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Are Artificial Colors Harmful?

The potential health effects of colorings such as cochineal, a food dye derived from crushed insects.

August 18, 2009 |
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Is it true that there’s a food dye made out of crushed bugs? Fact or fiction?
Fact! In fact, here it is, the pregnant Koch-in-eel beetle… This is what it looks like when you smoosh them, and this is what it looks like when you lick them. And it doesn’t say “contains bugs” on the label, it says things like “color added.” So when parents feed their children Yoplait yogurt, they are feeding them a “Strawberry Splash” of boiled insects. Unappetizing? Perhaps, but harmful?
Bug juice is after all a “natural” color—I mean, there’s nothing artificial about bugs. In fact the reason they use them is because some of the artificial red dyes, like Red #3 were banned as carcinogens. But who still thinks they’re still harmful??? Who thinks gross, but harmless??? Anyone think they could maybe use the extra protein?
Cochineal beetle extract is, harmful. Sends hundreds of people to the emergency room every year. So potentially dangerous that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for all bug-based dyes to be exterminated. The FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, refuses to ban it, but they did announce this year that they will at least start requiring it to be listed in the ingredients, instead of just being “color added.” Good news for those of us who’d rather listen to the beetles than eat any. Of course the labeling law won’t go into effect until 2011, but, until then I have a suggestion for food companies: Should you want to make your cherry popsicles red, how about… adding some cherries?

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on food additives. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

Please be sure to check out my associated blog posts: Adding FDA-Approved Viruses to Meat and Soymilk: shake it up!

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on food additives. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/barbarah/ BarbaraH

    This video is misleading. The only people who are harmed by the dye are people who are allergic to it. You can have other reasons to be against squished bugs being added to your food (hmm… thinking…) but I don’t think you should label a food “harmful” because it can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Using that reasoning, you’d also have to call nuts and seeds harmful (just to point out the obvious).

    • Michael Greger M.D.

       Thank you for commenting, Barbara. When one is trying to decide if a food is harmful I try to look at risks versus benefits. Nuts and seeds have tremendous benefits, but if there’s little upside to eating bugs and some people suffer adverse reactions (whether a “true” allergy or not–we’re not really sure), then on balance I would stick with harmful, don’t you think?

    • Pat

      You have it right, BarbaraH! To the far side, eating “bugs” and other insects will be a fine source of protein in humanity’s ugly future. If some are allergic, too bad.
      Why is this cropping up a YEAR later?

  • Barbaracoop3

    I would like to know what kind of health issues can be caused by colorants in our foods?
    Thanks, Cooper

  • Chad McCurdy

    What do you think the possibility is that in these foods kids could also be ingesting insecticides?