You heard me. Coal tar and petroleum. In your CANDY.
Not so tasty anymore, huh?
The worst part is, it’s hiding in plain sight. In fact, it’s what we see when we look at candy – the coloring – since artificial food colorings are derived from coal tar and petroleum.
Over the past 50 years, chemical dyes used in foods has increased by a whopping 500%. These dyes are everywhere, from cereal to toothpaste, apple sauce to cough syrup.
I feel like this should be a no brainer, don’t you? I mean, we’re talking derivatives of coal tar and petroleum here, not some plant-derived product like carrageenan which needs some more serious explaining.
Studies dating back to the seventies have found that artificial food dyes have a profound effect on attention and can cause hyperactivity. In fact, removing these dyes from a child’s diet has shown to be about a quarter as effective of prescribed ADHD medicine. (Learn more about how food is responsible for behavioral issues in children.)
More troubling, the National institutes of Health state that coal tar shows “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans” as well as “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals,” making the determination that “the agent is carcinogenic to humans.” While artificial food coloring is *derived* from coal tar, the concern remains – are the dyes potentially carcinogenic?
What can you do?
There have been some major efforts to put warning labels on artificial colorings on food packaging in the US, but to no avail. Such warning labels are required in much of Europe, and concerns about the dyes have even caused some governments to ban their use (to see other food additives that have banned by other countries yet are still allowed for use in the US, click here). In response to this legislation and public concern, certain American companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills and Kraft have completely done away with artificial dyes in their products sold overseas, though the dyes remain in their products sold to the American-market.
OK OK I know everyone isn’t going to want to go play little Susie candy-maker, so the good news is – artificial dyes are not allowed in certified organic foods, including candy! Also, Whole Foods does not sell any foods whatsoever that contain artificial dyes.
Sources and Further reading:
- US National Library of Medicine: Coal Tar
- Healthy Child, Healthy World: Don’t use foods or products made with coal tar dyes – site under construction
- Organic Trade Association: Consumers can choose organic products to avoid synthetic food dyes
- Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks
- The New York Times, F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings
- Science, Behavioral responses to artificial food colors
- Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Petition to Ban the Use of Yellow 5 and Other Food Dyes