As you’re browsing grocery store aisles, you might come across packaged goods from food giants like Kraft, Lipton, and Heinz that all have something in common: a petroleum-based substance known as Red Dye 40. From snacks and soda to toothpaste and mouthwash, Red 40 is the most common artificial food color.
The use of synthetic food dyes dates back to the 1800s, when chemists first started experimenting with coal tar in their labs. At the time, coal wasn’t specifically being used to make food dye, but the enticing colors that were produced were a major hit. Not only was coal cheap, but dyes like Red 40 helped make food more vibrant and unique.
More recently, petroleum-based dyes like Red 40 have come under fire for some of their hazardous side effects, including allergies, hyperactivity, learning impairment, and cancer. Some countries have even taken proactive steps to limit or prohibit the consumption of Red 40 altogether. In Europe, Red 40 is legal as long as those foods provide special warning labels, and in the United Kingdom, synthetic colors are banned completely. However, in the United States, Red 40 is still found in many unnaturally red foods. It's approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) but must be listed as an ingredient on labels.
Here are some recognizable foods that currently have Red 40 in them:
- Cereals: Fruity Pebbles and Trix
- Snacks: Nacho Cheese Doritos and Jell-O
- Candy: Twizzlers, Skittles, and M&Ms
- Soft drinks: V8 Splash, Gatorade, and Pepsi
- Salad dressings, jams and jellies, pickles, and fruit snacks
From this list, it’s clear that most items containing Red 40 are processed. If you’re concerned about what’s in your pantry or how often you’re consuming artificial ingredients, here are two easy ways to avoid Red 40:
Because the FDA requires Red 40 to be listed as an ingredient, you can avoid it simply by buying foods that don’t list it! It’s also important to keep in mind that Red 40 isn’t just used in food. You might be surprised to find it in some things we deem “healthy,” including cough drops and medicine. Always check labels before you hit the checkout line!
Eat whole, unprocessed foods.
We know that fresh food has far fewer ingredients than processed food, so if you want to avoid artificial ingredients, it’s best to stick to the whole, natural stuff as often as possible! When you go to the store or market, purchase a mix of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. By eating clean, you’ll not only nourish your body but also reduce the exposure to harmful chemicals.
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