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Artificial Colorings

Many of the processed foods you buy would normally be very dull looking if it wasn’t for the color additives that are added. Some colors come from extracts of foods and other natural substances, but many colors are artificially created and added to foods to enhance their appeal — especially to children, who love bright hues.

color additives are also known as certified colors because they need to be approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. These man-made coloring agents are cheaper and more effective at adding color when compared to their natural counterparts derived from fruits, vegetables and minerals.

There are two types of certified color additives called dyes or lakes. Dyes dissolve in water and are usually used as powders, granules, or liquids. They’re commonly used in beverages, baked goods, confections and dairy products. Lakes do not dissolve in water, and are more stable than dyes, so they are used for coloring food products contain fats and oils, or in products that contain no moisture at all, such as cake mixes, hard candies and chewing gum.

You’ll find these certified color additives when you look on food labels:

  • FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2
  • FD&C Green No. 3
  • FD&C Red Nos. 3 and 40
  • FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6
  • Orange B
  • Citrus Red No. 2

Color Controversy

The FDA considers several factors before allowing artificial colors to be certified, such as the composition of the substance; the amount that would be normally used in a product; the amount usually consumed; and any healthy effects and safety factors. The artificial colors that make it into the foods you eat should be safe. However, research has connected the use of artificial colors and behavioral problems in children up to the teenage years. While artificial colors must be listed in the ingredients list on the Nutrition Facts label, no other type of warning or additional labeling is required.

Avoiding artificial coloring agents doesn’t mean you have to eat dull-looking food. Colors such as annatto extract (yellow), dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown), caramel (yellow to tan), beta-carotene (yellow to orange) and grape skin extract (red, green) all add color without adding artificial chemicals.

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