Understanding Artificial Food Dyes — And How to Avoid Them

artificial food dyes in citrus

Artificial food dyes are everywhere — and best avoided.

As many commercially grown apples and other fruits are picked before they ripen and achieve optimal color, fruits are commonly dyed to make them more appealing. In many instances, there is no way to tell if a fruit has been subject to artificial food dyes, although I do remember years back occasionally biting into apples and noticing red streaks extending into the pulp from the skin, an obvious indication of dye. Florida orange growers use Citrus Red #2 dye to make their oranges look richer in color off-season. California and Arizona have banned the use of this dye, so if you want to be sure that your oranges haven’t been dyed, buy them from California or Arizona growers. Although the FDA banned Red Dye #2 for use in food because it was proven to be carcinogenic, this dye has been approved for use on oranges because it is assumed that people don’t eat the peel. But what if you put an orange wedge in your drink or use the zest in a recipe?

Commercial dyes are often created from petrochemicals. Over the years, many artificial colors have been banned and pulled off the market because they were found to be toxic. But several artificial dyes that have been found to cause behavioral problems in children, and even be carcinogenic, remain in the market. Interestingly, in Europe, most foods that contain any of six artificial dyes associated with behavioral problems must be labeled, “May have effects on activity and attention in children.”

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