What’s the Big Deal With Food Dyes?

There have been a handful of food industry transitions over the last few years, leading to all-but-boycotts on ingredients that we once accepted without question. Among these are gluten, high fructose corn syrup, and, of course, food dyes.

But what’s so wrong with these pretty, colorful additives? Can they really have an impact on your health, and should you actively try to avoid them?

Let’s take a look at what food dyes are, the impacts they can have on your health, and what you can do to mitigate your exposure.

What Dyes Are

Thanks to good, old-fashioned evolution, humans have come to expect certain qualities from their food. One of these, which plays a surprisingly strong role in our enjoyment of such foods, is its color.

We know that blueberries are blue; therefore, when we eat something blueberry flavored, we expect it to be blue. The same goes for orange, strawberry, and the list goes on. While there are foods and drinks without color (natural or added), we seem to not get the same pleasure — or at least, flavor recognition — as if it had the color we’ve come to expect.

Enter food dyes.

Food dyes are chemical compounds that are produced in a factory from petroleum/crude oil. (Yes, the same stuff put in our car engines, refined into gasoline, and even used to make asphalt.) They come in every color of the rainbow, and can be formulated as liquids, gels, or even powders. Their sole purpose is to make your food look “pretty,” and they have neither a nutritional value nor any flavor.

Food dyes are seemingly everywhere, in almost every product that we consume. In fact, Americans consume more than 15 million pounds of food dyes each year!

They are named telling things like FD&C Red No. 40 or FD&C Blue No. 1. They might also be listed under innocuous-sounding names like Tartrazine, which is really just FD&C Yellow No. 5 in disguise, or even simply “artificial color.”

You can find food dyes in the expected places, like frosting on a birthday cake or in your childhood packet of Kool-Aid. But you might be surprised to learn all of the seemingly-unnecessary places that these petroleum-based chemicals turn up. Here are a few examples:

  • Balsamic vinegar: “caramel color” is often added to give lower-quality vinegar its deep brown appearance.
  • Pickles: that jar of crunchy dills might have more than cucumbers and spices — blue and yellow food dyes are often used to enhance the look.
  • Yogurt: think your creamy breakfast is only a certain color because of the fruit it contains? You might be wrong. Many brands throw in reds to enhance the fruit color, or blue dye to enhance the white.
  • Salad dressing: whether you buy ranch, italian, or french dressing, you are at risk of consuming food dyes. Red, yellow, and even blue dyes regularly make an appearance on the salad dressing shelves.
  • Protein snack bars: it may look like fruit and granola, but you’d be wrong. Some granola and protein bars on the shelves today uses reds, yellows, and blues to enhance their bars.
  • Marshmallows: they may look white to the naked eye, but it’s actually blue food dye that’s often added which gives these pillowy treats their snow-white appearance (the same trick is used for many “whitening” detergents and cleaners!).
  • Toothpaste: you may not be consuming large amounts of it, but there are plenty of red and blue food dyes that typically color toothpastes today.

I’ll be honest: it’s easy to see why food dyes are popular. A few years back, I tried a volcanic rock water, which was black in color. It tasted exactly like normal, filtered water, but I simply couldn’t get past the color. It wasn’t what my brain expected and therefore, I couldn’t find pleasure in drinking it. The same goes for the clear sodas that have been introduced to (and subsequently pulled from) the market here in the U.S.: humans have subconscious expectations of their food’s appearance, and that’s difficult to rewire.

Why Food Dyes Are Dangerous

I grew up as a child of the 80s, raised on lollipop rings and dip-n-lick powders of unknown composition. While I’ve (thus far) turned out alright, I am shocked to realize all of the things that we have consumed without question over the years. Things that are actually pretty harmful.

Like food dyes.

Food dyes are dangerous for a number of reasons. First and foremost, as we already talked about, they are a petroleum product, produced by crude oil. No matter how it’s processed, refined, or “cleaned up,” there is nothing redeeming about putting a petroleum product in your body.

It’s not just a matter of preference, either, like cutting out sugar or reducing your gluten intake: food dyes are dangerous. In fact, they can kill you.

A number of common food dyes today are actually listed as known carcinogens. Colors like Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have been found to be contaminated by benzidine, likely due to the petroleum-refining process required to create them. Benzidine is a known carcinogen, which means that it has been found to cause cancer in lab animals and humans.

