Coal: Fun and Yummy

It’s time again for “That’s Not Food” Thursday (which may also turn out to be “That’s Not Funny” Thursday, but you are fine, and can still visit me even if I fail to amuse you one day a week.)

Here is a fun and funny fact. When foods are made with pretty colors, it makes us think they are yummy. It can make us think food is fresh, masking any fading that may have taken place in the typical long ride US food takes to get to our mouths (1500 miles on average). It can hide normal variations in appearance so all our food, from oranges to salmon, can look like it just came out of a magazine. And of course, it makes Sno-Cones fun. No matter how limey a Sno-Cone tasted, it surely would not taste as good if it were white. At least that’s the theory.

The FDA currently authorizes seven colors to be used in people food. Another fun fact–they’ve discontinued another seven due to safety or other concerns (for instance, “Oops! I guess that benzene in there causes leukemia!”).

If the FDA says it’s ok, it means that they haven’t personally seen it, working solo, cause cancer in a living thing. What FDA approval does not mean, however, is that a given item in our food IS food. Whatever it is made of, if the information the FDA have at the time shows it doesn’t seriously hurt you (or if it does, the manufacturers have paid for enough counter-studies), then hey, it’s all good with them.

When your body is fed things that aren’t food, it doesn’t always just send it out the chute. Instead, it trusts that the neurological safeguards of discernment are functioning and that you have imbibed this for a reason. It tries to deal with it as if it were actually food, and so it gets integrated thoroughly into the awesomely complicated innerworkings of your amazing bod.

So, just in the name of getting information out there, for the kids and whatnot, I’d like to introduce you to ten little facts about your run-of-the mill food dye, those innocuous little four bottles in the little blue box–the red, blue, yellow and green–as well as all their variations in the aisles of the supermarket. It is super un-funny:

  • Artificial dyes (and many preservatives) are derived primarily from coal tar or synthetic versions of it.
  • Coal tar is among the by products created when coal is carbonized or gasified, and is used extensively by the chemical industry
  • It gets better! Coal tar is a Group 1 carcinogen.
  • Tartrazine, a specific coal-tar derivative, is found in many yellow, orange and green dyes and causes a high level of allergic and intolerance reactions, particularly among those with an aspirin intolerance and asthmatics
  • Some are particularly sensitive to the effects: reported reactions include anxiety, migraines, clinical depression, blurred vision, itching, general weakness, heatwaves, feeling of suffocation, purple skin patches and sleep disturbance.
  • Several FD&C colors have been banned in European countries, and while you may write them off as being commies anyway, they do tend to be a little less blindly enamored with corporate success at all costs. The World Health Organization also advises that some colors regularly used for food in the US should be only for “non-food use.”
  • Some researchers have linked tartrazine to childhood Obsessive-compulsive disorder and hyperactivity, especially exacerbating symptoms in ADD children
  • A study commissioned by the UK’s Food Standards Agency found that when used in a mixture of other colors and preservatives, increased levels of hyperactivity in children were observed. (It’s that big chemical cocktail we’re awash in, not just any one thing on it’s own.)
  • Several major studies show academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large non-ADD student populations when these and other artificial ingredients were removed from the diet.
  • And finally, studies show that all these fun things are also absorbed easily through your skin in the form of cosmetics, lotions, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. As I like to say: “Skin: it’s your other mouth.”

Specific label ingredients to avoid in things you want to put in your mouth or on your skin: FD&C anything, and especially D&C anything (that means even the FDA doesn’t call it food). I.e., FD&C Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 40, Red No. 3, Yellow No. 5 (the big bad one), Yellow No. 6. Large natural food stores carry dyes from natural food sources so you can still make that big, neon birthday cake.

(What? Make a cake? Well, countering that objection is a whole nother post, but suffice it to say the mix saves you 30 seconds of measuring dry ingredients, most chocolate cakes have Red 40, and the Hershey’s cocoa box has a cake and frosting recipe that will blow any box away.).

So, why are we eating coal tar? Just because it’s on the grocery shelves? And why is so much of it in kid foods, who have littler bodies and thereby receive a higher load of the chemicals?

Coal tar is NOT food!

Word to the wise: Be your own FDA.

PS: Although I have a book on the topic with the info I’m using, most of the references and citations for this data can be easily found on Wikipedia. Ask me if you want specific studies.

[Rant officially over. Removing self from soapbox.]

2 replies
  1. Michele
    Michele says:

    The answer? “The prophet said to plant a garden so that’s what we’ll do . . . ” How about a community garden so we can be like the little red hen and grow our own wheat?

  2. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    it is goood for you to get on the soapbox.. we learn from you…. but hope this is not because I left some really awful candy at your door yesterday… I sooo debated on the stuff…
    sorry… nancy


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