Why I’m going to avoid artificial colors from now on. (Update 8/31/17)

 

I have been hearing all sorts of bad things about artificial and synthetic food colors for a long time. I had heard that they were tested on animals at some point, that they’re harmful to our health, that they’re not environmentally friendly, and that they are unnecessary. Yet, I kept seeing products labeled as vegan that had them in them and I assumed I could eat them despite what I believed were rumors. They are in, after all, in some of my favorite mainstream candies that are widely accepted as being accidentally vegan.

Realizing that many people avoid synthetic food colors for the reasons I listed above, I set out to begin to find some alternatives when I cook for other people and for the cookbook I am writing. I was not thinking I would decide to avoid them for the most part until I began to research them more as I was writing this.

However, I discovered some facts that upset me and convinced me otherwise:

Synthetic colors can be present in almost any product in the market, from food and drinks to toothpaste, chewing gum, medications, cosmetics, and even tattoos. They are typically made in a laboratory from petroleum products (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 10) or Coal (FDA, 2007). The petroleum and coal industries are destructive to our environment, and produce products and byproducts that are not exactly considered food!

To identify an artificial food coloring in your foods’ ingredients lists, you must look for the prefixes FD&C, D&C, or Ext. D&C, followed by the name of a color, and a number. Sometimes the artificial color may be listed just as the color and number. These labels mean that these colors have been “certified” by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have been approved by them to be safe for use in food (FDA, 2007). Today, there are nine dyes that are approved to be used in food, and these are (minus the prefixes): Blue 1, Blue 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 10).

However, the FDA does not require certain colorants derived from plants, animals, or minerals, though some are still considered artificial colorants and need to be regulated differently (FDA, 2007). This list includes some unappetizing options for colorings such as carmine and cochineal extract (which are produced using beetles and therefore not vegan), canthaxanthin, Sodium copper chlorophyllin, Toasted partially defatted cooked cottonseed flour, ferrous gluconate and ferrous lactate, synthetic iron oxide, mica, etc. The same list includes ingredients we vegans are more familiar with, such as beets, turmeric, vegetable and fruit juices, spirulina, saffron, paprika, carrot oil, and annatto (FDA, 2015). For more information on these lists you can check them out here.

In order to certify a synthetic colorant’s safety, they are tested on animals. The FDA requires that there are tests on at least two different species of rodents (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 11). That alone may be a reason to avoid these dyes. However, if it does not sway you for whatever reason, know that even scientists are critical of the ways in which animal testing is used and applied in research. In order to test the carcinogenicity of these colorful products effectively, scientists believe that more animals needed to be tested, that the tests need to be performed on pregnant animals and their fetuses, and have a longer duration than the two years they are conducted for at present (Potera, 2010). Personally, I would rather avoid or even encourage a ban these questionably safe products than advocate for more extensive animal testing.

Scientists, medical doctors, nutrition experts, and even psychologists, teachers, parents, and other concerned folks also take issue with some of the research findings of some dyes when the FDA has not. For example,  Potera states, “Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 contain free benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen permitted in low, presumably safe levels” (2010). However, benzidene has also been found to be bound to the chemical structure of the dyes at a greater level than the free benzidene. The tests the FDA does do not consider or identify bound contaminants, only free ones (Potera, 2010). Yellow 5 (also called tartrazine), can cause allergic reactions that can be severe in some people. Tartrazine is now required to be listed by name on food labels, but that isn’t the only concern with this colorant. In a majority of the test-tube and animal experiments for it, this yellow colored dye was shown to damage DNA, which may indicate that it is a carcinogen. Unfortunately, the studies that showed the data was not considered by the FDA (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 11). Furthermore, it has been suggested by researchers that artificial food colorings can increase hyperactivity in children diagnosed with ADHD, as well as children without the diagnosis (Arnold, Lofthouse, & Hurt, 2012).

Some food dyes used today are even banned for use in cosmetics and topical drugs but not food. Red 3 has been banned from these applications by the FDA. It has been shown in animal testing to cause thyroid cancer. Today, five million pounds of Red 3 are present in the food supply (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 10).

It is, as always, up to you to decide what you will tolerate ethically and put into your body. Personally, now that I know that these products are harmful to my health, animals, and the environment, I am going to try to do away with synthetic food colorings as much as I possibly can. I will use natural colors instead.

References

Arnold, L. E., Lofthouse, N., & Hurt, E. (2012). Artificial food colors and attention deficit/hyperactivity symptoms: Conclusions to dye for. Neurotherapeutics, 9(3), 599-609. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-012-0133-x

Jacobson, M. F., & Kobylewski, S. (2010, September). Color Us Worried. Nutrition Action Health Letter, 37(7), 10-11. Retrieved from Nursing & Allied Health Database.

