Last week we celebrated my daughter's 7th birthday with about 23 other little girls running around our house. We had a balloon artist to entertain the kids and lots of easy food that I made that morning. Parties for kids this young are usually no more than two hours. Any parent who opts for a party much longer is a saint.

Right now I can't remember the reason I wanted to have the party in our house and not some place that we could love and leave, like a place called Pump It Up, a really popular bouncy house play area, but it all worked out. Two hours go by really fast! For me, the most entertaining and surprising thing was not the balloon artist, rather that each and every one of those girls crammed themselves into my kids' playroom to listen to a CD of music from school. I went up to check on them only to hear the song "The Rules of the Classroom," one of their kindergarten graduation songs, being belted out as loud as they could.

You're probably wondering, what does this have to do with food coloring? When I made the cake, I wanted to use natural food colorings instead of store-bought food coloring. I will explain a little more later, but store bought food coloring can be mildly toxic for some, and extremely toxic for others. This is probably no secret to you, but my last trip to Ireland really got me wondering why we aren't doing more about artificial coloring in food here in the United States? We know it's bad, we know it's hurting kids (and adults), the solution is simple, but we're not doing anything about it. I'll get to more of that later, too!

The party had a balloon theme. In fact, I coined it Balloonapoolza. Because I didn't have enough to do the morning of the party, I also committed myself to blowing up dozens and dozens of balloons while my husband was out buying the helium balloons. I made the cake from scratch in two different size Pyrex bowls and frosted it with homemade frosting - and homemade food coloring. I used juiced beets to give the cake a really nice pink color. Using about two teaspoons of beet juice, the color never carried over. For the stem of the balloon, I used hibiscus, turmeric an beet juice combined. FYI - hibiscus is available at Whole Foods in the dried spice section. It's an edible flower and not terribly expensive. I think I paid 50 cents for the amount of hibiscus I needed. Not bad. And it shows you CAN get a deal at Whole Foods! In fact, when I buy raw turmeric, I never pay much more than a dollar. Now I wish everything else at Whole Foods was that reasonable!

I won't say that the cake was was cake. I did add plenty of sugar, which has it's effects. BUT it didn't have one thing in it that was synthetic, like most store-bought frosted foods. I strongly encourage you to try playing around with bright. vibrant foods as food coloring. It's easy, inexpensive and non-toxic.

Food Coloring Alternatives

*Purple Carrots
*Golden Beets
*Avocado (to make'd never know!)

When my family and I went back to Dublin last month to visit my husband's family, we went over Easter.  Like any holiday, there is an incredible amount of candy - particularly chocolate. I happen to be a fan of dark chocolate and will buy some and even stock up for when I come home. Personally, I think the chocolate tastes so much better. There is just no comparison. The cheapest piece of chocolate from a gas station in Dublin will taste so much better than an expensive piece of chocolate here. Well…maybe with the exception of Vosges chocolates. Those are pretty good.

When I'm not selfishly stock-piling my own dark chocolate, I'm monitoring what my kids are eating. I have no problem letting them eat a little bit of candy on very special occasions, but they don't eat it often.

One of the candies they love to eat when in Dublin is Smarties. They're not the same kind of Smarties we have here in the US, rather closer to an M&M. Candy coating and chocolate underneath. Candy is still candy, and in no way am I suggesting one brand is healthier than another, or that one could even be healthy, however, there is a glaring difference between these two ingredient lists: food coloring.

Smarties Ingredient List
Sugar, Cocoa Mass, Lactose and Proteins from Whey, Butterfat, Cocoa Butter, Wheat Flour, Skimmed Milk Powder, Rice Starch, Emulsifier (Sunflower Lecithin), Fruit and Vegetable Concentrates (Safflower, Radish, Black Carrot, Lemon, Hibiscus, Red Cabbage), Spirulina Concentrate, Orange Oil, Glazing Agents (Carnauba Wax, Beeswax, Invert Sugar Syrup)

M&Ms Ingredient List
Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Chocolate, Skim Milk, Cocoa Butter, Lactose, Milkfat, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Artificial Flavors), Sugar, Cornstarch, less than 1% - Corn Syrup, Dextrin, Coloring (Includes Blue 1 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Blue 2), Gum Acacia.

Health Consequences of Artificial Food Coloring

In recent years, Nestle, the makers of Smarties, pulled all artificial coloring out of the confectionary products sold in the UK (and in my experience, Ireland, too). Why? Consumer concerns about health consequences.

Seems logical enough. If an ingredient, particularly an ingredient in a product marketed to children, contains ingredients that can cause harm, it should be removed.  It’s no secret that people, young and old, are sensitive to artificial dyes in food here in the US, too. Despite studies that have shown the consequences of regularly food dye ingestion, the FDA has yet to put the breaks on the steady flow of candy made with these ingredients – most marketing to children.

Here’s a quick breakdown of problems associated with artificial food coloring from Dr. Joseph Mercola:

  • Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue)An unpublished study suggested the possibility that Blue 1 caused kidney tumors in mice. What it's in: Baked goods, beverages, desert powders, candies, cereal, drugs, and other products.
  • Blue #2 (Indigo Carmine)Causes a statistically significant incidence of tumors, particularly brain gliomas, in male rats. What it's in: Colored beverages, candies, pet food, & other food and drugs.
  • Citrus Red #2It's toxic to rodents at modest levels and caused tumors of the urinary bladder and possibly other organs. What it's in: Skins of Florida oranges.
  • Green #3 (Fast Green) Caused significant increases in bladder and testes tumors in male rats. What it's in: Drugs, personal care products, cosmetic products except in eye area, candies, beverages, ice cream, sorbet; ingested drugs, lipsticks, and externally applied cosmetics.
  • Red #3 (Erythrosine)Recognized in 1990 by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals and is banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. What it's in: Sausage casings, oral medication, maraschino cherries, baked goods, candies.
  • Red #40 (Allura Red)This is the most-widely used and consumed dye. It may accelerate the appearance of immune-system tumors in mice. It also causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in some consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. What it's in: Beverages, bakery goods, dessert powders, candies, cereals, foods, drugs, and cosmetics.
  • Yellow #5 (Tartrazine)Yellow 5 causes sometimes-severe hypersensitivity reactions and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. What it's in: Pet foods, numerous bakery goods, beverages, dessert powders, candies, cereals, gelatin desserts, and many other foods, as well as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
  • Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow)Caused adrenal tumors in animals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. What it's in: Color bakery goods, cereals, beverages, dessert powders, candies, gelatin deserts, sausage, cosmetics and drugs.



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Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.