Red Alert 

The sweet and sour of red edibles

Red foods are often spicy: hot sauce, salsa, cayenne peppers, etc. But red foods can also be the sweetest: cranberries, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, grapefruit and vegetables like sweet, red bell peppers. All of these grown delights either sport a skin or meat in varying shades from simple apple red to the cerise of blood grapefruits to the bruised purple-red of ripe raspberries. They are sweet and juicy and all of these grown goodies have a plethora of health benefits.

Raspberries are high in fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, B2, B3 and E, and ellagic, which may be an anti-cancer agent, but results are still out on that. With approximately 15 varieties, raspberries are extremely versatile for food preparation and suit almost anyone's taste.

Strawberries with their sweet heart shape have often been a symbol of purity and love and have permeated metaphors in literature and art. Ripe cherries with their dark red, round shape, and red, succulent tomatoes that burst at first bite also have symbolic places in our arts and hearts. It is often the color of our food which is a deciding factor when we choose what to eat and what not to eat, but sometimes choosing a food just for its color can be harmful to our health.

Foods used to be colored with natural food dyes: crushed raspberries, beets, tomatoes and cosmetics were food and plant dyes. In the late 1800s, manufacturers began to add dangerous, toxic chemical coloring to certain food items. Colors were used to entice consumers, but often were also used to camouflage poor quality products. Due to illnesses and deaths, Congress passed the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. This act, which is still enforced today, mandated that manufacturers must include the full range of a color's designations. The Food and Drug Administration uses several codes to indicate how colors may be used. "FD&C" means the color is permitted in food, drugs and cosmetics, "D&C" means it is permitted for use in drugs and cosmetics and "Ext. D&C" is the designation for colors available for external-use drugs and cosmetics. Even with the FDA's mandate, though, certain food additives may be linked to problems, although studies are inconclusive either way. One such additive is 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonic acid, otherwise known as the social pariah, FD&C Red No. 40.

FD&C Red Dye has been surrounded by controversy. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows a possible link between red dye and human breast cancer cells and DNA mutations in mice cells. One problem is that we expect some of our foods to be red: meat, certain candies and some condiments. Carminic acid is a natural food colorant, and while its genesis may not be carcinogenic, it's icky: carmine (a red solvent), is made from a female Dactylopius coccus costa--an insect. Dried, dissolved and filtered, it takes millions of these little bugs to make a pound of dye, making it cost prohibitive to use, which is why the Red Dyes (#40, #3, #18) are ingredients much more likely to be found in our comestibles and cosmetics, dangerous though they may be. Or not.

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