If you want to really worry, though, do some research on Red 3: this food dye isn’t just known to be contaminated by carcinogens. It IS a carcinogen, all on its own.

For some, the idea of food additives — which, remember, serve no purpose except to make your food pretty to the eye — causing cancer and quite literally killing you seems like too much to grasp. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other side effects from their consumption.

Many food dyes, especially of the red variety, have been shown to cause ADHD/ADD behavior in children. Scientists aren’t yet sure of the exact mechanism at work, but consumption of these additives has the ability to hinder children’s development, concentration, and behavior. And remember: they’re in almost everything processed! (No wonder we have an ADD/ADHD epidemic in this country.)

How to Avoid Food Dyes

If the idea of consuming cancer-causing food dyes worries you, you’re not alone. More people than ever are ditching artificial colors and opting instead for healthier, more natural alternatives. It just takes a concerted effort.

The idea of, say, never having pink cupcakes for your daughter’s birthday again can be disheartening. Luckily, there are so many ways to still get eye-pleasing colors in your food without the health impacts of crude oil-based colorants.

You can opt for fruit and vegetable additives, such as mixing strawberries into frosting or blueberries into a cake. The colors are a bit more muted than when they come from a concentrated bottle, but the health impacts are worth it. You can also buy powdered and liquid food dyes that are derived from things like carrots (orange), beets (red), spirulina (green), and turmeric (yellow), to name a few.

Your best bet for avoiding food dyes is to avoid processed foods as much as you can. Try to eat homemade as much as possible, avoid canned drinks (if you must have a bubbly “soda,” try something like Spindrift), or find safe alternatives from companies as committed to this change as you.

For instance: until this summer, my children had never tried a Bomb Pop. You know, the tangy red, white, and blue popsicle that was a summertime staple in our own childhoods? Yeah, my kids had no idea what that tasted like. It seemed like a veritable you-know-what storm of food dyes and processed sugar, and I avoided it at all costs.

Then I came across the brand GoodPop. I first tried their freezer pops (clear, plastic tubes reminiscent of the colorful popsicles in my youth), which were made from 100% fruit juice. My kids loved them, so when I saw their own version of a Bomb Pop, I had to give it a try. Not only do they taste amazing, but we avoid carcinogens, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives in the process.

When I need a “soda,” I grab one of those Spindrifts that I mentioned before. My kids get fresh juice from my Omega juicer, instead of bottled/packaged stuff. I only use Warrior Fuel supplements because they don’t put unnecessary dyes in their preworkouts or BCAAs. And I try to only shop around the perimeter of the store (fresh produce, etc.) instead of from the shelves.

You may not be able (or even want) to eliminate all sugars, preservatives, and additives from your and your kids’ food. Avoiding carcinogenic food dyes, though, is a no-brainer.

It doesn’t mean avoiding all of your loved foods, either! By simply making smart choices — and swapping your favorites out for healthier alternatives — you can keep your family safe without feeling like you’re missing out at all.

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DC’s Most Epic Cheat Meals: Bar Deco

Everyone loves a good cheat meal. And I think those of us in the fitness world are even more interested in a good, gratifying treat. After all, we spend most of our time counting macros or meal prepping, ensuring that we get enough of this or not too much of that. It’s very rare that we get to just mindlessly eat a meal.

So, when the opportunity presents itself for a downright naughty culinary experience, we can certainly appreciate it.

As the competition season for 2019 ramps up, I thought it only fitting to explore some of Washington DC’s most memorable cheat meals… and the incredible restaurants that serve them. First up is Bar Deco, an artsy rooftop eatery, bar, and smokehouse that left me stuffed, happy, and eager to go back for more.

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I had heard that Bar Deco’s brunch was pretty phenomenal (epic, you might say), so we made reservations for a Sunday mid-morning.

Walking in, we were hit with the smell of in-house smoked meats – a scent that made us salivate.

Our hostess led us up a flight of stairs to the second level (out of four), which houses the main restaurant area. We were seated at a table in the open room, next to a large, beautiful window with plenty of morning light. Repurposed whiskey bottles of water were already waiting, and perfectly matched the décor.

