I love beautiful food! Eating and juicing a huge variety of fruit and vegetables makes me feel alive. Just looking at my fridge full of greens, or fruit bowl laden with bright yellows, purples and reds, generates good feelings. It’s no coincidence that putting these fresh, vibrant colours into my body provides tons of natural vitamins and energy. A plant based diet is like eating a rainbow every day of the week.
There is of course a massive difference between natures rainbow and the bright, enticing colours that draw us to filling our shopping baskets with colourful jelly sweets and pretty pink iced cakes.
Food dyes are one of the most widely used and dangerous additives hidden in the things we eat. Here in the UK we can consider ourselves fortunate. As recently as 2009, Britain requested it’s food companies stop using artificial dyes in food. There were growing concerns regarding the very real connection between these dyes, hyperactivity in children and cancer. Today, multinationals such as Kellogg’s and Kraft, are banned from using artificial colourings in British products.
While the European Union has banned many artificial colourings and placed regulations on labelling food dyes to inform consumers of the health risks, the United States has no such requirement. Americans are now eating 5 times more food dye than in 1955.
In the USA it seems no food is sacred. What could look more beautiful than a naturally vibrant Florida orange? About two billion fresh Florida oranges are dipped in synthetic dyes to brighten them and provide uniform colour. We certainly get off lightly here in England. The fizzy drink Fanta for example, gets its colour from pumpkin and carrot. The US version? Yellow 6 and Red 40, a dye derived from petroleum of all things. Yes, petrol! A strawberry sundae from McDonald’s is solely strawberries in Britain, but over in the states that same petroleum-based Red 40 — which is the most commonly used food colouring — gives the sundae its crimson hue.
Red food colouring is the most commonly used dye in the USA. Worryingly it’s synthetically derived from petroleum. The additive is also known as Allura Red. It’s been found to cause cancer in rats. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in candy, cereal, baked goods, gelatine powder, drugs and cosmetics.
Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow)
Caused adrenal tumours in animals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. Sunset yellow is most commonly found in bakery goods, cereals, beverages, dessert powders, candies, gelatine, sausage, cosmetics, and drugs.
Green #3 (Fast Green)
Caused significant increases in bladder and testes tumours in male rats. Fast green is used to colour candy, drinks, ice cream, sorbet, ingested drugs, lipsticks, and externally applied cosmetics.
Wow ~ those are pretty potent chemicals we’re putting into and onto our bodies. Aside from making sweets look pretty, is there a purpose to adding these dangerous dyes to our food? Rainbow hues are pumped into the stuff we eat to compensate for the colour lost when food is exposed to light, air, extreme temperatures, moisture, or storage conditions. It’s basically an opportunity to give over processed food its colour back. It’s like taking a food, stripping it of it’s natural beauty and putting a ton of make up on it to try and make it look pretty again.
So why aren’t food manufacturers turning to natural colour sources to brighten our food? Some of them do. There’s a great little FREE app called E Food Additives by Melon AD. You can use the simple interface to search for the E number you’re seeing on a list of ingredients and it will tell you if it’s a good or a bad thing, whether it’s derived from natural sources or a chemical.
Turmeric for example is a spice which has been used for centuries. Renowned for its immune regulating healing properties, I absolutely love adding it to recipes. Not only does it inject even more brightness into free range omelettes and scrambled eggs, it’s adding a ton of health benefits too.
The downside ~ if you can call it that ~ of natural dyes, is their taste. Turmeric yellow with its scents of orange and ginger and peppery flavour, works beautifully in savoury dishes and mustards … but your three year old might not thank you for icing her birthday cake with it! Then again, juiced blackberries and raspberries add the most beautiful, natural, pinky, purple colour and delicious berry flavours to sweet frosting and squishy cakes.
It’s no secret that I love playing with food, so I thought I’d experiment with a variety of naturally vibrant colourings.
Nature has provided us with a rainbow array of foods. Crunching, steaming, roasting, and juicing a variety of naturally sweet, juicy fruits and vegetables negates the need to fake it! Perfection is so overrated. I like looking at knobbly carrots, misshapen bananas and muddy parsnips. They appear real, their colours are true. Given the choice between a supermarket box of uniform, EU regulated, same size, flavourless carrots or a crate of mud covered, misshapen, bright orange, green topped organic beauties, I’d pick nature every time. It’s the difference between genuine beauty and a carrot that’s booked itself in for cosmetic surgery and come out the other side with a bland, unrealistic, false perfection. And seriously, who wants to include red diesel in their diet anyway?