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Get the Facts on Food Colouring

January 12, 2016 by HealthyFamilies BC

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Food Colouring

In the healthy eating world we encourage people to eat a rainbow of colours. The ‘rainbow of colour’ in this case being fruits and veggies. By including a wide variety of colours in meals and snacks you’ll benefit from many different antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that promote good health.  But there’s another side of the rainbow, the colours that are added to our foods in an effort to make them more appealing (to both adults and children).

There are two types of food colouring agents:
1. Natural
2. Synthetic (sometimes referred to as artificial).

Turmeric, a common Indian spice, is often used as a natural food colour to give processed cheese its vibrant orange hue. Whereas Brilliant Blue and Allura Red are synthetic colours you may find, for example, in jams, ice cream or tomato catsup. Regardless of whether it is natural or synthetic, food colouring is a food additive and they are regulated federally under the Food and Drug Regulations. To be included in the list of permitted food colouring agents, evidence must show that a certain food colour is safe to eat.

Recently, food colour has received a lot of attention worldwide in the research community for its association with hyperactivity in children. Based on this research some countries have banned certain food colours or now require they come with a warning label on the food package. 

Here in Canada, on the ingredients list, food manufactures can either list the actual name of the colour(s) they have used (for example Allura Red) or they can use the umbrella term “colour” to indicate they have used one or more food colours in the product. The problem is that if they choose the umbrella term “colour” a consumer has no way of knowing what type of food colour is in that product. Is it Turmeric or is it Allura Red? Is it natural or is it synthetic ?

Health Canada has proposed changes to this regulation that will require all colours be listed by their actual name in the ingredients list, doing away with the umbrella term “colour.” If and when this passes, food manufacturers will have five years to comply with the new standards.

In the meantime what can you do?

  • Cook and prepare more meals at home using wholesome ingredients.
  • Avoid ultra processed foods that are higher in sodium, fat and sugar and are more likely to have added colours.
  • Finally, the best advice remains the same: eat a rainbow of colours. Just make sure those colours are in the form of fruits and veggies. 
Author's Bio: Today’s blog is written by Natalie Laframboise. Natalie supports healthy eating policy and programs in her role at the Ministry of Health as the Senior Policy Analyst. When she is not at work, Natalie is also completing a master’s degree in foods and nutrition.

Related blogs:
What Makes Vegetables and Fruits so Special?

Recommended resources:
Health Canada: Food Labelling

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