(NaturalNews) The toxicity potential of synthetic food colors is complex and controversial. Color additives are mostly used to make high-calorie, low-nutrition foods appear healthy. Many, including Dr. Alexander Weil, claim those additives are toxic or carcinogenic. They usually show up on labels with the color and a code number.
Some food color additives, such as caramel and carmine, have less bad press. But there is enough bad press overall to force more color additive manufacturers into using natural plant extracts instead of synthetic chemicals.
Caramel and Carmine
Caramel, the grandfather of food coloring, is the most ubiquitous. It's what makes colas brown, like Pepsi, Coca-Cola and others. It's in almost any brown liquid including whiskey, brown gravies, many soy sauces, and most balsamic vinegars. It's also used in many junk food items from cookies to potato chips. It's created by caramelizing (burning) sugar.
Any food burnt or charred can be carcinogenic due to acrylamide content. The FDA acknowledges the toxic potential of acrylamide in large doses, but considers caramel's acrylamide content insignificant.
Sometimes caramel is processed with ammonium. That's indicated by the codes Caramel E150C and E150D. The FDA concedes some side effects from E150C and E150D. California has listed all caramel coloring as carcinogenic.
Carmine or cochineal is a mash from crushed beetles stripped off cacti in lower Mexico and South America. Formerly used only to create red fabrics, it's now an FDA approved food color additive.
Some people can have extreme allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock resulting in coma or death. So when you see carmine on your strawberry yogurt's list of ingredients, know that you're eating beetle juice yogurt.
Truly Natural Color Additives
Natural plant based extracts have begun to emerge as food color additives. Annatto, a yellow-orange extract from the seeds of a tropical shrub, is often used for cheese and butter. It can cause allergic reactions for some, usually hives.
Anthocyanin is an extract from various red and purple plant sources. Beta carotene, chlorophyll, paprika, red beets, saffron, and turmeric are obvious plant sources.
Food color additive companies are filing patents for their extracts with those colors. Getting exclusive patent rights may involve a little chemical tweaking.
Petroleum Based Food Colors
FDA approved chemical food colors are indicated by FD&C (Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics) and are approved synthetic colors. As of 2007, the following seven were FDA approved for any food: Blue #1, Blue #2, Green #3, Red #3, Red #40, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6. Many are banned in Europe.
The State of California, Dr. Weil, and others think they should be banned too. Currently, because of many complaints from parents and pediatricians, the FDA is investigating the effect of synthetic food colorings on adolescents and children.
But thus far, the FDA has rejected food coloring health danger claims, even overruling their own scientists who urged banning Red #3 in 1983.