Is it really bad to add a little color to food?

Consumer Reports News: March 30, 2011 05:20 PM

Food coloring never used to bother me much. But lately I’ve had second thoughts. And so, apparently, has the U.S Food and Drug Administration, which announced this week it would be investigating potential, but unproven, links to hyperactivity and some cancers.

When my kids were little, I always had a package of those eyedroppers of food-color dyes around, which we used to create a kaleidoscope of colorful meals. I loved the way the kids squealed over blue mashed potatoes with green gravy, red pasta with purple sauce, green eggs and ham, or tie-dyed pancakes. The addition of a couple of drops of color turned a regular meal into an Alice in Wonderland mad tea party.

Now I hesitate over food colorings, especially when they’re out of my control. While an occasional drop of dye to the food I made at home didn’t seem like a big deal, the proliferation of artificial dyes in packaged foods is starting to feel a little ominous. In fact, when Europe banned artificial dyes a few years ago, I started checking food labels more carefully.

The science is still unclear as to whether artificial dyes are dangerous for children, so I’m glad the FDA is investigating. And of course, there are other reasons to give up processed foods besides the potential risks of artificial dyes, like the added sugar they’re often full of.

In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with making our meals more colorful by adding more brightly colored fruits and vegetables to the table, which has the added bonus of making the meal healthier. We’ve also been jazzing things up with a party collage of different colored plates and serving bowls, just to keep some of that mad tea-party vibe going.

Though I don’t think I’m ready to give up the occasional batch of tie-dyed pancakes just yet.

Food Advisory Committee Meeting Announcement [Food and Drug Administration]

Erin Gudeux


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