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The Rainbow Cake Dilemma…The Dangers of Food Dye

My mom always did an amazing job at throwing the best birthday parties. From exciting events to homemade cake, I would look forward to them every year. This is one experience that I want to give to my children. One of the things she always did is ask me what cake or theme I wanted for my birthday. No matter how obscure, she would always find a way to get the job done.

Our daughter turned 4 in May, and so I asked her in April what kind of cake or theme she would like for her birthday. I wasn’t really sure what she would say, but was totally stunned when she suggested that she wanted a rainbow party. Now to most, this is totally not a big deal. To a Naturopath, the first thing I thought of is…oh no, how am I making a rainbow cake without FOOD DYE!

Traditionally we think of food dye as being in things that are brilliant in colour like skittles, soda and freezies. The reality is, these dyes are placed in things that you would never even believe unless you read the labels. Things like, yogurt, cereal, vanilla cake frosting, pickles, granola bars and yes even some vitamins.

Why Should We Avoid Them?

The common misconception is….well a little bit can’t be that bad! The problem is, because of our diet and the fact that these are hidden in so many processed foods it is estimated that we are eating 5x the amount of food dye in our diets than 50 years ago.

Dyes make foods look more tasty and often more appealing to consumers. Companies have relied on this technique for ages to save money and sell more products. For centuries, we used natural dye to colour food and clothing. Around the turn of the 20th century scientists began formulating synthetic colours derived mainly from coal tar. This was done to reduce costs and avoid toxins in some of the natural compounds they were using.

In 2009 Great Britain banned the use of food dyes because of their concern of the link between dye and cancer and hyperactivity. Companies such as Kellog’s and Kraft are no longer using these dyes in their UK products. North America is still studying the effects to see if there are conclusive links.

Food Dyes And Links to ADHD

The dye that is under the most amount of question at this point is Yellow Dye #5 and 6 for its relation to hyperactivity. In 2007, a large study was conducted to test the effects of food dye with hyperactivity in children.  The children consumed foods and drinks free of food dye, and sodium benzoate (a common preservative). Every 2 weeks the children were given a drink that contained food dye and researchers and parents noticed a significant increase in hyperactivity during these weeks (Lancet, Nov 2007)

This research is consistent with studies from Harvard and Columbia University that show that removing food dyes can help improve behaviour in children diagnosed with ADHD.

We all have to make decisions for ourselves regarding our health, but many times the proof is in the behaviour. If you have a child that is suffering from aggression or hyperactivity this often can be helped by changing the foods they are eating. Often times taking these children off food dyes, sugar and gluten will create profound effects in their behaviour.

Food Dyes to Watch For

Green #3 – linked to bladder tumours and has been banned in some European countries

Citrus Red #2  – linked to bladder tumours and banned in US food processing. Still found on the skins of some florida oranges

Blue Dye #1 and #2  – Linked to brain tumours and chromosomal damage. Found in baked goods, candies, and processed foods

Red Dye #40 – This dye has been under great debate and has been banned from some food and cosmetics in the 90’s but still remains in our food supply. Has been linked to lymphoma, chromosomal damage and hyperactivity

Red Dye #3   – Been linked to chromosomal damage, hyperactivity and other behavioural effects. Found in some meats, candy and processed foods

Yellow Dye #5 – Tartrazine – been linked to chromosomal damage,  lymphoma, asthma, aggression and violent behavior, hyperactivity, allergies, insomnia

Yellow Dye #6 – been linked to asthma, chromosomal damage, hives, hyperactivity and allergies. Been banned in Norway and Sweden. Found in cheese, candy, beverages, and processed foods

What To Do

It is important in this day and age to be a savvy consumer. Read labels and avoid food or food products that contain and of the above food dyes on the label.

So….What About the Rainbow Cake?

Back to my rainbow cake. I am a firm believer in everything in moderation when it comes to things like sugar, refined carbohydrates or alcohol. However, I take a strong stance on man made chemicals that we know negatively impact our health especially when there are natural alternatives.

You can make food dyes yourself from things like beet juice, turmeric, and paprika. At one point in my life, I would have done these things.

However at this point in my life with 8 month old twins, and a 4 year old daughter, I rarely get to go to the bathroom by myself so to maintain my own sanity I need to cut some corners.

I found confection crafts natural food dye at Healthy Foods and More on Devitt Street in Waterloo. The red dye is made from beets, carrots, annatto and plant glycerin. The cake turned out great, my daughter was thrilled and I felt better knowing that I wasn’t poisoning everyone!!

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