NutritionFacts.org

Is annatto food coloring safe?

I’d like to know if annato is helpful, harmful, or neutral…In general, do you know of natural food dyes? I think you mentioned that in place of using the dye from the cochineal beetle that cherries could be used. I have used spinach and mint for green, and beets for red and raspberries for pink. I think annato is used for the yellow-orange color. I did ruin one dish going for red coloring where the beet flavoring was too strong. I’ll try shaving the vegetables after cooking and then dehydrating and grinding to reduce the flavor.

bsmithson / Originally posted on Latest in Nutrition vol. 7 DVD now available (proceeds to charity)

Answer:

Annatto is a food dye derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. Although there have been case reports of severe allergic reactions and irritable bowel syndrome-type symptoms reported, there haven’t been any comprehensive studies done to date on humans. In fact data is so sparse that the World Health Organization just pulled their tentative Acceptable Daily Intake specifications. If I see anything new I’ll let you know. In the meanwhile, I find the WHO expert reports to be trustworthy when it comes to food additives, accessible at: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/chem/jecfa/publications/reports/en/index.html.

Bottom line, I’d try to stay away from artificial food colors (see my videos Artificial Coloring in FishAre Artificial Colors Harmful?, and Are Artificial Colors Bad for You?). And if you’re looking for a colorful health-promoting spice I’d suggest turmeric (see video here) or saffron:

Image credit: tonrulkens / Flickr

Dr. Michael Greger

About Michael Greger M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

View all videos by Michael Greger M.D.

  • What is the optimal diet for disease prevention?

  • Subscribe to our free newsletter and stay up to date with the latest discoveries in nutrition.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.