Color additives, what are they and are they safe?
A color additive includes food dyes and pigments that can be made from plants, animals, mineral sources, or synthetically. Manufacturers add color additives to our food to enhance natural colors.
What I hear the most concern about is around the synthetic color additives. The synthetic color additives have been developed to help maintain color of a product regardless of the pH, temperature or contribution of other ingredients. The FDA uses the term certifiable colors when describing color additives. This mean that the FDA requires testing and certification each time a new color batch is used. There are nine certifiable color they include Blue No.1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, Orange B, and Citrus Red No. 2.
Despite oversight by the FDA many people are still wary of color additives. The FDA states that color additives are thoroughly evaluated prior to approval and safe when used in accordance with regulations. Yet, over recent years colors including yellow 1,2,3, and 4 have been banned due to adverse health effects. Some color additives have been found to cause cancer in animals or humans. These additives may not be used under the FDA regulations.
Due to much concern there is a movement showing that manufacturers are trying to replace synthetic color with plant or mineral derived compounds. Some of the other color additives come from fruits, vegetables, insects and minerals include grape skin extract, saffron, fruit and vegetable juices. The only concern around this is that color additives derived from sources such as fruit, vegetables or insects are “exempt” from batch testing and certification. Of course they must adhere to safety standards, but they are not certified through the FDA. It is hard to say if these “natural” color additives are safer, without an regulation and batch testing. Overall it is important that all colorants be tested whether synthetic or from a “natural” source.
Overall, color additives offer no health or nutritional benefit and are unlikely to be dangerous for most people. If you choose to eliminate or restrict color additives read labels and eat more foods that are minimally processed.