How to steer clear of artificial food colouring, especially when the manufacturer doesn't want you to

Without food dye, processed food doesn’t look much like food—which might tell us something. Colour doesn’t have to come from toxic chemicals, though, more natural food dyes are often just as effective.

For example, many food companies sell one version of their products in the United Kingdom that are made with natural colouring, while in Canada and the US they still contain artificial colouring. Case in point: check out the ingredients for Kellogg's Nutri-Grain strawberry cereal bars. These are one of those quasi-healthy snack foods that most of us think as okay to feed our kids.

In the UK they are coloured with beetroot red, annatto and paprika extract. In the US the colours are Red No. 40, Yellow No. 6 and Blue No. 1. In Canada the ingredients list simply says they are coloured with "colours."

Colour me shocked

Part 1: More facts about food colouring

If we had labels that told us which dyes were used in our food then we’d have more information to work with. But going on the assumption that we are getting the same dyes as our southern neighbours, a quick Internet search told me that RED 40—which is the most widely used food dye and is found in pop, candy, gelatin, pastries, pet food and some meat—can cause allergy-like reactions; YELLOW 6—used in drinks, candy and baked goods—can cause abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting; and BLUE 1 is one of the many colours that the Hyperactive Children's Support Group and the Feingold Association suggest children avoid.

Because Canadians don’t know which specific colours are going into our foods, our family tries to avoid them all, just on principal.


Tips for avoiding food dyes:


• Choose whole foods and avoid processed options.

• Read the labels and avoid anything that contains colour or specific colours.

• Look for foods that use natural dyes: annatto, beta-carotene, beet powder, caramel color, fruit juice, paprika, saffron, turmeric, and vegetable juice.

• Avoid fruit-flavoured foods that don’t actually contain fruit.

• Skip the bright colours. They might look fun, but if you check the food label, they have little nutrition and lots of chemicals.