Changing Processed-Food Nation

In a rush to meet consumer demand, food companies are changing their product formulations to remove artificial dyes and other chemical additives.

While many European countries ban or limit their use, a variety of processed foods — from sodas, crackers, candy, cereal, and ice cream — sold in the U.S. contain chemical additives, artificial flavorings, and artificial food dyes.

Many argue that artificial dyes are aesthetic enhancers that lend cosmetic effects but no flavor or nutritional benefit, while many real-food advocates claim they are a public-health menace linked to behavioral problems and other consequences.

Recent efforts by advocacy groups and online petitions have led many companies to believe that consumers have a taste for more natural flavors. A 2014 Nielsen report found that between 29 and 30 percent of North Americans consider the absence of artificial colors and flavors, respectively, an important factor in making food decisions.

In order to meet the changing demand, food giants from Pepsi to Kraft to Subway, and restaurants such as Chipotle, have been creating new products or changing their old recipes to remove the artificial colorings and flavorings and replacing high-fructose corn syrup with real sugar.

“We know that candy consumers are interested in broader food trends around fewer artificial ingredients,” said Doreen Ida, president of Nestlé USA Confections and Snacks, of the company’s decision to become the first major U.S. candy manufacturer to remove artificial flavors and FDA-certified colors from all of its chocolate candy products by the end of 2015.

Here’s a look at some companies that have ditched artificial ingredients, chemical additives, and genetically modified organisms (GMO) from a few of their products.

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After pledging to remove artificial dyes from select Macaroni and Cheese products in 2013, the company recently announced they will begin begin using colors derived from annatto, paprika, and turmeric beginning in January 2016.

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Original Cheerios are now GMO-free, but other popular varieties of the General Mills cereal — such as Honey Nut and Apple Cinnamon — still contain genetically modified ingredients.

General Mills recently announced that three popular brands — Trix, Cocoa Puffs, and Reese’s Puffs — will be reformulated to remove artificial dyes and flavors before the end of 2015.

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Nestlé is the first major U.S. candy manufacturer to eliminate artificial food dyes and colors from products.

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Coca-Cola dropped brominated vegetable oil — commonly used in sports drinks and sodas and banned in several countries because it’s both a flame retardant and a potential hormone disrupter — from all its drinks.

Pepsi introduced a new line of sodas sweetened with “real” sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, but the new formulations come with the same set of health risks.

Tell us: Do companies’ decisions to drop chemical additives from their products affect your food and drink choices? 

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Heidi Wachter is a staff writer for Experience Life.

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