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Make Your Own Healthier Food Dye

Food coloring can be made out of chemicals and harsh materials that may have health risks not yet recognized by official agencies. Learn how to make your own festival dyes with natural ingredients and color your food in a healthy way!
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Spring has sprung and there's color everywhere. Time to break out your favorite warm-weather foods and drinks and celebrate new beginnings. Except there may be hidden dangers in our favorite colorful feasts. It's time to think twice about the bright food and products we love so much.

There's no secret a bright pink doughnut is more appealing than a plain one. We're often attracted to bright colors and let's face - they're fun! It's why we dye festive eggs and decorate cakes and cookies with frosting in crazy shades.  But brightly colored foods may lead to some real problems. 

In 2007, a UK study published findings suggesting a link between certain food dyes and hyperactivity in children. This lead to a full investigation and claims that artificial food coloring lead to ADHD. While more studies and investigations are needed, the public opinion began the swing towards healthier solutions and companies like Kraft have removed artificial dyes from their food. But not everyone is doing this. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't found cause to ban Yellow No. 5 and No. 6 (the dyes in question of the study). That means they're still in grocery stores and one food labels. 

It is important to note the FDA has banned food dye in the past for health hazards. After approved for the list, many children became ill in 1960 after eating candy contains Orange No. 1. Since then, more and more coloring additives have been removed for proven ties to carcinogens. The full history of the list and how it's changed can be seen on the FDA website here. 

While not all artificial colors have been removed, many in the health community are thinking "better safe than sorry". If you're in this mindset, Special Education Degrees has a great graphic about different dyes, their health risks and the most common foods they're food in. Ones to look out for include:

  • Red #40 - "Allura Red", the most widely used and consumed dye out there. It comes from petroleum distillates or coal tars and has some nasty connections.
  • Yellow #5 - "Tartrazine", banned in Norway and linked to numerous behavioral studies. It contains benzidine, a carcinogen permitted by law in low amounts.
  • Blue #1 - "Brilliant Blue", banned in France and Finland. It's linked to hypertension in surgery patients.

  • Check your favorite food labels for these dyes if you're concerned and cut out unnecessary colors. They aren't just in food, either. Check your makeup and toiletries like toothpastes and lipsticks for these same dyes.

    Dye your eggs with natural foods instead of chemicals this Easter!

    Make Your Own

    Now, I love colorful food so getting rid of the artificial stuff may feel bland. Especially if you're into baking or cooking. Kids are more inclined to eat brightly colored foods too. So why not make your own natural food dyes that aren't chemically saturated?

    There a few things to consider before jumping right in. Whatever color you want determines what ingredient you choose. And that can impact whether you have a liquid dye or a powdered coloring. Liquids are great for easy mixing but can add a lot of moisture to a baking mix, especially if you're trying to get a saturated color. Dry powders are great for a potent color but may also add flavor to your food. It's important to keep that in mind. You don't want to taste the spinach in your St. Paddy's cupcakes, do you?

    Concentrated Food Coloring

    For liquid food dyes with little flavor, you'll want to concentrate the color into a syrup with as little moisture as possible. Pour fresh juice into a crockpot and let sit on low heat (with top off for better evaporation) for 16-24 hours. It should thicken to a fourth of its original volume but allow you a very concentrated bottle of natural dye. Just use it within 4 weeks. 

    For powder, slice up your vegetables, berries or herbs into thin, small pieces and place on a cooking tray. Dehydrate in the oven on its lowest setting for 2-6 hours until fully dry. You'll only want to use a single ingredient as the time will change depending on if you're using herbs or fresh vegetables. After fully dehydrated, place the pieces into a blender or coffee grinder and blend until you have a fine powder. As long as you store it in an airtight container, it should be okay to use for up to 1 year.

    Of course, you can buy natural food dyes at health food stores. They can get expensive but if you're in a rush or have no interest making these yourself, it's an easy way to get the colors you love.

    Use these natural food dyes in baking, cooking and egg dying for a healthier alternative to toxic coloring.

    Natural Dye Ingredients

    Try these out for the colors your love! Nourishing Joy has a wonderful print-out of these ingredients and instructions here

    Red

    Raspberry (Strained puree, no seeds)

    Blue

    Red Cabbage Juice (stir in a bit of baking soda for a brighter blue)
    Blue Butterfly Pea Flowers

    Yellow

    Fresh Turmeric (Juice)
    Ground Turmeric
    Saffron

    Green

    Spinach (Juice, Powder)

    Pink

    Raspberry Juice

    Orange

    Carrot (Juice, Powder)

    Purple

    Concentrated Grape Juice
    Purple Sweet Potato

    Brown

    Cocoa (or Cacao) Powder
    Espresso
    Black Tea (heavily steeped)

    Black

    Squid Ink
    Black Cocoa Powder

    Are you making your own food dye or letting the colors slide? We'd love to hear what you think! Tell us on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages and check back next week for healthy lifestyle tips!
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