Behavioral psychologists have long concluded that our brain makes reflexive decisions by way of associative memory. In short, associative memory refers to the autonomous process in which a memory is recalled when experiencing a separate stimulus or response. For example, if you see a clear-glass beverage bottle containing an orange-colored liquid, you expect the liquid will resemble the taste of oranges. Your brain’s “database” has categorically associated the look of orange-colored liquids with the taste of oranges. Using food dyes, that liquid beverage was most likely artificially-colored for the sole purpose of presenting the brain with an acceptable association. Without added dyes, the liquid would probably have no discernable color, and thus the brain wouldn’t associate a taste with it; not good for sales.
The Birth of Artificial Food Dyes
Artificial dye manufacturers have been pumping out FD&C (Food, Drugs and Cosmetics) dyes since 1963. Dyes were originally synthesized from coal tar, but are now synthesized from petroleum. FDA data shows the consumption of food dyes have increased five-fold since 1955. Dyes have zero nutritional value; their sole purpose is to add or enhance color. Controversy surrounding food dyes can be traced back to their inception; resulting in consumer activists persuading the FDA to ban many dyes. Currently, the FDA has approved nine dyes:
|Year Approved||Uses & Restrictions|
|FD&C Blue No. 1|
|FD&C Blue No. 2|
|FD&C Green No. 3|
|Orange B||1966||Casings or surfaces of frankfurters and sausages; NTE 150 ppm (by wt).|
|Citrus Red No. 2||1963||Skins of oranges not intended or used for processing; NTE 2.0 ppm (by wt).|
|FD&C Red No. 3|
|FD&C Red No. 40|
|FD&C Yellow No. 5|
|FD&C Yellow No. 6|
Genotoxicity (the degree to which something causes damage to or mutation of DNA) studies involving dyes are significantly more negative than positive, and are grossly insufficient considering their widespread use. Dyes are not pure; they can contain upwards of 10% impurities, many of which are known, or suspected, cancer-causing carcinogens. The FDA has a “one-in-a-million” approach when assessing the cancer risk of dyes. However, this is based on each dye individually and not on the use of multiple dyes at once, which is commonly the case during consumption. Also, the FDA’s tolerance processes are based on 1990 dye usage. However, per-capita dye usage has jumped almost 50% since that time. In addition, the FDA does not factor in the risks that dyes pose to children, who consume more dyes per unit of body weight than adults and are more susceptible to carcinogens.
Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity
In 1970, allergist Benjamin Feingold noticed that food dyes could cause hyperactivity and other behavioral impairments in children and adults. In 2004, a meta-analysis concluded that there was a cause-and-effect relationship between food dyes and hyperactivity. Two studies sponsored by the British government concluded that food dyes were a factor in the impaired behavior of even non-hyperactive children. This resulted in the British government instructing the food and restaurant industries to eliminate the tested dyes by the end of 2009. Subsequently, the European Parliament passed a law which requires a notice on dyed food which reads, “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”. So far, the United States has yet to remove all dyes from the food industry, let alone provide proper warnings about dyes to unsuspecting consumers. Until then, vigilance and education are the best measures.