The Truth About Colours in your Food

COLOURS … they definitely make this place a brighter place, bring a smile on a face and light up a dull place and make the food delicious. But are these colours really healthy…

Tippy tippy top, which colour do you want, asked Rohan’s mother at the confectionery store. There were more than a dozen colours well matched with their corresponding flavours to opt from. Rohan could not figure out whether to go for the chocolate or the blue, he also eyed the pink and the red and then there was green too, his favourite colour, but he didn’t want to leave behind the yellow and the orange and thus kept pondering. Still, not sure and confused to the core with which colour to pick he kept doing eeny, meeny, miny, moe. His mother Reena, finally butted in and said, “If you are so confused then why don’t you opt for a slice of the rainbow cake. This way you will get all the colours along with chocolate icing.” Rohan’s little face had a bright smile on hearing his mother’s suggestion and quickly placed an order for the same. While the boy enjoyed his colourful treat his mother sipped on some coffee and when they left the store both had a satisfied look on their face.

Have you ever noticed that most of the food which children love is bright and colourful and not to forget appealing to their eyes? If given a choice between the plain brown cereals and the rainbow coloured fruit loops, they will definitely opt for the colourful ones. Well, it is not only with children and their food. It is also with us … we feel that if it is beautiful to look at it is certainly going to be yummy. Ask yourself aren’t we always tempted to buy colourful things?

But why add colour to the food

Colour is added to the food so that the off coloured foods which often look stale and of an inferior quality get an uplift

Colour is added to our vitamins so that they form a protective covering and the vitamins are not affected by sunlight

Colour is added to brighten up a dish and make it appealing to the eyes

Colour is added to trick the brain for an enhanced flavour

There is an option to use natural colours obtained through turmeric, spinach, beetroot and Kashmiri chilli powder. But the easy availability of artificial colours makes them more preferred than the natural ones. The artificial colours also give a deeper colour and last longer. However, these colours come with a flipside and pose hazardous to the consumers. It is believed that these colours may give rise to tumours of the brain, kidney and bladder, cancer and gliomas.

While we use artificial colours almost on a daily basis, do we ever wonder where these come from? Most of these colours are made synthetically from chemicals like benzidine and petroleum … yes, the very same petroleum which is used for obtaining diesel, kerosene and petrol.

Some of the commonly used artificial food colours are:

Carmoisine (E122, Red) – This is banned in Japan, Sweden, Norway and the United States. It causes hyperactivity in children, hives, breathing problems, tumours and cancer.

Ponceau – 4R (Red) – This is banned in the United States and Norway. This causes allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children.

Erythrosine (Red #3, E127) – This chemical banned in Norway has been listed as a carcinogen by the FDA. Despite this, it is used as a colouring agent for foods and drugs. It is believed to cause tumours in the thyroid.

Tartrazine (Yellow #5, E102) – This is banned in Germany, Austria and Norway. It causes depression, hyperactivity in children, rashes on the skin and foetal damage.

Sunset Yellow (Yellow #6, E110) – Banned in Norway and is found have some association with adrenal tumours.

Brilliant Blue (Blue #1, E133) – This is banned in Norway, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland and plays a role in the kidney tumours.

Indigo Carmine (Blue #2, E132) – This causes allergic reactions, breathing problems, skin rashes, vomiting and high blood pressure. This is also banned in Norway.

Fast Green (Green #3, E143) – Banned in the US and EU, but still used for colouring orange skin. It has been found that this chemical causes an increased risk of testes and bladder tumours in the lab rats. It is also found to cause gastrointestinal irritation.

These colours have been banned by many countries but are widely being used in India to enhance the looks of certain foods. Some of the food categories where these are used widely are:

Ice creams, yoghurts, frozen desserts, biscuits, wafers, cakes, pastries, dal namkeens, preserved and processed foods like papaya, strawberry, peas, canned tomato juice, jams, jellies, juices, custard powders, and flavour pastes used in both carbonated as well as non-carbonated drinks. The list does not end here, artificial colours can also be found in the fiery red tandoori chicken, the sweet jalebis and the red flavoured curries.

Now that you know the truth behind the colours in your food, try to avoid them especially in children. Children are very sensitive to chemicals and can prove to be hazardous for them. So what do you do, how do you safeguard your child? Here is what you can do:

  • Next time when you go shopping, read the labels
  • Give a miss to the food which looks too bright and colourful
  • Opt for plain and simple food when dining out
  • Give a miss to the fruit juices and carbonated drinks
  • Colourful cakes, pastries and candies are a big NO

Eat safe, feel safe, and stay away from unnaturally colourful foods …

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Shubhra Rastogi Written by:

Well, about me I can say that I am a certified dentist, healthcare analyst, medical writer and above all a mother of a 6-year-old. Most of my day to day activities revolve around her and she is my inspiration to start this blog. As a mother, I experimented with a lot of new things for my little one in a quest to find the best for her. I just want to share my experiences of being a happy and content mum.


  1. November 2, 2018

    Those bright colors do every mother in at some point. I’ve found that to counteract all of the fake colors I’ve shown my kids all of the bright colors of fruits and veggies. They’ve always had to eat the bright fruit n’ veggies before any of the fake foods. I was fortunate that my kids weren’t pop drinkers or junk food eaters growing up. – Great reminder post.

  2. Shubhra Rastogi
    November 2, 2018

    Thanks for visiting Karen. Eating bright coloured fruit and vegetables is always better than the artificial coloured food. I am also happy that my daughter does not like junk food and juices. She loves her fruit and crunchy munchies (veges). 🙂

  3. Amruta
    November 30, 2018

    Really an eye opener article !

    • Shubhra Rastogi
      November 30, 2018

      Thanks, Amruta

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