Monday, August 12, 2013

Color My World... On Second Thought, Please Don't! Food Colorings (for starters)

Originally posted on Monday, January 9, 2012

Ah, the marvels of modern science! Our children can have cereal with marshmallows (if you can call them that) in every color of the rainbow: Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, and blue diamonds! And that's just the last time I heard a Lucky Charms commercial, which has been probably 20 years, not long after they added the blue diamonds because four different artificially-colored sugar bombs apparently wasn't enough in one box of cereal. (I understand it now also comes in chocolate. *shudder*) And oh, the yogurt colors: not just baby blues and pinks any more, or a bit of a yellow or green tint, but full-on intense deep RED and BLUE!

Until you've seen a child completely fall apart shortly after having had some of these brightly-colored treats, it's easy to think of them as harmless additives that make our food that much more appealing. Adding red to sugar-saturated kids' yogurt will make it more appealing to the children, so when they eat it, they will be "eating healthy," right?


Not so much. :-(

I hate to break it to you, but if you regularly eat foods with artificial colors, you are eating petrochemicals. And if you're giving artificially-colored stuff to your kids, you're feeding THEM stuff derived from coal tar and petrochemicals. For real. Many European countries have had the sense to ban these chemicals from all food, and manufacturers have made changes in those countries in order to keep selling their products there, while American food remains loaded with colorings and additives not found in their European counterparts. Look at these photos of Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bars (I found this picture in several articles, including this one, which is LOADED with information about this!) for just one example among many.

WHAT?!?!? But surely our government wouldn't permit dangerous substances in our food! If it weren't safe, it wouldn't be approved!

I wish. I really truly wish I could believe this, but after the research I've done, I not only don't believe it but I believe the government knows full well what's going into our food and does nothing to stop it because of the power of the almighty dollar..... but more on that later, or perhaps in another post. Rather than get into the details of a government agency (FDA, or Food and Drug Administration) headed by a former food industry lobbyist (Michael Taylor) allowing the industry he worked for to conduct their own safety tests and report their own results (this has been proposed in Britain too!) while spending millions of dollars lobbying our lawmakers to keep the regulatory climate favorable to this highly profitable model at this time, despite the fact that many of these additives are BANNED in many other countries, let's stick to what we know about the additives themselves.

Today's gripe: artificial food colorings. Most of them are derived from petrochemicals, and many of them have indeed been found to be carcinogenic at certain quantities. And unless you know what those quantities are, it's not that hard to give your child multiple servings of these foods in a day or a week and build up a significant toxic load. It's like Crisco saying "0 grams of trans fat per serving" (emphasis mine) in a can of shortening: when a "serving" of pure hydrogenated trans-fat is small enough, the FDA lets them "round down" to zero, even though the entire can IS pretty much nothing BUT trans fat. Most breakfast cereals I looked up nutrition information for show servings sizes of 1 cup as "standard," but make a serving of, say, Lucky Charms only 3/4 cup, and the Nutrition Facts on the side panel seem pretty reassuring: only 22 grams of carbs (10 of which are "Sugars" and 10 of which are "Other Carbohydrate" but not fiber....hmmm.....)! But what kid is only going to eat 3/4 of a cup of that stuff when it Tastes! So! GOOD! And the amount of food colorings is not disclosed, so we don't have any idea how much is actually in there (two different yellows, BTW), but when a real serving size instead of an artificially-small size being shown to consumers to make the food look better less horrible is being consumed daily (or more often?), the amount of artificial coloring getting into our kids is commensurately greater too.

So what is wrong with artificial food colorings? What could possibly compel us to remove them from our children's diets (and our own)? Where to begin? How about with a little history. Dr. Ben Feingold, an allergist, treated a patient's allergies by removing, among other substances, artificial dyes from her diet. Not only did her physical allergic reaction clear up, but a personality disorder she'd been treated for for many years was relieved as well. Dr. Feingold saw similar results in enough other cases that he began prescribing it regularly to children with behavior problems, not just allergic reactions. This has led to what is now currently referred to as the Feingold Diet, in which artificial colorings and other additives, like aspartame, among others, are removed from the diet.

What is it about the food colorings  that might cause behavioral problems? What's in them, and how could they work in our bodies to produce issues like that? Glad you asked. These chemicals - and make no mistake, they're chemicals, NOT "food!" - have been linked to neurological symptoms such as migraines, hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, inability to concentrate and focus, and impairment of learning. Non-neurological effects can be found in the reproductive system, in repressed immune function, in endocrine disruption, in damage to cellular DNA, colon damage, and oh, yeah: cancer. Here's a pretty comprehensive list of studies done and results found so you don't have to take my word for it: The evidence suggests that these chemicals are neurotoxic, meaning that they act on the brain and nervous system. For anyone who doesn't think that what you ingest can affect your mood or behavior, one need only think about how alcohol and recreational drugs act on the body and mind, or how a cup of coffee or tea acts on your activity level and mood.

