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Natural Ways to Add Food Coloring to Your Meals

Natural Ways to Add Food Coloring to Your Meals

Cut out harmful artificial food coloring and make your own with these easy tips.

In the 1989 tear-jerker, Steel Magnolias, bride-to-be Shelby (Julia Roberts) permits her adoring fiance to order his own groom’s cake. It’s shaped like an armadillo and has grey icing. “Worse, the cake part is red velvet cake. Blood red.” Shelby tells her friends, “People are going to be hacking into this poor animal that looks like it’s bleeding to death.”

Red velvet cake wouldn’t exist without artificial food coloring—and Americans love what food dye does for the visual aesthetic. One study found consumption of food dye has increased fivefold since 1955. But scientists don’t give artificial colorings good reviews. Studies link artificial coloring to cancers, asthma, allergies and even ADHD in children.

While many artificial food dyes are banned in Europe—Red 3 and 40, Yellow 5 and 6, Green 3, Blue 1 and 2—the FDA permits their use here. Food dyes are found in processed foods and in many unexpected places! Oranges are sometimes dipped into artificial colors, and they show up in salad dressings and pickles. So be sure to read the nutrition labels on your food.

The good news: When cooking at home you can add festive color to your favorite treats naturally. On The Dr. Oz Show, Jocelyn Delk Adams, host of a popular food blog, showed viewers that dyes can come from healthy fruits and vegetables. For example, pomegranate juice delivers a vivid red color. Spinach? Boil, reduce, blend and strain. Two cups of fresh leaves will create green dye to use on your holiday gingerbread house or New Year’s treats, such as roasted nuts in festive colors.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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