Posted by Linda Bonvie
February 19, 2013
If there’s one piece of advice you keep hearing from us, it’s that reading the ingredients label is the only way to really find out what’s in a processed food. Not the nutrition facts label, not the front of the package, and certainly not the advertising copy.
To encourage this time-honored way to actually know what you’re eating (or considering consuming), Citizens for Health is launching “Read Your Labels,” a campaign to create greater awareness of the unnecessary, harmful or controversial additives that are commonly found in the foods and beverages we buy and casually consume without giving them a second thought.
If you only read ingredients occasionally, we’d like to get you into the habit of doing it all the time. If you seldom or never do, now’s as good a time to start as any. To get you going, we will be listing our top ten ingredients to avoid – and the reasons for doing so – in this and upcoming blogs. We think once you see some of the things that are actually in processed food products, you’ll become a regular ingredients checker before deciding to purchase and eat any of them.
Number 10 : artificial colors – and why you should shun them
The synthetic hues you’ll see on food and beverage ingredient labels include Red #40, Red #3, Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 and Green #3. But you don’t need to memorize all those before you shop for food – all you have to remember is that any product whose ingredients include colors accompanied by numbers or “lakes” should be left on the shelf.
The entire history of artificial colors has been colored by controversy. While they may make products appear more attractive, they represent just the kind of chemical additives we should delete from our diets – something that’s especially true for kids. But then, the fact that so many supposedly “harmless” coloring agents have been found to be otherwise is hardly surprising when you consider their origins and backgrounds. Many of the older dyes were made from coal tar – a thick, black liquid derived from, well, coal. (Now, does that sound like anything you’d like to ingest?) Some are still in use today, while many newer ones are petroleum extracts. They may also contain measurable amounts of toxic contaminants, such as lead, mercury and arsenic.
The carcinogenic coloring Red Dye Number 2, for example, was in use until 1976, when it was booted off the “approved” list by the Food and Drug Administration, along with Violet Number 1. Then there’s the curious case of Red # 3, which was banned from use in cosmetics and externally applied drugs after the FDA found it caused thyroid cancer in rats, but strangely enough, its use in food items has continued to be allowed. But why wait for an often decades-delayed “official” decision, when you’re free to ban anything you like from your own home at any time?
The artificial color-hyperactivity link
Perhaps the most compelling reason to avoid artificial colors is the connection that’s been made between fake food dyes and hyperactivity in kids.
In 2008 the Center for Science in the Public Interest submitted a petition to the FDA to ban nine such food colorings and in the interim to require a package warning label on foods containing them that they “cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children.”
The FDA responded by convening a Food Advisory Committee in 2011 (after receiving almost 8,000 comments on the topic), which concluded there was not enough evidence to take regulatory action.
While the FDA might not have been convinced, the same can’t be said of European regulatory officials. Since 2010, they’ve required foods that contain these unnatural hues to carry a warning label stating that consumption “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
In fact, the link between food dyes (and certain other ingredients, as well as foods themselves) and behavioral problems in kids has been known for quite a while. It goes back to the 1970s when the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a California pediatrician and pioneer in the field of allergy and immunology, discovered the connection between what we eat and how it affects the way we feel and act. Since then, the Feingold Center he founded has helped scores of kids with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder by eliminating certain additives from their diets – all without resorting to drugs such as Ritalin.
It’s all very simple when you think about it. To help sell food products that are highly processed, manufacturers have doused them with cosmetics – a whole bevy of chemicals to make them seem more appealing. But despite assurances that these substances are harmless, a little knowledge of their checkered history should be enough to make them unwelcome in your home.
Stay tuned for the next additive to avoid – hint – this heart-harming ingredient can be “hidden” on the nutrition facts label. We’ll tell you what to look for to keep this unnecessary and dangerous ingredient out of your diet.