Red Popsicles: Summer Fun or Cancer Sticks?

Via Diana Mercer
on Jun 30, 2010
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I’ve long been concerned about food that glows.

Blue slushies that dye your tongue, cereal in rainbow hues, and squirtable yogurt so bright it looks like paint.  My research over the years has revealed more than alarming evidence of the link between artificial dyes widely used in food, and the development of allergies, ADHD, and even cancer. These gaudy foods, disproportionately marketed to children through every imaginable channel, (television, internet, stickers?), are used to cajole children into eating foods that someone has decided they won’t eat otherwise – most often foods with low nutritional value.

Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of many chemical and synthetic dyes as safe for use in food, drugs and cosmetics (FD& C colors), largely ignoring a growing body of evidence that seriously questions their safety.

These synthetic dyes are manufactured from coal-tar derivatives (from chemical compounds) which are made when coal is distilled, leading to a highly processed, petrochemical soup called, for instance, FD& C Red #40. For almost 50 years the safety of artificial food colorings have been called into question:

It all started back in the mid 1960s, when then little known San Francisco allergist, doctor Ben Feingold, through his practice, became aware of the link between food additives – particularly artificial food coloring agents – and so called hyperkinetic behavior, or hyperactivity, often associated with irritability, and difficulty to concentrate. Food coloring agents also seemed to be directly implicated in causing allergic reactions – such as hives, skin lesions, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, even skeletal disorders – in sensitive individuals.

In the following years, results of a number of trials carried out by Feingold, including some 1,200 cases, confirmed the link. However, many other studies up to this day have failed to come to a common conclusion. This created a limbo to this day, with the general public – including parents – inclined to think that food additives do affect children’s behavior, while organized medicine generally denying it. The later opinion is shared by the government’s regulative agency (FDA), and – needless to say – by food manufacturers.  Source –

A new report  from The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) entitled “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks,” says food dyes pose a  variety of risks to the American public and is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban three of the most commonly used dyes: Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.  A new CSPI report says those dyes contain known carcinogens and contaminants that unnecessarily increase the risks of cancer, hyperactivity in children and allergic reactions.

“These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody,” said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. “The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.”

In a nutshell,

“The science shows that kids’ behavior improves when these artificial colorings are removed from their diets and worsens when they’re added to the their diets,” said Dr. David Schab, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center, who conducted a 2004 meta-analysis with his colleague Dr. Nhi-Ha T. Trinh. “While not all children seem to be sensitive to these chemicals, it’s hard to justify their continued use in foods—especially those foods heavily marketed to young children.”

The good news is that the time is right for natural food colorants. I faced up to the fact some time ago that, much to my dismay, some processed food in my life is a reality. Under recent pressure from the natural products industry, and naturally minded consumers, dye manufacturers have been pressed to explore alternatives such as food dyes from turmeric, annatto, spinach, beets, and elderberry. Greatly improved natural colorants, long dismissed as dull and unstable, are a step in the right direction.

Let’s hope the FDA gets the memo.


About Diana Mercer

I've been delighting in and learning from children for almost 20 years as a teacher, and former owner of Clementine Studio: Art Space for Children. I love to watch a child's spirit emerge and develop through the process of art. I'm also a big fan of stilling my mind with yoga, meditation, and the art of mindfulness, cooking up a fresh, local and organic dinner from the Farmer's Market, making sweet music with my friends, and baking fancy birthday cakes.


5 Responses to “Red Popsicles: Summer Fun or Cancer Sticks?”

  1. ontheissues says:

    It sucks how they put all these synthetic chemicles in food and then advertise them to children. When in doubt, just read the back lable for contents. Natural/organic foods and ingredients are the best way to go.

  2. via

    2 people like this.

    Ed C
    Made from coal? Let's blow up more mountains for glow in the dark food! Yay! /sarcasm Who first thought about making bright colors with dirty nasty black coal?

    Deborah F
    SO basically it`s not safe to eat anything or breathe or live in this world. Give me a break !

    Daba B
    Cancer sticks are cigarettes… NOT popsicles!

    Valerie M
    that's all I've got, that and a bunch of swear words.

    Annie G
    OMG!!!WTF!!! wrong on soooooo many levels…..crikey, who knew????

    Oh please….

    Julie H
    Scary the "food" that's available in stores for consumption. Most people are unawares of what they're eating.

    Deborah T
    they have balls even calling it 'food'.

    Mary F
    cant call it anything else , or people wouldn't eat it,
    so it's dye? certainly difficult to wash out of clothes,
    hey little girl,have some dyecicle! no sounds too much like die, no cant call it that…

    Lisa J
    My kid had jello the first time at a toddler science class, he was off the charts crazy! Then he had one of those popsicles and same reaction. I think it took me one more time to I realize dyes made him nuts! I explained it to him and now he has an ice cream sandwich when the ice cream man comes around. He is 6 now and just yesterday my friend … See Moreoffered him a popsicle, he asked if it had dye in it but she explained it was dyed naturally, so he had one. Give kids a little credit, they don't want to eat stuff that is bad for them, if you talk alot about the body and healthy food they get it. It still had high fructose corn syrup, I guess you can't have it all.

    Diana Mercer
    Deborah, I'm definitely not suggesting that it's not safe to "eat anything, breathe or live in this world." I'm pointing out that consumers may want to be wary of food dyes. Of course, it's your choice.

    Diana Mercer
    Daba, I realize that the term 'cancer stick' usually applies to cigarettes, but the new research shows that the food dyes in popsicles have been linked to cancer too. Maybe it's time to widen the definition…

    Jen B
    Diana – Don't let the negative comments EVER get you down. I am almost 60 years old and can promise you that 30 years ago when the truth about foods and dyes first came to my attention some of my friends and family poo-pood the information also. My five grown children are now passing on the food warnings to their children. Nay-sayers will only suffer the consequences and expect someone else to pick up the medical bills. Hang in there!

  3. Deb, actually, I'd say it's safe to, as Michael Pollan put it, eat "real food." That's a lot of options! It's all this fake lab-created crap that's fun but bad for us that we might want to stay away from, right?

  4. Jo Linda Van Haren says:

    When I was a teen my friend Eydie and I dyed our mashed potatoes blue and green with food coloring and found we couldn't eat them, they just weren't the same. I've always loved red popsicles and red m&m's however, the new neon colors in kids foods look so wrong and creepy! I would never buy them much less eat them or feed them to my children or grandchilsren! Good to know that they are putting efforts into researching natural food colorings!

  5. elephantjournal says:

    Kris Ronald Anderson Oh puhlease!

    Ken Philo At the very least, it's frozen sugar water. Just what our kids need, more sugar in their diet.

    Cheyenne Sierra Scott quite frankly , i think i need a little more cancer in MY diet. I just cant get enough of it really

    Lisa Lambert I love how your lips turn from blue to purple to red. No offense, but now my favorite bomb pop childhood summer memory is ruined. Whomp whomp. 🙁