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Tartrazine And Food Colourants – Dangerous Or Needless Worry?

Pretty colours not pretty safeMothers know that trying to curb their child’s intake of sweets, is a lot easier said than done. Let’s not forget what we are up against – wriggly, brightly coloured, sour worms that are coated in sugar, alien goo in a handy spray bottle, giant red and orange fireballs, brightly coloured candy-coated buttons, fake blood suckers and vampire teeth, etc. etc.!

A quick glance at the ingredients that are pumped into these -very appealing’ sweet treats is enough to cause any health-conscious mom to go into shock. In these tempting treats, we will find tartrazine, erythrosine and sodium benzoate – along with hundreds of other additives and colourants! Are these hard-to-pronounce ingredients the root cause of our kid’s allergies, ADD, ADHD, asthma and runny noses, or are we just being over protective? Is there a reason why most countries have put an outright ban on many of these substances – or plan to do so within the next few years?

Mothers are known to over-react but for those moms who have been actively opposed to sweets, drinks and snacks containing tartrazine (and have carefully taught their children to turn over the sweet packet before eating to check for the -tartrazine-free stamp) – hats off to you! The fact is that tartrazine is one of the worst azo dyes (a dye used to give foods colour) and tartrazine has been proven to have an adverse effect on children who are asthma sufferers. What’s more, experts agree that in addition to tartrazine being virtually intolerable to asthmatics, the -wonder-synthetic dye’ tartrazine has been proven to cause anxiety attacks, migraines, clinical depression, weakness, skin allergies, heart palpitations, sleep disturbances. This new age food dye has even been the cause of kids and adults suffering from blurred vision.


Why is tartrazine used in our foods?

Tartrazine is used in every country around the world and is used primarily to make foods (as well as non-foods) yellow. Tartrazine can also be used to give foods a brilliant blue colour, and it is able to create a variety of green shades. Tartrazine is tasteless and its only use is as a colourant or dye. The best way to determine if tartrazine is being used in our foods (unless  the -tartrazine-free’ logo is displayed) is to think of foods which are unnaturally yellow, green or blue, such as cold-drinks, energy drinks, instant puddings (banana flavour), custard, crisps, cereals, ice-cream, noodles, jellies, biscuits – and the list  goes on.

Tartrazine is also used in non-food products, and it is found in crayons, shampoos, and soaps.  Tartrazine has also been added to our medications, and it will be found in multivitamin syrups and certain prescription medications (such as antibiotics).

In many overseas countries, especially in Europe, health ministers are looking at how to phase out tartrazine, along with several others of the harmful food colourants! If you thought you were the only anti-tartrazine activists – you are not alone; moms around the world are demanding that these harmful additives and useless colourants be instantly removed from sweets and foods that have been designed and packaged to attract our children.

South Africa may be a long way from banning foods containing tartrazine, but as parents we need to check and monitor the treats which our kids consume. It’s a difficult and often trying battle and since these sweets are marketed especially for kids – the brilliant blue sour, wriggly worms and sunset yellow alien spray (in that wonderful spray bottle!) will be found on just about every party table and in all party packs. One of the best actions to take is to not purchase snacks or foods that contain tartrazine, and to thoroughly check the packaging of all sweets (if possible) before consumption! There are a number of healthy, all-natural alternatives to the strangely coloured wriggly worms and gums, like dried fruit, fruit sticks and popcorn. These are made with natural colourants.


Tartrazine disguised

Food manufacturers are realising that parents are becoming wiser and as part of the attempt to hide the use of tartrazine in their products, may include displaying the azo dye, tartrazine, by another name. Names to look out for include:

fd&c yellow 5, c.i. food yellow 4, e102, acid yellow 23, hydrazine yellow, lebensmittelgelb 2, tartrazol yellow, TARTRAZINUM, Tartrazin, C.I. 19140

These are all alternative names for tartrazine.

Perhaps worse than trying to disguise the use of tartrazine is that food manufacturers are able to use natural food colourants which are far safer than tartrazine – but do not! As parents, we need to be aware of the dangers lurking in our foods and we need to be vigilant when buying sweets, snacks, foods, medications, etc. – to ensure that tartrazine, along with several other azo dyes are not present.


Other common azo dyes

In addition to tartrazine, the other azo dyes commonly used, include:

FD&C Blue 1 (brilliant blue dye) is used with tartrazine to create green food or snacks, such as milk drinks, yoghurts, jellies, drinks and sweets. FD&C Blue 1 is derived from petroleum distillates and has been banned in the past in many EU countries.

FD&C Red 3: E127 (erythrosine) is a cherry-pink/red synthetic coal tar dye and this dye is found in many baked goods, sauces, sweets, and several snacks foods. Erythrosine has oestrogen-like growth stimulatory properties and has proven to been linked to being a possible cause for thyroid tumours and chromosomal damage.

FD&C Red 40 (Allura Red) is an orange red synthetic azo dye and is found in puddings, sweets, dairy products, drinks, sauces, biscuits and cake mixes. Allura Red is still used in most countries and research has found that there is a definite link between this azo dye and the cause of tumours, lymphomas and ADHD in children.


Chemicals in our foods?

All synthetic food colourants are made from petro-chemicals or coal tar – the question is – should the petro-chemicals or coal tar form part of our kid’s diets? We owe it to our kids to care for their health and we need to be mindful of what our kid’s snack contains and how that brilliant blue or sunset colour is made. Look out for natural alternatives and find snacks and sweets which use natural colourants!


– Kathy Baron


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