Winners And Losers Of Food Coloring: May 2012 List

As I find more and more food dye related content on the web this year, I’ve had the chance to read some thought-provoking studies, personal stories, and news reports.  This is a very good thing, as only six months ago, I struggled to find much of anything on this subject.  So I started this blog to tell our story, share others’ stories, and gather relevant information.

But I’ve seen some real stinkers out there too – not just online, but in American television advertisements, store aisles, newspapers, and you know, on the sides of buses.  So I decided that with so much buzz about food coloring lately, I should share my personal list of winners and losers (which I keep in my handy dandy Evernote app at all times).  Like I said in my Valentine’s Day “No Love Lost…” post, one of the only joys of our entanglements with losers, is to share their loser-dom with the world.  But I give credit where credit is due, too.

So what qualifies as a winner?  In my book, it’s anyone who supports the needs of families who have food coloring reactions.  I keep an eye out for food manufacturers, retailers, companies, experts, publications, news programs and ordinary people who are doing something to spread awareness of the dangers of food coloring (and other petroleum additives like flavorings and preservatives).

And the losers…for the purposes of this blog, a loser makes The List if they produce, sell, promote, make excuses for, or try to hide synthetic petroleum food coloring and other additives in their products.  These may be stores, food manufacturers, news programs, publications, advertisers, and even restaurants.

I may throw in an Honorable Mention for those who are kinda sorta trying to improve, depending on their motivation.

So, here is the first installment of my list, which could be a monthly thing, or eventually a weekly thing, depending on how fast awareness grows about the problems with synthetic food coloring.  I’ve got a feeling I’ll be publishing my “list” more often after this already tempestuous year in the American foodscape.  Or hey, maybe my wishes will all come true and synthetic food coloring – and The List – will no longer be necessary.  This list is by no means comprehensive, just based on my own observations in my little slice of America, so feel free to add yours in a comment.


I am seeing more and more reports on news programs, warning parents that food coloring and other additives may be causing health and behavior problems in kids.  A few winning examples are Fox & Friends in conjunction with Consumer Reports, and Indiana’s WNDU NBC news.  Unfortunately the guest in the Indiana piece didn’t have enough time to address common food colorings…she did get in some good warnings about caramel coloring and preservatives.  Here’s hoping they invite her back for Part Two.

The Doctors – This popular television show did not mince words when their camera-ready hosts came right out and directly stated that synthetic food colors are bad for us.  *Swoon*  This is admirable…they aren’t pussyfooting around like so many other doctors have.  The research is available and clear.  It’s time that everyone from hospital waiting rooms to pedicure salons hears about it!

I stumbled upon this next gem of a company, and I’m eager to try their products – 100% Pure Cosmetics are free of chemical additives like synthetic dyes, fragrance, and preservatives.  Check them out here.

You know about my devotion to Whole Foods, and my sordid affair with Trader Joe’s…Well I’m at it again and I’ve got a new crush:  Earth Fare.  My mother-in-law took me to the new store in Tallahassee, Florida and I was in Heaven.  They post their food philosophy all over the store, so you can feel confident that you know what you’re buying.  But the greatest advantage that Earth Fare had over Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s was the variety of products.  They carried lots of mainstream brands alongside their store brands, as well as those other natural brands that many of us haven’t heard of quite yet.  I can get products there that I cannot find at Whole Foods.  Too bad the nearest one is a couple of hours away.

Some food manufacturers are catching on to the fact that they better adapt to their customers’ needs, or get left behind.  Trix has made a dye-free version of their kids’ yogurt.  Nestle UK announced that they are removing all artificial additives from their entire line of sweets and beverages across the pond.  Pediasure now offers a clear version of their products.  Starbucks removed carmine coloring after customers reacted to the fact that it’s made from insects. (I never found it surprising thanks to my good old Ethno Botany class in college…in fact, I found human use of any natural colorant to be fascinating and ingenious, although I understand my vegan friends cannot abide by it).  But the point is that Starbucks listened and acted, much as they did a couple of years ago when they phased out all petroleum food coloring in their products.  Kudos to them.

I’ve been told by readers that Disney theme parks will go to some lengths to help out families with food allergies.  You can contact their Special Diets team for menus, food accommodations and special events.

I was sort of shocked when I saw many varieties of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Whole Foods recently – especially the Red Velvet Cake flavor.  Quoi???  Can it be true?  Could the elusive and oft petroleum dyed cake of mythical proportions, served at Southern picnics and weddings alike – the Everyman of Desserts – be safe for our family?  I am happy to report that yes indeedy, you can now have your Red Velvet Cake, and eat it too.  This new vice of mine has no petroleum food coloring or nasty preservatives.

And lastly there is my daughter.  My little shopping spy cohort, who refuses to let me touch her owies with Vaseline (“Mommy! That’s got PETROLEUM in it!!”), invented a new adjective:  “Food-dye-ful“.  I sure hope I’m spelling that right, ’cause she’ll darn sure let me know about it one day, when she’s grown up and reading my blog with a horrified look on her face.  Dear Baby Bear, I am endlessly renewed by your fearless freedom of self-expression and dedication to eating clean.  You were the inspiration for this blog, and my teacher in many respects.  Thanks for being you.  Love, Mom. xoxo


I’m happy to report that the list of winners is longer than the losers, this time.

