Health News – Sushma Shah, Naturopathic Doctor
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Are Artificial Flavours And Colors In Food Safe For Us And Our Children?

Flavourings are used in a variety of different foods such as soft drinks, chewing gum, confections, ice creams, baked goods, puddings, gelatins and other desserts, just to name a few. Most of these flavourings are considered fairly safe when used in modest amounts. There are also “flavour enhancers” which are substances used that seem to bring out or improve the flavours of the food. Salt is most likely the most common, though monosodium glutamate (MSG) is used quite frequently. Malitol is another example of a flavouring agent.

Here is a list of some of the natural flavourings:


Vanilla                     Licorice                     Cocoa                    Garlic

Kola nut                   Mustard                    Cassia                   Clove

Fenugreek               Peppermint              Anise                    Lemon oil

Fennel                     Orange oil                 Ginger                 Other fruit oils

Most labeling on packages will not specify whether the flavourings used are artifical or natural; they usually just state “natural” or “artificial flavouring.” It is important that the labels are read carefully especially if  we want to avoid the many chemicals used in artificial flavouring.

Why are artificial flavorings such a concern?

The natural flavorings themselves are not a concern. The problem is that most labeling on packages does not specify whether the flavorings used are artificial or natural; they usually just state “natural” or “artificial flavoring.” It is important that the labels are read carefully if we want to avoid the many chemicals used in artificial flavoring as a lot of these can have very harmful effects on the body and the brain, especially young children.

Here is a list of some chemicals found in artificial flavourings:


  •              Amyl alcohol                                   Isoamyl alcohol and acid
  •              Amyl salts                                        Linalol
  •              Benzaldehyde                                  Linalyl salts
  •              Benzyl acetate                                 Nonyl alcohol
  •              Benzyl alcohol                                 Nonyl salts
  •              Butyl acetate and salts                   Octyl alcohol and salts
  •              Diacetyl                                             Phenethyl alcohol and salts
  •              Ethyl acetate                                     Pinenes
  •              Ethyl butyrate                                  Propyl alcohol and salts
  •              Ethyl formate                                   Rhodinol
  •              Formic acid                                      Salicylaldehyde
  •              Geraniol                                            Valeric acid
  •              Geramyl acids

*Many of these chemicals can be found naturally in some foods, such as fruits and nuts, but most of those used to flavor foods are prepared synthetically.

Here is a list of common foods contain colourings and flavourings:


  •        Alcoholic beverages                  Ices                             Sauces
  •        Baked goods                               Icings                          Seasonings
  •        Candy                                           Jams                           Shortening
  •        Cereals                                         Jellies                          Soda pop
  •        Cordials                                       Liquors                        Soups
  •        Desserts                                       Maple syrup               Spices
  •        Gelatins                                       Margarine                   Syrups
  •        Gum                                             Meats                           Yogurts
  •        Ice cream                                    Puddings

 Why are the added colours in food a concern?

Current colors in use derived for food, drugs and cosmetics (labeled FDC colors by the Food and Drug Administration) include:

  • Citrus Red #2 – withdrawn in 1976, except for use in coloring oranges, because it was shown to cause cancer in animals. It had been widely used in desserts, cereal, and maraschino cherries.
  • Red #3 (erythrosine) – used in cherries, cherry pie, gelatins, ice cream, fruit cocktail, candy, sherbet, pudding, cereals, and baked goods. It is on the safe list, but it has been suggested that this coal-tar derivative is harmful, possibly causing gene mutations, cancers, or changes in brain chemistry. Clear evidence is lacking, so FDC Red #3 stays on the safe list and does not have to be listed on labels except as “artificial color.”
  • Red #40 (Allura Red AC) – took the place of banned Red #2 and is used in foods, drugs, and cosmetics. It may cause cancer in animals.
  • Blue #1 – a coal-tar derivative used in soft drinks, candy, ice cream, cereals, and puddings. It is on the permanent safe list. It is a possible allergen, and it can cause tumors in animals at the site of injection.
  • Blue #2 – used the same way as Blue #1 and is on the permanent FDA list. The World Health Organization rates it in category B – questionable for use in food.
  • Green #3 – this color is used for green foods such as mint jelly, gelatins, candy, frozen desserts, and cereals. It is classified as safe but is a potential allergen and is tumorigenic upon injection.
  • Yellow #5 (tartrazine) – this is the most notable color agent, partly because it causes the most immediate allergic reactions in people sensitive to salicylates, such as aspirins (to which it is related), and because, by law, it is the only artificial color that must be listed by name on packaging. Tartrazine is used in yellow-colored foods such as spaghetti, puddings, gelatin, soft drinks, sherbets, ice creams, cereals, and candy. Attempts to ban it have not succeeded. Most people can tolerate some Yellow #5 in foods, but those with sensitivity may develop skin reactions or asthma symptoms (problems are worse in sensitive asthmatics).
  • Yellow #6 – another coal tar color, it is used in many foods, such as candies, baked goods, carbonated beverages, and gelatins. It is considered safe, though there is also some concern about allergy.

So, are any of these poisons safe for use for us or our children? Given the fact that there has been such an increase in the number of kids and adults diagnosed with ADD, ADHD and Behavioural Disorders, and with various cancers, I would argue that we should keep away from any foods that contain any of these added chemicals and colourings as they do not seem to add anything into our lives and wellbeing, and are more of a toxic burden on the body. What do you think?

By: Dr. Sushma Shah, Naturopathic Doctor.

**Adapted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson M. HAAS, M.D.

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