Artificial. That word just leaves a bad taste in my mouth and is the main reason I kicked Red #40, Blue #1, Tartrazine (basically another name for Yellow #5), and all the other conventional food dyes that plague the processed foods that are the main staple in so many people’s diets out of my cupboards and food I serve my family. I chose the name ” The Natural Nurturer” as my blog title because that is how I passionately feel life and food should be: as close to nature as possible. The nourishment that you fuel your body with was never intended by any of The Powers That Be to be riddled with ultra-vibrant chemical colors cooked up in a lab. Mother Nature didn’t make avocados their stunning shade of Kelly green with petroleum based colors for a reason. Yes, petroleum, like the stuff that goes into your car. That stuff is sneaking it’s way into more then the primary red Spider-Man cupcakes your kiddo ate the neighbor’s birthday party. Artificial food dyes are now being used in food that one would never think would need food dye. Open your fridge. I bet there is red dye in that strawberry yogurt you eat every morning for breakfast, or some yellow artificial food coloring in the bright orange cheese sticks you throw into Junior’s lunch bag 5 days a week. Now open your cupboards. Look at those crackers you serve for an afternoon snack. Any dyes in those that came from a chemistry experiment rather than a plant? How about in your toothpaste? Your vitamins? Artificial coloring has wandered its way into things we would never, ever think needs color enhancement and thus, we are eating way more artificial dyes than we were ever aware of!
So why is this a big deal? If, even after hearing that they are petroleum based, you still are wondering why you should bother going through the hassle of weeding out the foods with artificial dyes, I will say this: all of the dyes in your processed foods are FDA-approved here in America. That would make you think that everything is honky dory with them. However, these same dyes that we are chowing down on daily (and in hidden places) are banned in many other countries like Norway, Finland, and Australia. You have to stop and wonder why the heck we are consuming foods riddled with an additive that multiple governments have deemed dangerous enough to ban from their population’s diets. Wonder I do, on a regular basis. There have been many intensely debated studies done on the effects of artificial food dyes. One study says that Blue #2 causes brain cancer, but then some experts in the field claim that to be unproven. Another says that Yellow #5 is attributed to genotoxicity (I read this to mean that the dye causes cells’ DNA to mutate), but again the results of that study are fiercely argued. Do I know 100% for a fact, being the Average Jane that I am, that eating artificial food dyes is going to kill me in some horrific way? No. But I do believe that keeping food as simple and close to nature as possible is the most foolproof way to ensure that your nourishment is actually nourishing you instead of screwing with the chemical balance of your beautiful body! Plus, I have heard many more positives come from the removal of artificial food dyes than I ever have for keeping them in one’s diet. I, myself, have witnessed some children who have been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD that have found the removal of artificial food dyes from their diets to be therapeutic and have heard rumblings of its removal being beneficial to children struggling with night terrors and impulse control. I certainly do not think that the removal of artificial food dyes is a fix-all for every child living with these diagnoses, but it would absolutely be the first place I would start if my own daughter needed interventions. Every few years, the FDA removes another, previously deemed “safe”, artificial food dye from their approved list due to new research and development. So, instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop in the world of food dyes, I have simply decided that they are not needed in my life or the lives of those I love and cook for.
Finding balance. Being a mother to a little girl growing up in a society that throws food dye in pretty much every food geared towards children, I’m sure you are wondering how I possibly keep all those fun pink cupcakes and lollipops out of Alice’s mouth. The simple answer is, I don’t. Not entirely. The way I look at it is, if we eat the really clean, unprocessed stuff 95% of the time, then the 5% of the time that we eat the not so great stuff will impact our health less. Could I bring homemade, organic, and dye free cupcakes to every birthday party that we will attend? Sure, and I know lots of people who do (respect). However, my husband and I have made a choice, that when it comes to Alice’s social eating, that we wanted to let her enjoy the same treats as her peers. We have no medical reason to stop her, so we decided to let those times be the really special treats. I’m sure those neon pink cupcakes taste like bliss to her since she only sees them once in a blue moon. And I always go through the goodie bag before she gets her frosting-covered fingers on it and pitch anything that I wouldn’t feed her from my own cupboard. At Halloween, she is allowed to select the number of pieces of candy to keep for however many years old she is (she is 3, so this year she selected 3 piece of candy). At Easter, we opt to fill her Easter eggs with dark chocolate chips, her favorite nuts (cashews), and berries or grapes (my girl loves her fruit). I really don’t think Alice notices that she doesn’t have all dye-riddled foods other children her age eats, but if (and when) she does, I plan to be honest with her about it. I plan to tell her that those beautifully colored foods are lovely to look at, but don’t give our bodies what they need to work the way they are supposed to, and even might hurt our bodies. Do I expect to have a fight or two over why I will never let her talk me into feeding her Fruit Loops for breakfast? Absolutely. But I am her mother, I think this path is best, and it is my job to help guide her and give her honest information/opportunities until she is old enough to decide for herself what is best for her.
Is there a better way? Until not long ago (about the turn of the twentieth century), people used natural resources, like spices and fruit/vegetable juices, to color their foods. One can only assume that the reason we got away from this natural way of beautifying our food has to do with companies taking over preparing most of what we consume instead of foods being prepared from scratch in the home. Companies do what they have to do to turn the biggest profit possible. I’m sure that cooking up artificial food dyes in a lab that have a long shelf life and making their products more visually appealing proved to be much more cost effective than using beet juice or spinach extract in their creations.
Beet juice? Yes, beet juice is fabulous way to make your child the bubble gum pink cupcakes she is begging you for without dosing her with artificial food colors that contain ingredients you can’t start to pronounce. Humans have always eaten with their eyes first and been more drawn to visually appealing foods. So, as I said before, it is not surprising that people have been enhancing their foods with extra hues for a long time…we just got a little off track about the best way (in my opinion) to go about doing it. So, how do you go about beautifying your food with natural food coloring? You can certainly make your from the goodies in your produce basket and spice rack. Kresha from Nourishingjoy.com has a beautiful list of how to create your own homemade food dyes out of the natural, Earth-grown ingredients you have kicking around your house. Or, you can be like me, and order some from Amazon. India Ink has proven to be my favorite thus far. One thing to keep in mind when using natural food dye derived from plants is that you can’t expect it to behave the same way artificial food dye do. Since you are using a plant that has its own unique flavor and consistency to enhance the appearance of your food, adding too much natural color will change your beautiful baked good’s flavor and texture. You cannot get Spiderman red frosting by adding beet juice without changing what the frosting tastes and behaves like. Frustrating, but true. If Junior has his heart set on a Spiderman themed cake, see if he will settle for action figures battling it out on top of his cake instead of the ultra vibrant red coated cake.
I do not have anything containing artificial food dyes in my house and refuse to spend my money on anything that does. But that is what was right for my family. I saw that I had reasonable alternatives that were derived from nature for the occasional “fun” treat. My husband and I felt motivated enough by the unknown repercussions of continuing to consume foods containing unnecessary additives like artificial food dyes to jump through the hoops of removing them from our diets as much as possible. It’s actually amazing how little hoop jumping there was to clean this junk out of our house. Just a few weeks of serious label reading at the grocery store, a little research, a creative mind, and the strong-held belief that it is is best to keep life and food as close to nature as possible.