Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Macaroni and WHAT?!?

I consider myself a health-conscious person. I’ve been reading nutrition labels since the sixth grade; I eat more than the recommended serving of fruits and veggies on a daily basis; I always eat breakfast; water is my favorite beverage; etc. So when my children were born, I naturally ingrained in them to enjoy a balanced diet, and I always offer an abundance of healthy choices. Or so I thought.

I was particularly alarmed when I read a news article on two Moms who are bringing to light the harmful effects of artificial dyes in one of the foods my children enjoy – a well-known brand of macaroni and cheese.

I must disclose that pre-packaged foods aren’t a traditional food source in our household – and we do not eat fast food – but I have a weakness for mac and cheese. And the thought that I could be subjecting my precious children to a food product that could have negative effects on their health is alarming! What’s also concerning is that this particular brand does NOT include the artificial dyes in the mac and cheese they supply to other countries…hmmm.

Just in case you weren’t aware, here is some useful information from the FDA about color additives:

A color additive is any dye, pigment or substance which when added or applied to a food, drug or cosmetic, or to the human body, is capable (alone or through reactions with other substances) of imparting color. FDA is responsible for regulating all color additives to ensure that foods containing color additives are safe to eat, contain only approved ingredients and are accurately labeled.

Color additives are used in foods for many reasons: 1) to offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions; 2) to correct natural variations in color; 3) to enhance colors that occur naturally; and 4) to provide color to colorless and "fun" foods. Without color additives, colas wouldn't be brown, margarine wouldn't be yellow and mint ice cream wouldn't be green. Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat.

FDA's permitted colors are classified as subject to certification or exempt from certification, both of which are subject to rigorous safety standards prior to their approval and listing for use in foods.
  • Certified colors are synthetically produced (or human made) and used widely because they impart an intense, uniform color, are less expensive, and blend more easily to create a variety of hues. There are nine certified color additives approved for use in the United States (e.g., FD&C Yellow No. 6. See chart for complete list). Certified food colors generally do not add undesirable flavors to foods.
  • Colors that are exempt from certification include pigments derived from natural sources such as vegetables, minerals or animals. Nature derived color additives are typically more expensive than certified colors and may add unintended flavors to foods. Examples of exempt colors include annatto extract (yellow), dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown), caramel (yellow to tan), beta-carotene (yellow to orange) and grape skin extract (red, green).
Looking in our pantry, I noticed that the two organic brands of mac and cheese we also purchase use annatto extract. I feel better about my family eating mac and cheese with natural – as opposed to synthetically produced – ingredients. And paired with organic skim milk and a little real butter, plus fresh fruit and veggies for sides, this is a meal that meets my healthful standards and is easy to prepare.

Have you made any startling realizations in what you and your family are ingesting? Please share!

Mandy Forbus is a Brand Management and Promotions Specialist for Texas Health Resources and health-conscious Mama of two.

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