Synthetic food colors are often preferred in food formulations for a number of reasons. Providing intense uniform color, they typically retain color longer than naturally derived versions, while allowing for a variety of blues and greens not easily available naturally. They are easier to source and less expensive. In order to stabilize natural colors, often additives are needed; even then, they are not as stable. Since natural colors are crop-based, availability can be uncertain. For example, this year (2010), due to a shortage of carmine and turmeric, both costs increased almost 4-5 times over last year. Typically, naturally derived colors are 8-20 times more expensive than synthetic.

Certified, man-made color additives are easy to use; are available in a variety of shades; and do not affect the flavor or odor of foods. However, synthetic colors have gained a reputation for causing hyperactivity in children. “Mostly due to media and supported by consumer groups, people have concerns over synthetic colors,” states Rohit Tibrewala, CEO, Roha USA.

Back in the 1970s, Benjamin Feingold, M.D., formed the hypothesis that synthetic colors, flavors and other additives caused hyperactivity in children, and he recommended these substances be removed from their diet for treatment. In the past 30 years, many double-blind studies have failed to confirm an association between consumption of synthetic colors and hyperactivity in children. In 1982, The National Institutes of Health stated no scientific evidence of a link existed. Except in a few cases of children with confirmed ADHD and food allergies, removing these ingredients from their diets provided no benefit and could lead to unnecessary nutrients being removed from their diets, notes Tibrewala.

A study commissioned by the UK Food Safety Authority in 2007 at Southampton indicated two groups of children had increased hyperactivity when consuming mixtures of colors, in addition to preservatives. The Southampton study has caused concern over synthetic colors among consumer groups and retail stores in the UK, and it has been supported by political groups, also. However, both the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority independently reviewed results of this study, and both concluded the study does not confirm a correlation between the color additives used in the study and behavioral outcomes.

Most experts agree food colors do not cause hyperactivity in children; however, there are a few who prefer to avoid products containing these substances by reading labels. The majority of people who are not affected can feel assured by the volumes of research unable to show cause for concern.

Synthetic colors are available in both in dyes or lakes. Dyes are soluble, and lake colors are not. There are different applications for each, and they are not replaceable. “Natural colors are typically sourced from cochineal insects, annatto seeds, turmeric roots, paprika, grape, purple or black carrots, red cabbage, red beet, sweet potatoes, and a few other fruits and vegetables,” explains Tibrewala.

“It is important to note,” adds Tibrewala, “that FDA does not consider these colors as ‘natural.’ They are considered ‘exempt’ from certification. FD&C colors are the only ingredients for which FDA has a dedicated testing group and laboratory. Samples of each lot manufactured are sent to this lab for testing, making them very controlled ingredients. Moreover, the FDA has over 100 years of data on these colors related to their effect on human health.” pf

For more information:
Roha USA, LLC • St. Louis, Mo.
Rohit Tibrewala •

Website Resources: or see question on children and hyperactivity at location