Devil In The Details – Read Your Labels When Shopping For Dye-Free Foods

Petroleum food coloring can be found in some innocent enough sounding products, especially food marketed to children.  You’ll see FD&C dyes in temporary tattoos (if you like your crazies in timed-release form), ice creams, sports drinks and sodas, popsicles, yogurts, frosting, macaroni and cheese, chocolate syrup, cinnamon rolls, potato chips, pickles, hand sanitizer gels, chewing gum, maraschino cherries, salad dressings, spreads, sauces, wasabi powder, juices, rice mixes, instant stuffing, instant mashed potatoes, gravies, canned vegetables, Beers, hand soaps, shampoos, and lotions.  Even white foods like coffee creamer, marshmallows, and vanilla ice creams have blue 1 and/or yellow 5 to give a hint of brightness or color.

Read. Your. Labels.

Petroleum food dyes are common in kids’ toothpaste, vitamins, cough syrups, and antibiotics.  Luckily you can ask for dye-free antibiotics from the doctor (ask the doctor to call the pharmacist first and request it specifically on your prescription).  Liquid over-the-counter treatments such as children’s Tylenol, Advil, and Benadryl now come in dye-free forms.  And you can find completely natural alternatives at Whole Foods.  There are natural toothpastes out there, but not all are equal when it comes to taste (avoid the strawberry ones, just sayin’).

Remember when, after you had eaten all that sugary, dyed candy, you would visit the dentist and they’d give you those red tablets to chew up, to showcase all your lovely tartar build-up?  Pass on that if you or your child have a dye sensitivity – and also ask for dye-free flouride rinses – they do exist.  And you’ll need to settle your stomach after all that binging too, but don’t reach for TUMS – they have petroleum dyes too.  I have even found hidden dyes in those ladies’ razors with a moisturizing lotion strip built right in.  Ironically, that “skin soothing” razor will only exacerbate an eczema problem for a dye-sensitive person.  And recently, I realized that I was filling my child’s cup with water from a restaurant’s soda fountain tap (to mix with a Hanson’s dye-free drink mix packet), but the water came out of the same tap as the brightly-dyed soda. Huh.

Children are more sensitive to dyes, and they consume up to five times as much as adults.  I saw a recent news story about cereal companies being criticized for the characters they place on the boxes of sugary cereals, targeted at children.  How about they just change their ingredients to higher fiber, additive-free, lower sugar goodness instead?  I have to cringe-laugh when I see “Good Humor” strawberry ice cream popsicles.  Ironically, their red and blue petrol dyes do not live up to their name, and in fact put my child into a pretty crappy humor. Even craft supplies have FD&C dyes, although companies like RIT and Crayola told me that their ingredients are proprietary and therefore, secret.

Recently my child and I were reading the ingredients list on some “cosmic brownies”, and we found food coloring plus carcinogenic preservatives TBHQ and BHT.  My daughter said, “Cosmic Brownies are actually delicious looking poison. And poisoning people is against the law, RIGHT?!”  Unfortunately, honey, they still do it… *sigh*.  And we recently had to stop enjoying the free ice cream in Chick-Fil-A kids’ meals because it contains Yellow 5, which gives my child the “Screaming Weepies.”  I’m not crazy about their nuggets either, delicious as they are…I recently learned that they contain MSG and TBHQ.  And if that rumor that their batter contains pickle juice is true, then they likely contain Yellow 5 and 6 by association, too.

Even non-labelled foods like oranges can be colored with dyes to brighten them.  Up to 2 billion Florida oranges are sprayed with Red 2 (a bladder carcinogen) annually.  Beef is injected with red dye.  Salmon are fed dyed food to make their bodies more red when you eat them…so that they appear fresher (See my post called Artificially Rose-Colored Glasses for more information on marketing).  This begs the question – Do those rosy-fleshed salmon pee petroleum back into our water?  Oh, I have more questions like this, yes I do.

And just because a food manufacturer donates a portion of their proceeds to a healthy cause, does not mean their products are good for you.  For instance, I get a little steamed when I see the pink breast cancer awareness logo all over yogurts that contain petroleum dyes.  The irony is not so fun on this one, folks.  Petroleum food coloring is linked to cancer in lab tests.  I sure wish foundations would ask more questions about the ingredients used in their chosen sponsors’ products.

So again, read those labels.  Teach your kids to read labels too, and explain what each additive can do to their bodies.  Eat organic produce when possible, such as from a local CSA.  Ask where your meats and seafood come from, don’t be shy.  “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, but he who never asks, is a fool for a lifetime.”

5 Responses to “Devil In The Details – Read Your Labels When Shopping For Dye-Free Foods”
  1. Julie says:

    My daughter reacts the same way, and I am thinking that I should try to follow this diet myself. Avoid all dyes, artificial flavor and preservatives (TBHQ, BHT, BHA, sodium benzoate). They are all derived from petroleum, which is the real culprit. A good way to make sure that none of this stuff is in packaged food is to buy organic and eat only natural, real food.

    • Indie Mama says:

      Totally agree! I have to be careful when buying “all natural” foods from a health food store too, because so many of them contain “caramel coloring” which is sugar processed with ammonia or sulfites. I know I’ve felt so much happier when I stopped ingesting synthetic food coloring. Today I’m looking over my food/mood log for the past two weeks to see if there are any patterns (see Food Mood: Do Adults Need Behavior Charts Too?). Please let me know if you do that food/mood log challenge on yourself or your kids, and let me know how it turned out!

  2. Stacy says:

    Random comment on the all-natural toothpastes. My little kiddos’ favorite is actually the Tom’s Strawberry. The will gag at any mint. They will use the Burts Bee’s orange but begrudginly. I just purchased the JASON Strawberry, so we’ll see. Just thought I’d throw a shout-out to the Tom’s Strawberry in case someone was considering it. 🙂

  3. Sarah says:

    Thank you for your article. I saw something on TV today that really got me thinking about what artificial dyes might be doing to my kids. My daughter in particular is extremely moody and I worry because she’s only 3 and seems to be unhappy, crying, whining more than she’s happy. But to be completely honest as I sit here and research I feel so overwhelmed. I am not a strong cook and have never been the person to even shop organic and so this overwhelms me more than I can say. Though I would do anything to help my daughter I don’t know where to start. Any tips, cookbooks, etc you’d recommend as I explore this option. Thank you!!!

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