Even the most health conscious among us at least occasionally give our kiddos cake and cookies. Pintrest abounds with rainbow cakes and brightly colored cookies and I'm sure you've seen your share of glowingly bright birthday cakes, but have you ever stopped to think about exactly what is making these colors so vivid?
Sorry to bring the bad news, but most of the time it is artificial food coloring giving our treats their colors. Artificial food dyes are made from petroleum. Yep, that means that the same stuff that makes your car run is making your Ninja Turtle cake bright green.
Many countries in Europe including Norway, Finland and France ban some or all artificial food dyes. Across the European Union products containing synthetic food coloring are sold with warning labels, but here in the United States we have no such regulations or labels. According to our very own American Academy of Pediatricians, the consumption of artificial food dyes has been linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children.
(If you are looking more information and background about the potential risks of artificial food dyes consider this article by Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann. She is a pediatrician and a mother and does a thorough job of reviewing the science and studies on synthetic food dye. )
Recently some big companies have begun to reduce or eliminate artificial food dyes. Mars pledged to phase these out of their products over the next five years and Campbell's Soup Complany and Nestle USA have made similar pledges. While these changes are great there are still thousands of products that will keep their toxic colors.
So, what should concerned but busy parents do? First, don't freak out! So far it seems that the dose makes the poison, so if your children eat some synthetic food dye in a cupcake here or a candy there, it isn't the end of the world. That being said, when you are out and about know that most of the time, any colors you see in food products, from sprinkles to ice cream to Nutri Grain bars, and even some you might not notice, like whole wheat pizza crust and pickles most likely come from artificial food dye. Be aware of what your child is eating and do your best to limit the amount of synthetic dye your child eats.
Next, control what you can and use natural food dyes in the treats you color at home (I use them in play dough and crafts too!). This is an easy way to have fun with food while keeping your kids healthy.
Here are three companies that offer natural food dyes. All three are readily available in stores and online.
I first discovered Confection Crafts when looking for natural food dyes to use in my daughter's first birthday cake and I've loved their products ever since. This is a small company based in my hometown of Portland, Oregon and it has a HUGE selection of natural dyes, sprinkles, cookie paints!, and writing and molding chocolate all in a variety of bright, beautiful colors.
This is a family-owned company based out of Maine. They offer natural food dyes and sugar sprinkles. I've never tried their dyes but their sprinkles are lovely.
Based out of Seattle, this is a wide-reaching company whose products are sold across the country. India Tree makes a range of products but I have only tried their natural dyes. I would rate the dyes as just ok.
If you have a favorite natural food dye please share in the comments below!