Given that behavioral problems plague families and classrooms everywhere, that learning and developmental problems like ADD and autism are being reported at an all-time high (and that there isn't funding for staff to help all the kids who need it), that many disorders and conditions and diseases that were uncommon years ago are now commonplace and even bordering on epidemic now - Type II diabetes in elementary-aged children, cancers, reproductive disorders, autism - why in the world would we knowingly include these products in our food, and in food for our children? Even foods sold in school lunches contain them; a quick read of the strawberry-flavored milk sold in my local school lunchroom finds that in the milk are added sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup along with artificial red food coloring, and a popular fruit-flavored freezer pop, also incidentally sweetened with HFCS, contains both artificial red AND blue - but JUST enough actual fruit juice to count as a partial serving of "fruit and vegetable."

And the breakfast cereals. Oh, dear Heaven, the breakfast cereals. Froot Loops, Lucky Charms. Want to skip the cereals and go for cereal bars instead? Or maybe "Toaster Pastries." I used to be a Pop-Tart junkie, but not for a long long time. And this should put ANYONE off kids' yogurt:

I'm sorry, but yogurt is not meant to look like this. Not even close. Nor is it supposed to look like this:
For more startling revelations not even related to food coloring in Gogurt, which is marketed as a healthy option for parents looking for convenience food for their kids' lunches, the stuff has more sugar per ounce than Coca-Cola. Really. This guy did the math. In a 64-gram serving size, TEN of those grams are sugar on the ingredient list I looked at on the Gogurt Nutrition Information page.

To my partial surprise, though, Gogurt doesn't use coal-tar-based food colorings. It uses carmine, which at its simplest is dried, powdered, smashed-up insects. It's also found in many cosmetics, including lipstick, and one of the major concerns about its safety, aside from the gross factor, is that some people are highly allergic to it, to the point of anaphylactic shock. Don't believe me? Even Snopes, that perennial discreditor of email conspiracy theories as delivered to Inboxes around the world, has to admit that this one is in fact TRUE, and a variety of other sources (like this, this, and this) are all over the Interwebz with the same publicly available information. It also means that anyone on a vegan diet isn't eating vegan if their breakfast cereal happens to be colored with this.

There are also more and more anecdotal reports - which in many cases have to suffice as real independent research in food safety is rare - from families who have discovered dramatic positive changes when additives like food colorings are removed from their children's diets. Some of them, like this one and this one, are short and sweet and compelling, but can easily be dismissed as subjective hyperbole by policymakers and lawmakers. This TED Talk by Robyn O'Brien, however, simply cannot be discounted in the same way. A former food industry analyst, she was familiar with the food industry and what went into foods long before one of her children suffered a life-threatening allergic reaction while having a breakfast consisting of "Leggo My Eggo waffles, tubes of blue yogurt, and scrambled eggs." It just hadn't yet occurred to her that this could be problematic until that moment. Go to the 2-minute mark in the 18-minute TED Talk to hear her experiences from the beginning, although she discusses her background before that. She lays out data in slide after slide after slide that should make every parent in America sit up and take notice. Every. Single. Minute. of this talk is worth watching, so I strongly encourage you to watch it ALL if you possibly can.

I don't want this to get even longer, so for the time being I'm not going to blather on about food industry lobbyists, or food subsidies, or how huge corporations like Monsanto quash independent research on the safety of their products by refusing to fund university departments who allow any research that *might* show them in a bad light. While all these factors certainly drive food policy and allow harmful substances into our food supply in the first place, I think that it's going to be more helpful for us to educate ourselves about the effects of these substances and get them OUT of our own personal food supplies and diets. Food processors have caved to consumer and government pressure in many European countries and changed their ingredient lists, and without similar pressure here, without families "voting with their wallets," it isn't likely to happen here where corporations have such a huge effect on public policy, so here is a good place to start. This young man can give you a brief overview. :-) To sum up: artificial food colorings are bad. They aren't really regulated well here in the States, but they are BANNED in many other countries. There is more than sufficient research that they affect a number of neurological, intellectual, and physiological functions and should not be part of anyone's diet, let alone that of a  developing growing child if they can possibly be avoided. Simple as that. Heck, maybe I just should have led with that little tidbit and saved you a lot of reading, but I'm a linker by nature because I like to back up what I say with as many facts as possible. I hope this is enough information, backed up by enough citation, to make an impact on every family who reads this.

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Please keep it clean. Differences of opinion aren't a problem for me. Rudeness is. Thankyouverymuch. :-)