Potera, C. (2010). Diet and nutrition: The artificial food dye blues. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(10). https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp/118-a428

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2007, December 10). How safe are color additives? Retrieved August 30, 2017, from https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048951.htm

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2015, May). Summary of color additives for use in the United States in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from https://www.fda.gov/ForIndustry/ColorAdditives/ColorAdditiveInventories/ucm115641.htm#table1A

***

For the purposes of the cookbook I am writing, unfortunately, I had bought a bunch of sprinkles that were labeled vegan that used the artificial colors before I did this research. I feel guilty letting them go to waste and so I plan to use them. However, I feel the need to point out that there are naturally colored vegan sprinkles available. Let’s Do Organic… brand makes a fairly easy to find variety. India Tree makes some too, but not all of them are vegan. You will need to look out for ingredients such as confectioner’s glaze or beeswax (made from insects) before buying. Additionally, there is an Etsy store called Naked Sprinkles that makes a beautiful range of vegan and naturally colored sprinkles that  I’m really excited to support in the future!

Since my cookbook is all about creating fun, rainbowy, unicorn-inspired foods, I felt it especially necessary to provide options for creating these beautiful colors without the cruelty, environmental destruction, and health risks involved.

If you are short on time or these are not cost effective for you or difficult to find, there are pre-made natural colors that you can buy as well. India Tree, Color Garden, and Color Kitchen, all make natural and vegan food coloring that you can buy in stores or online.

The following are my alternatives to artificial dyes, using natural ingredients. I recommend that you mix each color in a small glass jar and keep chilled in the fridge until needed to color all sorts of foods, such as smoothies, cakes, donuts, frostings, cookies, etc. Always shake the jar before using as separation will occur. I will be using these dyes I created in many of the recipes in the book I am writing.

*Though I have not included it in the official recipes, you can make orange colored dye by mixing the beet color with the turmeric color until you get a satisfactory shade of orange. It may be easier to mix into the food item you are making rather than in a jar, as the colors appear darker than they will in the food you are mixing them into.

Vegan Friendly Natural Food Dye Recipes

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Red

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder (optional, you could use cornstarch or arrowroot if you do not have it)
  • ¾ tsp beet powder

Yellow

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder (optional)
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric

Green

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder (optional)
  • ½ tsp spirulina powder

Blue

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder
  • ½ tsp butterfly pea tea powder

Purple

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder
  • ¼ tsp butterfly pea tea powder
  • ¼ tsp beet powder

IMG_3695Here is a picture of some cookie dough I colored using red, purple, yellow, and green dye I made.

 

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Gluten Free and Vegan Elvis Panini Sandwich!

I have been trying to eat more healthfully lately. In fact, ever since I went gluten free I have found it hard to make up the ridiculously delicious recipes I was used to creating in the past. But today I dreamed up an idea for an amazing unhealthy sandwich that at first I was skeptical of being able to pull off to meet my needs. As I continued to think about it, I devised the methods that could make it healthier, and is the perfect combination of delicious, ridiculous, healthfulness, and satiety level!

This sandwich is a peanut butter and nanner sandwich, with baked vegan rice paper bacun, made with light tapioca gluten free bread, grilled in a panini maker. This definitely is not a very original idea, I’ve seen many a vegan version of this sandwich on blogs and in cookbooks, but this is my version!

It came out so well, that my panini maker has been given a new life outside of sitting in my basement!

Let me walk you through the steps, in picture form. It’s easy!

Bake the rice paper bacun. I did this recipe’s marinade, minus the ground coconut, soaked the rice paper strips in cold water, then in the marinade, and put them on a cookie sheet sprayed with coconut oil. Then I baked them in a 350 degree F oven for about 15 minutes, checking and flipping every 5 minutes (some got done sooner than others, when that happened I took the ones that were done out and put it on a plate while the rest continued to cook)IMG_9197

Set aside.

Take two pieces of Ener-g gluten free light tapioca loaf bread and spray coconut oil on one side of both slices of bread. Put the coconut oil side down on a plate.

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Take out the peanut butter. This is a locally made, all natural, salt and sugar free peanut butter. It’s so good!

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Place one tablespoon of peanut butter on each slice of bread.

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Cut half a banana into slices. Place on one slice.

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Layer the rice paper bacun you made earlier on top of the bananas. Put the peanut butter slice down on top of the bacon to make the sandwich.

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Place the sandwich into a pre-heated panini grill on medium high for about 5 minutes, more or less depending on your device (check on it).

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Ready to go!

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Enjoy!