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Category: Health Care

Food Dyes: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

 

food colors

What’s really in your food? That carrot cake—did it really contain carrots? Is that fruit punch made from fruit?

The answers are revealing, and kind of scary. Fruit punch is actually made from water, high fructose corn syrup, and Red 40. While this might not be shocking, other ingredient lists are. Betty Crocker’s carrot cake mix contains dye, imitation carrot bits made from seven different ingredients (corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, Red 40, Yellow 6, flour, corn cereal, an unspecified artificial color—oh, and carrot powder), and not a whiff of anything recognizable as a carrot. Even pickles contain Yellow 6 to make them look more appetizing.

Feel like you’ve been lied to? You’re not the only one. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, three-fourths of Americans feel that foods that are made largely with artificial colorings meant to imitate fruit or vegetable content, or any other content for that matter, should bear labels that make that obvious. We shouldn’t have to read the teeny little label on the back to know that Tropicana’s Twister Cherry Berry Blast doesn’t contain cherries or berries.

Interestingly, the United States is behind the rest of the developed world in this area. Use of artificial colorings is being discontinued in Great Britain and the European Union. For example, in the US, Nutri-Grain strawberry cereal bars contain Red no. 40, Yellow no. 6, and Blue no. 1. In Great Britain, they contain Beetroot red, Annatto, Paprika, and extract, all natural colorings.

The concerns go beyond simply being deceptive. After all, we can read labels. We can find websites that point out which foods contain dyes. We can choose to be educated. Even if the variety of processed foods we eat decreases, we can still eat raw fruits and vegetables, and it certainly won’t hurt our health any to do this. However, even if we are educated and make personal choices to avoid the dyes, the greater concern is that the dyes are not safe.

Lab tests have shown that dyes may cause cancer in animals. This hasn’t been confirmed in humans since at this point there is probably no effective way to test this. Most Americans consume lots of the dyes, and there are other lifestyle factors that contribute to cancer. Besides, you can’t ethically bring people into a lab and inject them with Red 40, then sit back and see if they develop cancer.

The strongest concern at this time is allergic reactions. Kids are often allergic to Red 40. We all knew the kid who couldn’t have Koolaid at summer camp. Even that watered down stuff made them sick. (I always thought they were just wimps. I feel bad about that now. I know better.) Blue 1, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have also caused reactions.

Another concern is hyperactivity in children. While hyperactivity certainly isn’t lethal, it’s problematic for children who are expected to sit still in school. It’s also hard for parents, teachers, and caregivers, especially if you know your child doesn’t normally act hyper. It raises the question of whether the supposed “sugar high” is actually more of a “Red 40 high,” and if the prevalence of kids diagnosed with ADHD might have something to do with the dyes as well.

All of this calls into question the ethics of food companies putting artificial dyes into foods at all. Why do they do it? The obvious answer is attractiveness. They want food to be appealing to consumers, which is reasonable. I want my food to be appealing too. Dyes allow foods that normally wouldn’t be appealing to be attractive. Multicolored sugary cereals are attractive to children. Carrot cake that’s actually orange is more appealing, and white bread colored with dye to make it look like whole wheat makes us feel that we’re eating a healthier food, when in fact we’re not.

Consumers need to educate themselves. It’s probably impossible to stop consuming dyes altogether. Even farm-raised salmon is given dye to make it pink like its wild relative. However, we can certainly eat less. And we can do as the Center for Science in the Public Interest has done and express our concerns to organizations like the FDA and the USDA.

Tell them you’re concerned about your children’s health and your own, that you won’t buy products that contain large amounts of dye, and that you are educating others about this issue. If Great Britain and the European Union have done something, it’s not impossible for the US to do something too.

 

The Good, the Bad, and The Sales Pitch: How to Know if Internet Nutrition Info is Sound

nutrition

There is a proliferation of health and nutrition information on the internet these days, and it’s hard to know which is the good information and which is not. Anyone can purchase a web domain name, post a bunch of information on it, and present themselves as an expert. This does not mean they are an expert, have the degree they claim to, or have any clue what they’re talking about.

There are various of types of health and nutrition sites out there. The main categories include the following:

  • Government health and nutrition sites. These include the sites for the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and the Department of Agriculture. While some make the argument that these websites have an agenda (and in reality, everybody does, whether it’s a positive agenda or a negative one; “agenda” just means that you have a purpose for what you are doing), the information on these sites is generally written by experts in the field, has sources listed, and is not trying to sell you something.
  • Health blogs. These are generally kept by someone who feels they have something to offer the world in the health field. The blogger may or may not be an expert, have a degree in the field, and may or may not have evidence to back up their claims.
  • Websites kept by universities, health organizations such as research hospitals, and professional health organizations. Similar to government sites, they generally exist to provide information, are maintained by experts, and aren’t directly trying to sell a product, though they may offer services and products in a separate online shop.
  • Privately maintained websites. These are kept by individuals, small organizations, etc. They vary in quality. May be reliable, or may be thinly disguised sales pitches for a “cure-all” product.

 

There are many others, those most frequently found. Since all may be reliable, however many are not, what are the things to look for in a health-related website?

  • Does the information have sources listed; are these sources readily available, easy to find, or even in existence? A website with no sources, no links to similar information, or that is linked to a source by the same author or organization, (“As I said in my book, Carrots: The Miracle Vegetable,” etc.) likely is not a good source. If you want to dig further, sites that use sources that are not well-footnoted or that are clearly opinion pieces, are generally not reliable.
  • Does the website use a lot of negative language, ALL CAPITAL LETTER CLAIMS, different color text to emphasize points, or bash other websites, organizations, or people? Someone who has good information to back them up does not need to personally attack others, unless the other party is providing information that is downright dangerous. Even then, the refutation should be polite and calm, and with good sources to back it up.
  • Is the website selling something? For example, if you find a website that is called Vitamin-C-Can-Save-Your-Life.com, and they have lots of links to their shop where they sell vitamin C tablets, drink mixes, food additives, supplements, and snack bars, then this is probably a sales pitch, not a reliable site for information.
  • Is the person maintaining the site (especially in the case of blogs or other privately owned websites) a credentialed person? Do they list in their “About” information where they obtained their degree, what this degree is, or what their experience in the field entails? For example, did they graduate from Harvard Medical School, or do they just have a mysterious “Dr.” tacked to the beginning of their name? Doctorates can be legitimate medical doctor degrees, or they could be in philosophy, engineering, or even an honorary doctorate for charity work. “Nutritionist” is another deceptive title. It can mean someone who has a masters degree and carries a certification from a prestigious organization, or it can mean someone who went through a minor three-month certificate program.
  • Related to the sales-pitch site, does this site claim that a particular product can change your life? Can it cause you to lose weight, keep you from developing cancer, cure headaches, help you live longer while erasing the effects of aging, and make your high blood pressure, high cholesterol and arthritis disappear, all with one teeny capsule? Odds are, it won’t! Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Save your money. Especially save your money if this site claims that the government has been covering this cure up, or that they are the ONLY site that sells it. This means that they are probably the only ones that can test it for safety, too!
  • Is the only evidence offered for the reliability of the site a collection of glowing testimonials? Remember that there is no reason why the owner of the site couldn’t have written these themselves.

 

Much of this would appear to be common sense, but the best advice to anyone is to read ANY information on the internet with a critical, logical eye. Do not get sucked in and buy something without researching it elsewhere; don’t fall prey to testimonials claiming that this person or site saved their life.

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