Artificial Colors and Flavors

There are lots of chemical ingredients in foods these days. Ever wonder what some of those ingredients are? Should you be putting them into your body, or giving them to your family?

Have a look at the ingredients on famous brands of cookies, cereals, or snack foods in your pantry.  On many processed food labels, you might see: FD&C Red No. 40,  FD&C Yellow No. 5 or FD&C Blue No. 1 or the all-encompassing, “artificial flavor” – sounds appetizing….Today we’re going to explore the world of artificial colors and flavors and what you need to know about them.



Fake food — I mean those patented substances chemically flavored and mechanically bulked out to kill the appetite and deceive the gut — is unnatural, almost immoral, a bane to good eating and good cooking.

Julia Child (1912-2004)

Artificial Colors

Red meat, yellow bananas and orange papayas…All delicious and healthy foods in their natural form. It’s when we ask science to lend a hand in getting us our food as “colorful” as we think it should be, that we get into trouble.

Artificial food colorings have been classified as one of the most dangerous food preservatives, and yet they are still found in the things we love the most. Popsicles, drinks, puddings, boxed mac’n’cheese, sauces, chips, baking mixes, etc.  (FD&C Red No. 40,  FD&C Yellow No. 5 or FD&C Blue No. 1 are three of the most commonly used FDA-approved food colorings).  These colorings are not just found in food but in our shampoos, toothpastes, vitamins and beauty products.


 Keep in mind, that even though synthetic food colorings are derived from naturally existing products, they are still artificially made, as the majority of their ingredients are synthetic.

A study at the University of Southampton in 2007 has shown that six specific dyes (referred to as The Southampton Six) have been associated with hyperactivity in children. This research was performed on 300 three-year old kids, and was published in the journal “Archives of Diseases in Childhood”.

Interestingly, other major studies have proven that restricting the intake of coloring in foods could greatly assist children with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Colored Foods Are To “Dye” For

Honestly, artificially colored foods are far more pretty than healthy. Over the past decades, different categories of food coloring have been progressively removed from the list of “safe” colorings, because of their known side-effects.

Today, several food colorings are under scrutiny, and even for those that have been FDA approved, some health-conscious individuals are still reluctant to use them or let their kids consume them.

Going one step further, experiments have proven that following the removal of colored foods from school food programs, there was an obvious increase in academic performance and decrease in disciplinary problems in concerned children. 

In addition to worsening the symptoms of ADHD in children, food colorings can also cause several other health issues. For example, a report from the CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) in 2010 stated that the nine dyes approved by the FDA couldn’t be considered safe, as they could trigger allergic reactions, anxiety, and migraines. 

Consumable dyes such as tartrazine (FD&C Yellow 5; commonly present in ice-creams, popsicles, soft drinks, and powdered drink mixes like Kool-Aid, corn chips, cereals, etc.) have the potential to cause hives, a well-known allergic reaction.


Are They Fooling Anyone?

Another problem with colored foods is the fact that people often tend to believe that the richer the color of a food, the healthier it is. For instance, we could be tempted to think that a very reddish piece of meat sold in a supermarket is fresher than a locally produced piece of meat.

At the end of the day, the question remains, as Professor Warner (University of Southampton) had so simply asked: “{…} why do we have to have colored food? Why can’t people have pale salmon rather than pink salmon?”

Maybe the real problem stems from learning to appreciate what we have, for what it is.


Artificial Flavors

If you see an ingredient called “artificial flavor,” what exactly is it?

For the most part, it’s a secret.  Big food companies don’t want their proprietary flavors to be known, so they’re allowed to say “artificial flavor” and leave the details out.

When you make an apple muffin at home, what gives it the apple flavor?

Apples of course!  Real, whole, chopped or shredded apples or applesauce.

But, let’s say you’re a big food company and you’re making thousands of apple muffins every day. In a factory. On an assembly line.

How would you process the huge amount of apples that are to be chopped, grated or made into applesauce? Would you have a separate “Apple Room” where all the apple processing happens? What if one batch is slightly riper, or tastes slightly different from the rest? Will your customers notice a different taste?

Apples are perishable – they go bad.  So how would you guarantee the apples won’t go bad? (Remember the saying “it only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole bunch?”).

And what if you can have an apple flavor that tastes better than using real apples? Something that makes people want to keep buying them every week.  Yes, some of the artificial flavors are engineered to give an even better taste than the real food.


Companies will often opt for the easier and more profitable option like artificial flavors.

Artificial flavors last longer and will be virtually identical batch after batch.  In our apple muffin example, artificial flavors used to make an apple muffin are ready to go, so you don’t need to peel, cut, or worry about apples going brown, or that they’re not tasting “appley” enough.

Not to mention, it’s a lot cheaper than using real, whole apples.

Tip: If the package says “flavored” in the description, then the flavor is artificial. For example, “apple muffin” contains at least some apple. But, “apple flavored muffin” contains artificial flavor and no apple.

(If you’re now craving apple muffins, I’ve added a tasty and truly natural apple muffin recipe at the bottom of this post!)


Safety of Artificial Flavors

While there are some flavors banned for use in many countries, other countries allow them.



There is an approved list of flavors that are accepted to be safe, and are used by the food industry. They are considered GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.”

Even if they are 100% safe to ingest, the mere fact that an artificial flavor is in food makes it an artificial food.  It’s not a real, whole food. Having an artificial flavor as an ingredient defines that food to be a processed, “food-like product.”



Big food companies use artificial flavors and colors to reduce costs, make the manufacturing process simpler, reduce waste and enhance color and flavor far beyond what the natural ingredient would look and taste like.

Artificial colors and flavors are not added to food to improve its “healthfulness” or nutritional value.  

Obviously, the healthier we strive to keep ourselves, the better off we are. We can all make an active choice to switch to natural and organically produced foods and reduce our intake of artificially colored and flavored foods.

All Natural Apple Muffins

Servings: 12 muffins


  • 1 cup quick oats (uncooked)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 cup chopped apples
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten


  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • In a large bowl, mix the quick oats and cinnamon. Add the quinoa and mix again. Add maple syrup, apples and eggs, mix until just combined.
  • Place 12 muffin liners into a muffin pan. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full
  • Sprinkle each muffin with a touch of cinnamon for extra (natural) flavor
  • Place in oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes.
  • Serve & enjoy!

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