Isn’t this place gorgeous? Even down to the mounted menus.

No brunch is worthwhile without a mimosa or bloody mary… so, why not get both? We tried the Good Morning Mary and the Decomosa, and each one was fantastic! The mary’s homemade mix had juuusssttt the right amount of kick, exactly how I like it. I also enjoyed the originality of the crisp peach-and-raspberry-muddled mimosa, which was a bit sweeter than a typical mimosa. If you’re into the original kind, they do offer those, as well as a bottomless option with brunch.

I’m not going to tell you what’s on the rim of the bloody mary, because I want you to taste it and try to guess. I couldn’t place the flavor, but was pleasantly surprised when they told me what it was!

Then, it was onto the food. I usually prefer to save the best for last, but y’all… you need to know about this meal. So, we had asked for recommendations and the resounding answer was: You MUST try the French Deluxe sandwich! Well, alrighty then, I’ll take one of those.

Oh. My. God. So, for the French Deluxe, they take two hot slices of thick, homemade brioche french toast. Then, they add some melt-y American cheese, crispy smoked bacon, and a fried egg.

Right before I took my first bite, our wonderful server came up with a bottle of thick, delicious syrup. She insisted,”No, you need to try it like this.” Alright, Che’Nay, we trust you with our brunching — drizzle away.

Best idea ever… each bite was an absolute flavor explosion. Take the fluffiest, sweetest, and warmest french toast you’ve ever had and combine it with the best bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich you’ve ever had. Then, drench it in maple syrup.

I mean, I don’t understand how it was even legal. A definite 10/10, without a doubt, and that doesn’t even include the bonus points for their neat spin on home fries.

Forget just being a cheat meal. This guy might be last meal-worthy. Cubed potatoes mixed with onions and colorful peppers. Not only did this make them a little crunchier than usual (which I really enjoyed), but it was a unique touch. I liked it.

On to the deceivingly-simple choice: the Breakfast Sandwich (because one sandwich just wasn’t enough at Bar Deco). This one caught our eye from the very top of the menu, and it was probably because of the very first ingredient listed: pork belly.

Now, I looovveee a good pork belly. The combination of crispy and tender, the explosion of flavors… it’s really a treat. And, when you’re having an epic cheat meal, who really cares about the extra fat grams, right?

So, you remember how I mentioned that we were welcomed at the door by the delightful smokehouse aroma? Well, this sandwich is partly to thank. Bar Deco smokes their own meats in-house; talk about getting the whole experience.

The Breakfast Sandwich was made of a thick piece of crispy pork belly, a perfectly cooked over-easy egg, fresh tomato, and avocado mayo atop a soft, homemade ciabatta bun. (Oh, and we got more of those delicious home fries.) You could absolutely tell that the pork belly was smoked, and it added a lot to the sandwich as a whole. I wish that they had rubbed a bit more flavor (in the form of spices) on the pork, but it was still lovely. The ciabatta was one of the best I’ve had in a long time, and the avocado mayo brought a wonderful aftertaste.

The whole medley of flavors was quite nice, and I would order it again — if I had room after the French Deluxe, of course. I would probably leave off the tomato next time, though, or ask for a thinner slice.

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Now for Kyle’s meal. He ordered the chicken and waffles, but I would have probably asked him to order those anyway, if he hadn’t. I really wanted to try them but wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to the entire plate.

I’ll be honest: I’ve never actually had chicken and waffles before.  Perhaps it’s because I have very high standards for my waffles, as well as my chicken. Or maybe it’s because I’m hesitant to mix my dessert-style breakfast with my savory breakfast. Either way, this was the PERFECT choice for my very first chicken and waffles experience. Bar Deco, you have ruined it for anyone else by setting the bar so high.

The waffles were lightly browned and just the right combination of buttery, sweet, and fluffy. Really, the perfect waffle. Nestled on top was an enormous piece of crispy, boneless chicken breast. The golden breading wasn’t greasy at all, either. Oh, and they also included little bowls of sweet jalapeno jam and honey butter. Che’Nay christened those bad boys with more of her amber syrup, and we dug in.

