It’s natural to find colourful food appealing – as humans, we’re visual creatures. Think about what draws you, for example, to produce in the supermarket – you like bright red strawberries, yellow bananas, blueberries, dark purple grapes, cherry red tomatoes, brilliant green peppers, and so on. You wouldn’t want to eat, for example, a grey carrot or a beige peach. So going colour free can be difficult.
Following a colour free diet doesn’t mean that you give up the natural foods you love; it means eliminating dangerous dyes that are added to your food. Did you know, for example, that a bowl of rainbow-colored cereal can contain compounds that can cause allergic reactions, and have even been implicated in neurological illnesses?
Red 40, Blue 1, and Yellows 5 and 6 have been linked to allergic reactions. Granted, this isn’t common, but it’s reason enough to avoid dyed foods whenever possible. Studies have also indicated that these dyes could cause hyperactivity in some children. Additionally, these dyes along with Blue 2 and Green 3 have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. Yellow 5 was also linked to mutations.
Food dyes are a relatively new additive. They came into common use when food processors decided to capitalize on our visual nature. At one time, food dyes were natural – beet juice, for example, was used to create red coloring. Of course, food processors are always looking for ways to lower their costs, and artificial dyes are considerably cheaper than natural ones.
In the States, FDA standards for approving food colorings are fairly low. If the risk isn’t actually proven beyond any doubt, the dye gets FDA approval. The laws are similar in Australia. This doesn’t mean that the dye isn’t harmful, just that cause and effect can’t be inextricably linked.
So, how can you follow a colour free diet? Hard as it may be, you should start by eliminating most types of candy. Pure chocolate is dye-free, but colorful marshmallow candies, coated chocolate, jelly candies and waxy candies, to name just a few, all contain dyes.
Read the labels on anything that’s processed. Many cereals are huge offenders when it comes to food dyes. You’ll also find dyes in soups, snack cakes, and even some meats. Yogurt is usually thought to be a healthy food, but read the labels on the fruit varieties – many of them contain little fruit and rely on dye to give the appearance of higher fruit content.
Generally speaking, if a food looks really colorful, and it’s not a fresh fruit or vegetable, it could contain dye. When in doubt, give it a pass.