advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
What's Wrong with Food Coloring?

When I look at ingredient labels, I see names like Blue No. 1 and Red No. 40. What exactly are these additives and how safe are they?

A
Answer (Published 6/3/2014)

The ingredients you ask about are artificial colorings, which I believe you should always avoid. The chemicals used to create color are energetic molecules, many of which are capable of interacting with, and damaging, DNA. Anything that affects DNA can injure the immune system, accelerate aging, and increase the risk of cancer. Indeed, many synthetic food dyes once considered safe have turned out to be carcinogenic. Some currently approved for use in Europe are considered unsafe in the United States, and vice versa.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging - Your Anti-Inflammatory Diet Source - Want to promote overall health and help minimize the risk of inflammatory diseases? Join Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging, your online guide to the anti-inflammatory diet. Start your 14-day free trial now for access to shopping and eating guides, hundreds of recipes, an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid and more!

The latest news on the safety of food coloring was released by Consumer Reports in January, 2014. The magazine zeroed in on the caramel color added to soft drinks to turn them brown and reported "some types of this artificial coloring contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical called4-methylimidazole, (4-Mel). Under California's Proposition 65 law, any food or beverage sold in the state that exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-Mel per day is supposed to carry a health-warning label." In the Consumer Reports tests, "each of the 12-ounce samples of Pepsi One and Malta Goya (a soft drink, akin to nonalcoholic beer) had more than 29 micrograms" of 4-Mel per can or bottle. All told, a dozen different brands of soft drinks out of 81 tested contained 4-methylimidazole, some at higher-than-29 micrograms per serving.

In response to these findings, the FDA announced plans to look into the safety of caramel colorings but did not recommend that consumers "change their diets because of concerns" about 4-methylimidazole. In February 2011, the Washington based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the FDA to ban 4-Mel and another caramel coloring component, 2-methylimidazole, stating that government studies showed these products "caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats."

The 4-Mel issue is just the latest skirmish on the subject of food colorings. Some have been associated with hyperactivity in children, allergic reactions, and cancer in animals. CSPI has asked the FDA to ban the use of the food colorings linked to hyperactivity (Yellow 5, Red 40 and six others made from petroleum). Indeed, the FDA has said that "for certain susceptible children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and other problem behaviors…the data suggest that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives."

Meanwhile, the British government and European Union have acted to substitute natural colorings for the synthetic ones used in the U.S. because of concerns about a link to hyperactivity in children.

Luckily, food colorings are some of the easiest additives to avoid. Watch out for labels listing any of the following terms: "color added," "artificial color added," "U.S.-certified color added," or "FD&C red No. 3" (or green or blue or yellow followed by any number; these are FDA-approved food drug and cosmetic dyes). And try to convince your kids that garishly colored snack foods look weird rather than attractive and that they are unhealthy.

I have no objection to foods dyed with natural colors obtained from plants. The most common of these, annatto, is from the reddish seed of a tropical tree. It is widely used in Latin American cooking to make yellow rice and breads, and is also commonly added to butter and cheese to make them yellow or orange. Other safe food colorings are a red pigment obtained from beets, a green one from chlorella (freshwater algae), and an orange one from carrots.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Sources:
Consumer Reports, "Caramel color: The health risk that may be in your soda," February 10, 2014, http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/01/caramel-color-the-health-risk-that-may-be-in-your-soda/index.htm, accessed April 9, 2014

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here