Eating colour.

All of us eat, everyday. Some of us thrive off salads, kale chips and water whereas others of us keep our bellies full with donuts, biscuits and Fanta.


A major difference, although there are many, between these two kinds of diets is the amount of colour additives they contain.

Additives are sneaky little chemical substances which are added to foods to improve qualities of food such as their longevity, taste, or appearance. See an extensive list of additive jobs here.


Some colour additives are natural like ascorbic acid (vitamin C) which you can find in fruit. apple
Other additives are formed in chemical reactions like sorbitol (formed by chemically reducing glucose) and are not only used in your food but also products such as makeup. Mmm, tasty.

All additives must be tested and approved by the food safety organisations. In New Zealand, we have Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) keeping an eye on what goes into the foods we’re eating. This prevents people from ingesting too many additives which has the potential for adverse impacts on health.

Most packaged foods must be labelled with all ingredients including food additives.
However there are exceptions.

  • If additives were used in compound ingredients (ingredients of the final product which themselves consist of 2+ ingredients) and that compound ingredient makes up less than 5% of the final food product, the additives do not need to be identified. This is unless that additive has it’s own special purpose in the final food product.
  • Also, unpackaged foods e.g. apples or food in a package with a surface area smaller than 100cm2 do not need to list ingredients including additives.


All additives have an associated number to identify them – E numbers.
In the European Union, additive numbers have an E at the beginning of them but in Australia and New Zealand we’ve dropped that E and just go by numbers. The E100’s are mostly colour additives.

biscuitI just purchased a pack of Griffin’s Cookie Bear hundreds & thousands biscuits. Every now and then I treat myself to two biscuits and a cup of tea. Bliss. 

However I flipped the packet this morning and wanted to go on a hunt for some E-numbers (without the E).
The first 100 number I find: “natural colour (120)”. 

120 represents cochineal.

Cochineal I read, is a natural red colour obtained from egg yolks. Oh and DRIED INSECTS (?!?!)
It gives foods a nice, natural red colour…


Cochineal bug where colour is extracted from.

The other colour additives found in my delicious little nibbly biscuits:

  • 160bAnnatto = orange/peach colour naturally found in cheese/butter
  • 124Ponceau 4R = red synthetic coal tar dye
  • 110Sunset yellow = yellow synthetic coal tar dye
  • 122Carmoisine = red/purple synthetic coal tar dye
  • 133Brilliant blue = blue synthetic coal tar dye
  • 142Green S = green synthetic coal tar dye
  • 100Curcumin = orange/ yellow colour extracted from natural turmeric


Something about reading “coal tar dye” as part of the ingredients in my food didn’t sit right with me and I needed to investigate more…

Coal tar colours were first accidentally discovered in 1856 by William Henry Perkin from coal by-products, creating the colour mauve/ purple. This was the first synthetic, organic dye to be produced and thus the chemical industry of dyestuffs blossomed. Today, they are found in many foods, and a lot of makeup and pharmaceutical products.

By the 1960’s coal was no longer the main raw source of synthetic colours but the name coal tar dyes stuck.  Today, they are mostly synthesised from by-products of petroleum.

However, I’m really not sure which is better.

iceblockWhen I looked into what a ‘synthetic coal tar dye’ is, the first thing that popped up was telling me not to eat or use products containing them. Artificial food colourings are thought to have been linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. In one study, they found six additives including 124, 110, 122 (found in my yummy biscuits) were especially problematic and should be removed from food. Researchers believe the removal of colour additives from foods could reduce the amount of children between 3 and 12 with ADHD by 30%.

lolliesSo we need to ask ourselves, do we want to be eating dried bugs, coal tar and petroleum? Do we want children to be buzzing off the walls all day, unfocused and forgetful? Should we really be eating foods that contain colour additives?

I’ll ponder it over my next cup of tea.



The Happiest 5km Run

Three years ago, I participated in the first Colour Run in New Zealand.

The proof follows.


Also known as “The Happiest 5k”, you run/ walk/ skip/ jump/ crawl  your way around a track with periodically positioned stations of “colour” (powdered corn-starch) that gets thrown all over you. 

It truly is the happiest 5km run. You end up a walking rainbow, you’re not sweaty because you’re not really running, you’re rolling on the ground in coloured powder and you finish with a big smile on your face. Nothing could be better. 

So what were the reasons for creating such a fun run?

Apart from making some moolah of course, The Colour Runs – which are now found across the world from South America to United Arab Emirates – encourages people of any age and ability to be healthy AND happy. They even have a “Finish Festival” for everyone to dance it out and as stated on their website “release a few more endorphins”. 

You see, running or most workouts for that matter, encourage the release of endorphins. 

Endorphins = “any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides which activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.” 

In other words… Endorphins are chemicals released from your brain which make you feel awesome, relaxed and take away pain. We like endorphins. 



Endorphins are neurotransmitters. This means they actually move through gaps in between neurons (cells in your nervous system) and help deliver messages from one neuron to the next. 

They then join up to opioid receptors which are found all throughout your body but most notably in the nervous system along with endorphins. There are at least 17 opioid receptors and the best known 3 are mu, kappa & delta.

This joining of endorphins and opioid receptors can ultimately stop other nasty molecules (tachykinins) from being released.  A special type of tachykinin called substance P is in charge of transmitting pain and involved in inflammatory body reactions – not what you want being released. 


Some people may experience an endorphin rush from eating chocolate or even if they talk to a stranger. It’s letting you know you’ve had enough, but that you should definitely come back to it again, because it made you feel good. 

The same happens in runners, endorphins (mimicked by drugs like morphine and heroine) give you a rush of pleasure that helps ease the pain of those rubbing blisters, the aching muscles, your tired legs. After your run, you feel awesome, experience “runners high” and decide you want to go for another run tomorrow because it made you feel so good and accomplished. 

Endorphins are the bodies natural way of feeling high and euphoric without the need for drugs. Drugs do give off the same feelings, but also come with a whole lot of other issues and much more baggage. 

No wonder The Colour Run leaves people wanting more. 

  1. You’re exercising (encouraging the release of endorphins)
  2. You’re interacting with people, many of whom are strangers (also likely encouraging the release of endorphins)
  3. You’re most likely with friends or family who generally speaking should be making you feel happy anyway
  4. You’re surrounded by colour, and as we saw in my last 2 blogs (here and here), colours can make you feel pretty darn great!