Why do American Products Contain Food Dyes that are Banned in Other Countries?

There are a plethora of food additives on the market. 

Food additives are classified based on the function that they have in food. For example, there are anti-caking and antimicrobial agents, nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners, stabilizers, emulsifying agents, flavorings, and natural and artificial colorants. Food additives are often intended to enhance consumer appeal of food products by altering taste, texture, or visual appearance. They are relatively speaking new compounds for the human body to process. 

Some of the most well-known food additives on the market are high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sucralose (Splenda). Here’s a brief review of what I find patients to be consuming a lot:

Food dyes (aka., artificial coloring) are used in many foods and pharmaceuticals in order to help make them more appealing and recognizable (Clydesdale, 1993).  If a food, tablet, liquid or capsule is recognizably colored, it makes it more readily identified both as a food, dispensing of the medication, and when advertising the product. 

Do remember that pharmaceutical medications are products just like sodas, candy bars, and automobiles. There’s billions of dollars invested in “branding” a product to make it more recognizable and desirable, ultimately to increase sales and profits for the parent company. 

There is a psychological effect of the color - “active” colors such as red or yellow tend to make us feel more alert. “Passive” colors such as blue or green tend to make us feel more relaxed. Depending on the expressed effect of the food or medication, the manufacturer may impact a color to help suggest the desired response. In reality, the color has no effect on the effectiveness of the medication, which is why it is listed under inactive ingredients on the label. 

They dyes have been extensively studies in North America and Europe, and found to be extremely detrimental to human health.  They have been banned in many European countries but legal in the U.S. FOOD and PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY since the artificial coloring better entice consumers to ultimately drive a profit, even at the expense of the public’s health (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2007). 

Common Foods Which Often Contain Artificial Coloring are: 

Prescription medicines are often distinctively shaped and colored to differentiate themselves from other brands or to indicate dosage. This has the benefit of cutting down on mistakes while dispensing medications. The problem is many of the dyes are extremely harmful.  

Red dye #40, also known as Allura Red AC, is derived from petroleum distillates or coal tars.  It contains benzidine, a known carcinogen also known to cause ADHD and behavioral issues in children (Potera, 2010).  It is  commonly used in many OTC and prescribed medicationsRefer to this link to learn more about Red Dye #40 containing medications and foods.  Being better informed will help you know which foods and medications to avoid since their associated side effects are often caused by their toxic inactive ingredients.  

Dye Yellow #5, also known as Tartrazine.  Tartrazine is an organic sodium salt (i.e. the trisodium salt of tartrazine acid).  When ingested, Tartrazine is reduced to sulfanylic acid (Jones et al., 1964; Roxon et al., 1967; Maekawa et al., 1987; Chung et al., 1992). Sulfanylic acid often causes allergic reactions, including urticaria (hives), asthma, blood spots/skin hemorrhages, and eczema. Those most sensitive to Dye Yellow #5 often also have an aspirin allergy, indicating a genetic susceptibility.  This is why countries like Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway have withdrawn Tartrazine on the grounds of its anaphylactic potential (Wüthrich, 1993). The United States has not.

The Main Point:  Hidden food dyes are often the hidden culprit responsible for common allergic reactions and other immunologic mechanism not otherwise well understood (Desmond & Trautlein, 1981). Beyond its vibrant and bold colors, we should ask ourselves if any food dye should form a part of a healthy diet. After all, artificial food dyes are frequently derived from petroleum (a crude oil product, used in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and tar). 

Doctor’s Advice

The old adage applies here:  Less is More. 

Food additives are used solely for aesthetic purposes only. They add absolutely zero nutritional value to the food we eat. 

Changing the American mindset is valuable: Foods don’t have to be picture perfect in order for us to eat them. Imperfect produce is equally rich in flavor and nutritional content.  Shifting to a whole foods plant-based diet where you often cook your food from scratch will help you not only avoid tons of toxic additives, but immediately start helping you feel well.  

Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health.

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concern.  We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plan—a plan that removes a lot of the common food items that are making them sick.  To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.



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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2007).  Summary of color additives listed for use in the United States in food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices.   Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20071216000102/http://www.cfsan.fda.gov:80/~dms/opa-col2.html#table1A. 

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2014). High Fructose Corn Syrup: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm324856.htm 

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Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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