Heaven. Absolute heaven. The savory-sweet combination was just perfect, and I say that as someone who rarely likes to mix the two. I was a little surprised that the jalapeno jam didn’t have any kick to it, as I was looking forward to that, but it was still a nice flavor. I mainly stuck to the syrup, though. (By now, we may as well have been hummingbirds, as that stuff was our sugary crack.) Honestly, I could have probably eaten it without the syrup or jam entirely — the flavor of the buttery waffles mixed with the sweet, crispy breading of the chicken was a truly delightful combination.

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Even though we went to Bar Deco for brunch, we took a peek at the dinner menu. You know, just to see what we were missing. And, we kinda had to order off of that, too. Just to give it a taste. Oops.

We tried the 901 burger and WOW. Talk about a unique burger experience. First off, there’s no bun. You heard me: no bun. Instead, Executive Chef Shane Henderson created a caramelized onion bread pudding for the base.

Then, he tops it with an 8 oz burger covered in melted swiss cheese. He adds pickled onion, a fried egg, and drizzles on a homemade pub mustard.

It’s probably one of the most fun meals I’ve ever had, and certainly the most unique burger. And, y’all, I cannot stop talking about it. It has caramelized onion bread pudding for a bun!!! I’m not kidding, I am actually salivating as I type this.

So, well done, Chef Henderson. You knocked it out of the park with this one. I will absolutely be back to try it again, perhaps for dinner and drinks on the rooftop next time.

Speaking of the rooftop, we checked out the two upper floors after brunch.

The one above us housed a gorgeous, room-length bar top and ample tv screens. The ambiance was great for catching a day game with a beer, but I could also see how it would transition well into a nighttime cocktail experience.

The rooftop was beautiful, and I would love to dine up there next time (weather permitting).

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Overall, our meal at Bar Deco was delightful. I’m pretty picky about my cheat meals — if I’m going to earn a naughty restaurant experience after some intense hours at the gym, I need it to be worthwhile. Bar Deco surpassed my expectations, and there’s not a single thing I tried that I would not order again. And that says a lot.

Next time, I will probably bring my kids and enjoy brunch with them. The menu had a number of gluten-free options (my oldest son is gluten-sensitive), so that was wonderful to see. Either way, we will certainly go back.

What sort of epic meals would you like to see featured next? Keep checking back, as we cheat our way through the DC area’s most delicious, drool-worthy entrées.

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The Best Homemade Seasoning Around

If you’re in the fitness world, you’ve likely had more than your fair share of chicken breast meals. After a while, it can get a little boring — particularly if you’re on prep with high protein goals.

How do I make sure that I can still get excited about my food, even if I’m eating the same thing every single day? The right seasonings can make all the difference.

Sure, there are a few good options on the market already. Flavor God and Dizzy Pig are two wonderful companies, both of which I have in my spice cabinet. Sometimes, though, I want something unique or on the spot, which is why I developed this all-purpose spice blend.

It’s wonderful on chicken, shrimp, pork tenderloin, skillet potatoes, roasted cauliflower, and I even used it to make an incredible garlic bread the other day for my kiddos.

The spice mix includes turmeric, which contains curcumin (also found in ginger). Combined with black pepper, this is absorbed in the body as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Today’s world is full of processed food, pollutants, and stress, so I want to keep the inflammation in my body down as much as possible. I try to sneak turmeric, along with black pepper, into my food often.

I also added a surprise ingredient: dried carrots. You may not have ever worked with them before, but I thought they added a nice, unique touch to the blend. You can buy them here on Amazon, like I did, or at your local specialty food shop. I pulsed mine in the food processor for a few seconds to chop them down a bit further.

Try out the mix and let me know what you think!

The Best All-Purpose Seasoning Mix

Yields 1

A garlic based season-all with hints of onion, cumin, and turmeric. Perfect for poultry, pork, vegetables, and even garlic bread!

 

Prep Time: 5 min

Total Time: 5 min

Ingredients

In a small bowl, mix

  • 3 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp Himalayan sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp onion granules
  • 1 Tbsp dried carrot
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 Tbsp turmeric
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried sage

Instructions

Simple! Just combine well and then sprinkle on your food of choice. Rub chicken or pork before cooking, sprinkle on veggies before roasting, or sprinkle over melted butter on a flaky French loaf. Store in an airtight container.

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