St. Patrick’s Day Alert: Green Food Dyes – Not So Lucky
Originally published 3/13/2016
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are cheerful, festive and packed with Irish pride. Every March, cities and businesses host parades, road races, pub crawls, concerts and special dinners. These festivities inspire the drinking/eating of green – a.k.a – an over-saturation and consumption of artificial food coloring.
Are you familiar with the health risks associated with fake color additives? If not, continue reading and learn the dangers of eating and drinking artificial green food dyes.
The Chicago River
Before I dive into the nitty-gritty – did you know that every year the Chicago River is dyed green in honor of the holiday? Take a look:
… and here is how it gets its dye job:
- This infographic explains how the Chicago river is dyed each year.
- Here’s a time-lapse video of the Chicago River receiving its St. Paddy’s Day color in 2015:
Green, green and more green!
I digress… Rivers are not the only things that get an emerald green makeover each St. Paddy’s Day. Many foods are dosed with synthetic green food coloring and then marketed as swoon-worthy, minty, tasty and lucky. Included in this lineup are:
Go green or bust?
I remember back in the day going crazy with food coloring – especially around St. Patrick’s Day. My friends and I used to get a kick out of putting green food dye into cookie batter, water… BEER! It almost felt as if green food coloring made the holiday 100 times more fun. Go green or bust, right?
Well, those “eating and drinking fake green” days are over for me and they have been for a long time. As a nutrition coach, I now know about the dangers associated with food additives and steer clear of them. I have learned to live without artificial food coloring and dyes – and guess what? Holidays are still festive! 🙂
Be weary of green food coloring this St. Patrick’s Day
If a food product flaunts an unnatural electric green hue or is green when it normally is not (doughnuts, oreos, eggs), there’s a huge chance that it has been dyed. Sometimes natural food coloring is used, but often artificial food dyes are behind the bright colors. When they are, you should think twice before eating those foods. Here’s why…
Health risks are associated with green artificial food coloring
Synthetic color additives do not possess health or nutritional benefit. Recent analysis of the artificial dye content of foods and beverages indicates that the amount of dyes contained in just one cupcake, glass of Kool-Aid, or piece of cake can be enough to prompt adverse behavioral and allergic reactions in people, especially in some children.
All artificial food dyes come with health risks, but in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day I am going to give you a glimpse into some of the health dangers associated with the ingredients that make up green food coloring.
Some green food coloring ingredients are linked to:
- Agressive and violent behavior
- Cancer/tumor growth
- Hormone (endocrine) system disruption
- Genotoxicity (genetic mutations and damaged chromosones) – which suggests that birth defects may happen when genetic damage (from dyes) is caused to an egg or sperm cell
- Hives, itching, swelling
A look into the ingredients of artificial green food coloring
To look more closely at the ingredients that make up green food coloring, let’s examine a food coloring that is commonly found in supermarkets in the United States – McCormick® Green Food Color . McCormick Green Food Color contains the following five ingredients, four of which may be linked to health issues.
The breakdown of McCormick Green Food Color:
- Propylene Glycol (PG): PG is a synthetic product obtained from the hydration of propylene oxide, which is derived from petroleum products. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that it has the potential for organ (non-reproductive) toxicity and may cause allergic reactions in patients with eczema and other skin allergies.
- Fd&C Yellow 5: Also known as Tartrazine. Fd&C Yellow 5 is a synthetic dye produced from petroleum and is the second-most commonly used dye in the United States. It is often used with Fd&C Blue 1 to create various shades of green. Fd&C Yellow 5 contains benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen. Exposure to Fd&C Yellow 5 has led to symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, anxiety, asthma attacks and behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and hypersensitivity, especially with children. It has also been linked to hives, asthma and adrenal/thyroid tumors in animals. Fd&C Yellow 5 has tested positive for genotoxicity in 6 out of 12 studies done on determining the link between Fd&C Yellow 5 and genotoxicity.
