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If it 'bugs' you check out the label on your foodPosted Friday, June 17, 2011, at 11:02 AM
What is carmine? Look closely, you will find it listed as an ingredient in many foods. It is a dye, giving your food a pretty red color. I had never noticed carmine until a comment on Facebook piqued my interest.
I discovered that carmine is the name of the color derived from Cochineals, otherwise known as Asian beetles. That sounds disgusting, but bugs are "natural," right?
So, why all the hype about carmine and other food dyes? Some blame food dyes for allergic reactions, eczema, hives, brain tumors, cancer, hyperactivity, emotional disturbances, and attention problems in children.
Red Dye No. 40, also called Allura Red, comes from coal. While coal is great for generating electricity, it has been blamed for energizing children too. Some countries have banned it, linking it to hyperactivity in children and brain tumors.
Some researchers link Yellow No. 5 (tartazine), another coal-derived dye, to health problems. Tartazine can trigger allergies and asthma, and some research has linked it to thyroid cancer.
There is also "caramel color," found in dark sodas, soy sauce, some beers, and my sundae dish of ice cream. Some want to ban two of the four types of caramel coloring -- including the color used in many sodas -- because of a link to cancer found in lab rats. Humans would need to drink approximately 1,000 cans of dark sodas per day to get the same dose of caramel coloring as the lab rats, but still, cans of soda may one day carry a cancer warning.
Although probably safer than coal based colorings, "vegetable colors" can also be controversial. While beet juice, paprika, and turmeric appear to be safe, annatto may trigger allergies and lead to hyperactivity.
Despite food dyes being linked to health problems, they sure do make our food look more appetizing. But do the risks outweigh the benefits? I'm not sure they do.
Looking for food dyes, I scoured my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. I found yogurt colored with bugs, ice cream colored with Red Dye 40 and caramel color, and multivitamins colored with several dyes. I am not going to throw these products away, but I will think twice before buying them again. Instead I will be looking for the non-dyed alternatives.
If you want to look for food dyes, check out the list of ingredients in the foods you eat. Places you might be more likely to find dyes include candies, yogurts, chocolates, drinks, ice creams, gelatins, macaroni and cheeses, and cheese-flavored chips and crackers. Additionally, medicines, canned fruits, canned vegetables, skim milk, sodas, and tomato-based products often have them too.
Did I bug you?
From Worthington, Tracey is a Registered Dietitian. She currently lives in Arlington, Va., with her husband, Ed and three children, Lilly, Charlie, and Kate. For recipes, menu ideas, articles, and more, follow her on Facebook at Tracey Linneweber, RD. The information contained in this blog is not meant to substitute for your physician's advice.
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