Tartrazine is a Yellow AZO dye derived from coal tar that is commonly used as a food additive to give food a bright, appetizing yellow color. Yep, we have an coal tar derivative in our food.
A shift from junk to health
In the past few years, we have seen a shift in lifestyle and health choices. Gone are the days when ignorance was an excuse in choosing junk over healthy food. With all the information readily available online, are we really choosing healthy? We all know the basics: refined sugar is bad, whole grain is better, etc. We have truly become smarter in terms of basic health knowledge and we may have chosen slightly healthier alternatives with our daily eating, but let’s delve deeper into what really is in our food.
Chances are, you haven’t heard of the term GRAS. GRAS or generally recognized as safe is a term used by the FDA and BFAD for food additives found in processed food that is supposedly deemed safe in certain quantities and use. One example of a GRAS additive is food coloring. Those letter and number combinations you usually see in the ingredients list of your packaged/processed food correspond to a certain color used to make your food look more appealing. Now, most people will say “a little isn’t bad, is it?”. The question is, are you really consuming just a little of these GRAS additives?
Of all the GRAS additives, let’s focus on one of the most common ones—Tartrazine, a yellow food coloring. (yellow #5)
What’s the big deal?
Tartrazine is a Yellow AZO dye derived from coal tar that is commonly used as a food additive to give food a bright, appetizing yellow color. The funny thing is, when people say coal tar, the thing that comes to mind is asphalt. Yep, we have an asphalt derivative in our food.
Did you know that some member countries of the European Union have banned Tartrazine because of side effects such as thyroid tumors, ADHD, rashes such as uticaria, blurred vision, palpitations, rhinitis, migraine attacks, mood swings, and lethal asthma attacks just to name a few. For EU countries that haven’t banned Tartrazine, a special warning is part of the label indicating the potential side effects of this food additive.
Tartrazine, commonly listed in the ingredients as FD&C yellow 5, E102 or C.I. 19140, is used in a wide variety of food items, even those that don’t appear to be yellow to the naked eye. For example, a certain brand of chips touted to be healthy uses Tartrazine If you think that this food coloring is only present only in food that is recognized as junk, think again. Even your pantry staple, soy sauce, might have it.
GRAS and the food you eat
Okay..So, Tartrazine is GRAS or generally recognized as safe. However, with the sheer amount of packaged food that people eat, how much of the GRAS substance are people really eating? If the argument is “I don’t eat junk food,” what about when you eat out? Are you sure that the condiments being used in the food you order doesn’t have Tartrazine?
Another argument most people make is that they consume just a little of this and that every “now and then.” But, it doesn’t take a genius to know that a little of this and that on a daily basis still adds up. You might have tartrazine soy sauce in your viand today, some supposedly “healthy” multigrain chips for a snack, then maybe wash it down with a slimming juice drink that has Yellow#5, it does add up!
Bottom line, it is best to read labels to see for yourself what is in the “healthy” food you are eating. And, as much as possible, don’t fool yourself into thinking that eating this and that in moderation is okay.