- Fd&C Blue 1: Also known as Brilliant Blue FCF. Fd&C Blue 1 is the fourth-most widely used dye in the United States. It is a synthetic dye produced using aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum and is often combined with Fd&C Yellow 5 to produce various shades of green. Fd&C Blue 1 has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier. In laboratory animals, cancerous tumors of the kidneys have grown after exposure to Fd&C Blue 1. Exposure to Fd&C Blue 1 can cause hypersensitivity reactions.
- Propylparaben: Propylparaben is an antimicrobial preservative that is allowed in food sold in the United States, but banned from the European Union. In the body, parabens mimic estrogen and can act as hormone (endocrine) system disruptors. Propylparaben is a known allergen.
Take action – avoid food and beverages that contain artificial food coloring
As you can see, there are many health risks associated with artificial dyes, which makes green food coloring not so lucky. In my opinion, sacrificing my health (or if I had children, my childrens’ health) so that I can eat a food product that “looks more festive” is not worth it. I strongly urge you to stay away from artificial food coloring. Be vigilant during the holidays when food manufacturers permeate their products with artificial food colors and choose alternatives. Read food labels and steer clear of any products that contain synthetic food dyes.
Alternatives to artificial food coloring
I know foods with bold colors are cheerful, but fun can still be had this St. Patrick’s day without fake food dyes. If you must eat flamboyantly this holiday, nosh naturally. Read labels, talk to chefs and restaurant managers, and only buy/eat foods that:
- Do not contain food dyes
- Contain natural food colorings that are free of artificial junk
If you are baking or cooking this holiday, use something from nature such as spinach, spirulina or kale to color your food. If this is not possible, choose a natural food coloring brand such as India Tree. India Tree’s Decorating Colors are made from concentrated vegetable colors and do not contain synthetic materials.
Ingredients found in the India Tree Decorating Set:
- Blue: glycerin, deionized water, vegetable juice and spirulina
- Red: vegetable juice, glycerin, deionized water, turmeric
- Yellow: glycerin, turmeric and deionized water
Click the photo below to purchase India Tree’s Decorating Set (Blue, Red and Yellow):
Major food corporations and restaurants thrive on brightening things up during the holidays, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. During St. Paddy’s Day, the color green is found in SO many things. For a limited time, beverages, snacks, deserts and condiments sport various shades of green. Unfortunately, health risks come with this green color explosion, as the ingredients in artificial green food colorings present many health dangers such as skin allergies, behavioral issues and cancer. This makes green food dyes not so lucky.
This St. Patrick’s Day, go the natural route and choose foods that do not contain artificial food dyes. Read food labels and don’t be afraid to ask chefs or restaurant managers what is in your food. If you bake/cook your own goodies this holiday, and want to add some green flair to them, use other foods from nature or natural food coloring brands such as India Tree.
- What do you think about artificial food dyes?
- Do you stay away from them?
- Have you or your children ever experienced negative side effects from eating synthetic food coloring?
I want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
- If you are curious about what kind of ingredients/food colorings make up a common St. Patrick’s Day treat such as the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake, read my article, “Why You Should Never Drink A Shamrock Shake.”
- If you are looking for a yummy treat this St. Patrick’s Day that doesn’t contain artificial coloring, check out my Homemade Shamrock Recipe. It may not flaunt the neon green color of a McDonald’s McCafe Shamrock Shake, but it sure is sweet, creamy, minty and cool! Yum!
- Green Food Color. (n.d.). Retrieved February 04, 2016, from http://www.mccormick.com/Spices-and-Flavors/Extracts-and-Food-Colors/Food-Colors/Green-Food-Color
- Lefferts, L. (2016). Seeing Red. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http://cspinet.org/reports/seeing-red-report.pdf
When she is not helping others to slay fat, build muscle, and live amazing lives, Jennifer can be found exploring the outdoors with her dogs, cooking, traveling and playing/coaching lacrosse. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.