From Doritos and Gatorade to Twizzlers and Fruit Loops, a common dye used in several popular food items may harm gut health, increasing the likelihood of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, says a study published in Nature Communications. It’s called red dye 40, and it’s thought that long-term ingestion may promote inflammation and disruption of the gut’s function. But what exactly is red dye 40? Read on to learn more about the study’s findings and the red dye 40 foods triggering your symptoms.
Understanding Red Dye 40
Derived from petroleum, red dye 40—also known as Allura Red AC—is a synthetic dye used to enhance naturally occurring colors in foods and beverages. It can also add color and offset color loss that may occur in an item due to storage conditions. Red dye 40 is part of a collection of nine certified color food dyes approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption.
Compared to natural alternatives like beet and pomegranate juice, synthetically produced food dye like red dye 40 is used more widely for a variety of reasons. Its cheap cost, ability to easily blend, and how it doesn’t change an item’s flavor are just a few examples. But while synthetically produced food dye may be the preferred option among manufacturers, it begs the question: how important is convenience when safety is at stake?
Currently, the FDA asserts that red dye 40 is safe in the amounts it regulates, though they acknowledge that some children may be sensitive. However, organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have brought up concerns in the past, suggesting red dye 40 can lead to adverse reactions and trigger ADHD symptoms. The most recent concern comes from a study released last month, linking the synthetic dye to diseases of the bowel.
Study Findings on Red Dye 40 Foods and IBD
The dye disrupts gut barrier function and increases the production of serotonin, i.e., a neurotransmitter found in the gut. This alters the composition of the gut’s microbiota, increasing one’s susceptibility to diseases of the bowel.
Waliul Khan, senior author of the study, calls his team’s findings “alarming and striking” and urges the public to take this news seriously. “This research demonstrates significant harmful effects red dye 40 has on the gut and identifies gut serotonin as a critical factor mediating these effects.”
The study also found that “exposure to red dye 40 during early life primes mice to heightened susceptibility to colitis” due to markers of the synthetic dye found in neuroendocrine intestinal cells. These are a type of cell in the lining of the intestinal tract that produce and release hormones in response to various stimuli, playing a vital role in regulating bodily functions like digestion, metabolism, and even immune function. If neuroendocrine cells become disrupted, inflammation can ensue, leading to IBD.
While more research is needed, this could explain the link between red dye 40 and the development of various bowel diseases, which affect millions of people worldwide.
List of Red Dye 40 Foods
Red food is an obvious sign of red dye 40, but the truth is that it resides in several grocery items, mainly prepackaged and processed items. It’s even found in many over-the-counter medications and vitamins. Popular red dye 40 foods include:
- Sodas, sports drinks, teas, and juices
- Breakfast cereals
- Candies, jello, and fruit gummy snacks
- Baked goods
- Diary products, e.g., ice cream and flavored milks
How to Identify Red Dye 40 in Foods
It may feel disheartening that several everyday grocery items contain red dye 40. A positive, though, is that this empowers us to make a shift towards conscious consumption—and it starts by checking the ingredients label of food, medication, and supplements.
Although the FDA still considers red dye 40 safe for consumption, they do require food manufacturers to list all ingredients on the label, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts.
With that said, keep the above information in mind when shopping. Moreover, if you choose food items that have food coloring, opt for those enhanced by natural dyes. Names like beet juice and beta-carotene are a few examples.
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