By: Kimberley Record, Health Coach, RHN – Campbell River BC
This time of year, I start to cringe at the variety of “treats” in stores, bakeries, and restaurants – those coloured treats, created to honour the upcoming celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, that seem mostly geared towards children (green beer being an exception of course!). They are eye-appealing to our little ones, but they taste no different from their colour-free versions.
So why am I cringing? Because food colouring is toxic, plain and simple. But try explaining that to a 5-year old…
Unfortunately, we’ve only been taught to focus on examining labels for their calorie, fat and/or sodium content. There’s been very little focus on reading into ingredients for the “little things” like unecessary added chemicals, because they have been approved for safe consumption in the quantities listed. But we need to look further, especially where our children are concerned.
There have been multiple studies on the links between artificial food colouring (particularly Yellow #5, a.k.a. Tartrazine) and children’s behavioural disorders , including ADD and ADHD. Their little bodies are particularly sensitive to synthetically-produced chemicals. I have personally seen the effects on my daughter, whom I’ve raised on a relatively clean diet: a well-behaved child turns into a bellingerent, hyperactive one, within minutes of consuming anything with food colouring in it. Fascinating, and scary – and it’s no coincidence that the rates of behavioural disorders in children are increasing as these food additives are also increasing in prevalence.
My daughter knows why I regularly refuse to buy artificially-coloured treats. But it doesn’t mean that she won’t continue to request them (they are pretty after all)! So rather than fight it, I find natural alternatives – which is actually easier than you may think.
Here are some guidelines:
Read ingredients! You won’t likely find the natural alternatives mixed in with the regular candies/cookies, but many stores now cater to shoppers with natural food sections that offer chemical-free treats. Natural colours, which are non-toxic, include: annatto, beet extract, caramel, beta-carotene, turmeric and grape skin extract. When you see these in a product’s ingredient list, that’s a better choice. Click here to see the most common artificial food dyes used and their names, which you can look out for in labels (although many labels may simply indicate “artificial colours”) – if any of these are listed in the ingredients, opt out!
Always ask! Some establishments are starting to make an effort to keep chemicals our of their products, especially if they make their goods in-house. Although many still opt for colouring to make their products more visually appealing, so you may need to shop around until you find one that uses natural colour alternatives. Custom ordering (for birthdays and other special occasions) may allow you more options. I’ve personally always loved the bakery at Whole Foods, which never uses any artificial colours, so if you have one if your area, it’s a great choice for the occasional treat!
Add natural colours to your own homemade treats! You can buy natural food colouring in bottles at health food stores (for ease, but they tend to be very pricey), or you can make your own. My favourite colour staple is liquid chlorophyll (for vibrant green) – I keep a bottle in my fridge at all times and use in drops as needed. It has virtually no flavour, and dyes very effectively (and makes a great green beer!).
Here’s a quick reference list for easy homemade food dyes – try them out in our Easter recipe for Crispy Bird Nests:
RED: beet or pomegranate juice
PINK: cranberry juice
PURPLE: blueberry or grape juice (concentrated)
GREEN: liquid chlorophyll
YELLOW: turmeric powder
ORANGE: carrot juice
BROWN: cocoa powder or steeped black tea