The Olympics.  I’m shaking my head at the news that the biggest sponsors for the London Olympics will be McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.   If there were other restaurant choices alongside McD’s, then most people would be okay with that.  But McDonald’s is the only restaurant allowed to sell name brand foods inside the event venue and even in the athlete’s village.  Mixed messages, much?  I don’t think Zeus is gonna like this, you guys.

I was in Target shopping for an ice cream maker, and I spotted a Snow Cone set up with several flavored syrups.  Now, even to the untrained eye, these “Fla-Vor-Ice” syrups were brightly colored with unnatural hues.  And yet, their ingredient labels were lacking any hint of colorants – at all.   I do believe that’s illegal in the US – companies must list each synthetic petrol food coloring by name such as Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, and Green 3.  I couldn’t find any ingredient lists on the web either.  Shame, shame.  Try making your own snow cone syrup instead by tweaking these recipes to use dye-free drink mixes like Flavrz, Stevita, or TrueLemon.

In the grocery check out line, I spotted those Extra brand “dessert” gums.  
Now as you know I’m a huge Willie Wonka fan, but I’m not too loony to understand that he’s a fictional character who creates fictional (and awesome) dessert sweets.  But this just grossed me out.  Well okay, the long ingredients list that barely fit onto the tiny packet of gum grossed me out.  If we need an occasional pie, we can make one with a short list of real ingredients and an hour of free time on a weekend (we don’t really need pie as much as we would like to think).  And the homemade pie won’t flavor-fade into a rubbery mass or (hopefully) get stuck in your dental work.

Speaking of Willie Wonka, I was kind of horrified to run into him while cruising the mall with my child and mother-in-law.  A big purple monstrosity stood in our path, and it was beckoning my kid with a hypnotic video screen and many tubes of brightly dyed confections.  I think I felt my liver tremble just a little.

Last month during Pollenpocalypse ’12, my daughter and I went through more remedies than I can count.  At one point we had ear infections which required antibiotics.  Imagine my surprise when the liquid amoxicillin, free of dyes according to my specifications, caused an awful meltdown for my daughter.  One phone call to the manufacturer later and I was super p.o.’d to find that the white liquid contained a synthetic orange flavoring that was not required to be listed on the ingredient label.  Wow.  Next time I get Dr. Crotchety as my on-call physician (yay!), I’ll be sure to ask for pill form.

This week I found an article about the illegal levels of food colorings found in European restaurant take away foods.  After being on the forefront of progressive action against food coloring, I’m pretty sure plenty of Europeans would love to know about this.  There’s a(nother) reason why you’re feeling so crap after eating that sweet and sour chicken, mate.

But after all of our consumption of neon snow cones, dessert gum, flavored antibiotics, and faux to-go, we’re gonna need something for our stomachs.

Enter Nauzene.

It is just as lovely as it sounds.  OMGawd, the commercials are enough to make me want to throw up (brilliant business plan, Nauzene!)  Have you seen them?  It’s a repetitive, high-speed montage of people eating, drinking, eating more, and then dosing.  All the while, a woman’s voice says over and over AD NAUSEUM, “Dinner. Drinks. Dessert. Nauzene!!”  Please don’t reach for Nauzene, or TUMS, for that matter, after a rough night of indulgence.  They both contain petroleum food coloring, among other nasties.  Try papaya extract instead, which can be found in most grocery vitamin aisles.

Honorable Mentions

I sort of hesitantly give these next few partial credit, as their efforts have been both good and notoriously so-so.

China.  Yeah, I said it.  The very country that probably produces much of the synthetic food coloring we use (and all of the Crappy Meal toys), announced that they will ban seventeen artificial food colorings.  I had to pick my jaw up off the floor for that one.  I mean, for chrissakes, come ON, FDA!!  Man up!  If this really happens, it bumps us down to the lower end of the Loser List, America.  And I don’t like it, not one single bit.  But I’ll add a jealous “yay” for the Chinese in the spirit of progress…

General Mills/Betty Crocker fruit snacks.  This is the company that gave us dye-saturated “Fruit” Roll Ups and Gushers Mood Morphers (oh, the irony!).  I recently found their Simply line of dye-free fruit rolls and fruit twists at Target.  Seems they are trying to offer up some slightly more natural treats in response to the change in the market towards healthier preferences.

Pepsi and Coke have announced that they’re tweaking their formulas to lower caramel coloring.  Oh but it’s not nearly as sweet as it sounds.  They’re just trying to avoid a requirement to display a cancer warning on their products, under California law.  Their reps contend that caramel coloring (or “ammonia caramel” as it must be labeled in other countries) is harmless at the levels they previously used, and they refuse to completely remove it.  I was on the fence about an honorable mention for them, as they really are being kinda losers about it, but any improvement is worth some attention.

I’m much more keen to give a little credit to the likes of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which finally agreed a few years back that synthetic food coloring could have negative affects on children’s health and behavior.  Their attitude was much more consumer-friendly when they admitted “we might have been wrong”.  For more detailed information and quotes, see this report.

Pepsi and Coke – your cola wars have only just begun.

I’m excited about people taking it upon themselves to change the way food is made in our country.  The lesson I’ve learned is that we can’t wait for the FDA to make a move.  If you want your voice to be heard, apply some economic pressure – stop buying additive-laden “food”.  Try e-mailing, tweeting and facebooking manufacturers asking them when they’ll ditch the junk.  And keep checking back here for more of the baddies and goodies in my Winners And Losers list every month!

I want to know from you…What are your observations in the past few weeks?  Share your “list” of food coloring winners and losers here in a comment!



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