Indian sweets and the dark side of their artificial colors - Is poison on your platter?

Dye Meta-nil yellow is widely used in Jelebi  India Toda
 If there is one food item that is quite tempting and mouth-watering  irrespective of age is sweets. For the Children, the very mention of Rosagulla, Gulab jamun, etc makes them drool.  Even in a small town in India you may  see many sweet shops, besides bakery, exclusively making all kinds of cakes with special cream. At an young age, when our youths are  not picky about their weight and adding extra calories for every scoop of sweet, there is nothing to worry about health issues, provided they do some kind of exercise  regularly to burn the calories.
India is a land of numerous festivals and on such occasions, it has been a tradition among people to have sweets along with the meal. During certain festival times like Diwali sweet shops have a hectic day selling highly colored sweets, crunchy snacks, etc. It is also true of the Holi festival of colors, when one can see brightly dyed sweets are handed out to children and adults alike to  savor them.  

The reason why such sweet shops are crowded, in particular, during festival time is, in the past a decade or two, people have developed a sort of apathy toward making sweets etc at home. In this fast track modern  life, making sweet at home is a tedious undertaking because, you need all the ingredients at the close reach of your hand and, most importantly, you should know how to make them and mix the required ingredients in the right proportion. In spite of your efforts, you have no idea about the outcome of your sweet and, if it has turned out to be not good, you get a bad rap, let alone disappointment.  Weighing all the pros and cons, it will be nice if you  buy the sweets at the near-by shop. This way you save your time and your name!! This is the mentality of  our women folks  nowadays.
As for the colored sweets available on the market, have you ever thought about their quality? Have  you ever thought why they are highly color-dyed? To beat competition in the market and also to attract customers,  sweet makers add a variety of colors to the thm  to make them attractive. Artificial or synthetic food coloring in fast food is a major problem world over and it curtails the joy of eating mouthwatering cake or pudding. Researchers at The Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, after their elaborate study of Indian sweets from various regions,  have reported that many colourings used in the Indian sweets and savouries are illegal toxic dyes unfit for use in  food industries and human consumption.

 Mukul Das  and others at the IITR,  found that while there has been an overall decline in the use of illegal colors in recent years, they are still widely used. The team detected illegal and potentially toxic colors in around 16% of the sweets and  the cap of 100 mg/kg on legal colors is exceeded in many cases - ie 58% fixed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The scientists found six banned dyes in the sweets tested: rhodamine B, orange II, metanil yellow, malachite green, quinoline yellow and auramine. These are mostly used by the paper, leather and textile industries.
 Some of the illegal dyes in Indian sweets vary between 23.8 mg/kg to 54mg/kg. These dyes are harmful and may cause cancer if consumed in large quantity. 
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore reported that Meta-nil yellow used in popular Indian sweets -  jelebi or jangiri, is known to cause neurotoxicity in rats.  FSSAI rules allow only eight colors to be used in food, and all the others are classed as non-permitted colors (NPCs).

The crux of the matter is most vendors and shops selling sweets and savouries not aware of FSSAI standards are lured to use dyes not permitted by the government.  According to  V. Sudershan Rao, a food safety expert at National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, India 'Right now, there's a uniform upper limit of 100mg/kg, and 200mg/kg in a few cases, for all permitted colors. The cap for food dyes should be reset according to their individual toxicity potential.’
 In addition to the above, the government should  create an awareness among the sweet makers about the legal limit of the color dyes to be used in sweets and their impact if the legal limit exceeds.  
Food Matters
''Blue dye number 1 and 2 are linked with cancer in animal tests while red dye number 3 causes thyroid tumors in rats.  Green dye number 3 is linked to bladder cancer, and yellow dye number 6 is linked to tumors of the kidneys and adrenal glands.  While these colors are readily used in most processed, prepared and packaged foods, what bothers me the most is that they are commonplace in the diets of children''.
''Most candy, cakes, cupcakes, baked goods, maraschino cherries, fruit cocktail, gelatin desserts, and soft drinks contain these harmful substances, which serve no other purpose than to make so-called food look “pretty” and attract children whose bodies are particularly sensitive to them during the developmental years.'' (vide:

It is imperative for the government to keep a check on the color dyes for food. and implement  strict regulations. Healthy food means healthy India.
Addl. Ref:
S. Dixit, S K Khanna, M Das, J. Jour.  Food Sci. 2013; DOI10.11/11/1750-3841.12068
T N Nagaraja, T Desiraju, Food Chem Toxicol., 1993, 31, 41(DOI: 10.1016/0278-6915(93)90177-Z)