complications
- Eat organic foods and drink filtered water to prevent exposure to nitrates from synthetic fertilizers that have accumulated in the soil and groundwater