Holidays are so fun. Growing up, my mom always had a few special tricks for each one. For St. Patrick's Day, we ALWAYS had green mashed potatoes, green milk, and green rice crispy treats. It made the day ✨magical✨
How did we have green potatoes, you ask? Food coloring, of course!
Just a few drops and your typical dinner offerings are made into something entirely new and exciting.
But...have you ever asked yourself what food dye actually is? Is there a better way to give our favorite little ones all the fun of brightly colored treats?
What is food coloring?
First of all- food colorings are deemed safe for consumption by the FDA. Most of them are synthetic, but even natural ones are held to the same standards.
Food dyes are made with water, propylene glycol (used as a solvent to provide brighter color,) FDA-certified color additives (think BLUE 1 and RED 40,) and propylparaben (preservative).
The main difference between natural and synthetic colorings at the store is that "natural" food dyes use ingredients derived from fruit, vegetable, vitamin/mineral, or animal sources. They will still contain the preservatives and solvent, may impart some flavor on your product, and are typically more expensive.
What does "safe" mean?
Put simply, it's defined as "reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers"
The main problem here is that we know that each person is uniquely individual, and "safe standards" are measured against a group of healthy individuals, and no specific guidelines are given for people with allergies, sensitivities, or chronic conditions.
What has changed is that now each ingredient has to be listed on ingredient labels.
I'm not sure about you, but until I went looking, I was never informed that there is "inconsistent data" on wether or not food colorings trigger childhood hyperactivity or that people with sensitivities to specific colorings may experience hives or induced asthma attacks.
So, when we see those colors listed on our ingredients label, it means nothing to us. That education piece is ever so conveniently forgotten about.
The short truth is that we cannot do better if we do not know better. So why isn't this information more widely shared?
Another bone I have to pick with FDA "safe" standards is low-calorie sweeteners.
They are deemed safe and backed by "more than 15 years [of monitored complaints of possible adverse reactions]."
It appears that these complaints are only short term, as studies show that if used in abundance or over an extended period of time, low-calorie sweeteners are recognized as toxins by our body and can lead to reduced liver capacity or even acute injury of the kidneys or liver.
This is especially alarming for people living with or who are predisposed to diabetes. They often opt for low-calorie sweeteners to reduce their sugar intake, however; they may be damaging other organs when they already have one that functions sub-optimally.
So while "safe" may be safe for some people, is it worth looking into an option that doesn't cause any potential side effects for any group of people...?
Is there a better option?
If you've been around the Be Well Blog for a minute, you know that I am ALL about saving you guys money and helping you find the healthiest alternative- so let's look at how you can make green foods without the not-so-great stuff!
Whole food sources that can be used for coloring:
Red/pink- strawberries, raspberries, goji berries, beets
Orange/yellow- orange (clementine, tangerine, navel) zest/juice,
Yellow- annatto, lemon zest, yellow bell pepper, turmeric, golden beets, saffron
Green- kale, collard/turnip greens, spiraling
Purple/pink- blueberries, purple cabbage,
Blue/purple- blackberries, purple cabbage (*add 1/4-1/2tsp baking soda to the liquid!)
*For whole food sources, you're going to want to boil each food for about 20-30 minutes and then combine the liquid with a small amount of clear, flavorless alcohol (no more than 1tbsp) to help it distribute well. Alcohol optional but will produce a brighter color.
If I were trying this at home, I'd opt for these food powders instead...
Powdered options (look for 1 ingredient only- the food that's used!):
Red- beet root powder (also great for smoothies + juices for potent antioxidants)
Orange- orange carrot powder (also great in smoothies, juices, and milkshakes for vitamins A + C)
Yellow- turmeric powder (also great in eggs + curry for powerful anti-inflammatory benefit)
Green- spirulina powder (also great in smoothies + juices, naturally high in protein, B vitamins, and iron)
Blue- blue spirulina powder (also great in smoothies + juices for potent antioxidants)
Purple- purple sweet potato powder (also great in smoothies + baking mixes for added fiber and vitamin A)
*For these options, mix powder with water (start with a few tbsp of water) until desired color is reached. Add up to 2tbsp flavorless, colorless alcohol (vodka) to help color disperse in baking. Alcohol optional but will produce a brighter color.
These options will, of course, not be as bright as store bought colors, but you can add as much as you'd like and rest assured knowing that you're only cooking with real whole food items!
It's definitely a lot more work, but it may be fun to try. And if you're only using food coloring every so often, why not give it a shot?
It's the magic of something looking unusual- so don't stress over the coloring too much. Form foods into different shapes (four leaf clover of mashed potatoes maybe?!) and have fun with it.
Holidays shouldn't mean extra stress and they DEFINITELY shouldn't make you feel like a bad parent if you don't want to try these.
The magic is dependent on what YOU give off to your kids.
If you are excited, they will be too. I did the research on this because it's a tradition I'll miss this year now that I don't live with my momma.
If you needed one- here's your permission slip to make your own tradition.
Cheers, friends! Here's to a happy, healthy, safe, and magically green St. Patrick's Day! 🍻🍀🌈💰
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