Are natural colors healthy? Do natural colors impart nutritional value? Can we make functional claims when we use natural colors in our product? We get these types of questions often, especially with the increase in the “functional foods” market segment. In this article we’ll provide some clarity around this topic.

Do natural colors have nutritional value?

The short answer is no – most natural colors do not provide nutritional value to an end product. This is because the majority of natural colors used in food production are isolated pigments, meaning the color has been selectively extracted from the raw material in order to create extremely concentrated colors for the sole purpose of coloring food and beverage applications.

Macro and Micronutrients

But you used vitamin C in the natural color formulation. Doesn’t that provide a health benefit? The answer is still no. In order to make colors suitable for food or beverage applications they are often formulated with food additives and other ingredients.

Vitamins like vitamin C can be used to help stabilize some natural colors like carotenoids, and minerals like calcium or sodium can be used to stabilize others, providing them minor amounts of micronutrients. But the vitamin or mineral content is typically very low, and when considering the dosage range – usually around 0.1 – 1.0% in the final product – that means that the contribution of these nutrients to the finished product would be negligible.

Another example is when using an emulsifier to make an oil soluble color suitable for water-based applications, or a carrier like maltodextrin to make a powder color. In these cases, natural colors may contain macronutrients like carbohydrates, lipids, or proteins, with negligible contribution to the end product nutritional label.

Beyond Nutrition

But it’s also important to understand why consumers might think that natural colors have nutritional value or health benefits.

Pigments in their original environment in a raw material – like beets, berries, or turmeric root – have biological functions that came about as evolutionary advantages that are sometimes translated to functional properties. Here we’ll dive into a few of the most common ones, if only for the purpose of awing ourselves on the marvels of the interaction of living organisms through chemistry.

Cross section of purple corn showing anthocyanin color as an example of a pigment that may have nutritional value

Anthocyanins – these wonderful tiny molecules are responsible for the colors of most berries and red, blue, and violet flowers. Some studies* suggest they may have protective effects by neutralizing free radicals, controlling inflammation and positively affecting the cardiovascular, endocrine and microcirculatory systems, besides modulating the gut microbiota.

Beet roots – are rich in betalains (betacyanins and betaxanthis) and studies show* they exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Some athletes use beet root extracts as food supplements with hopes to improve physical performance, muscle efficiency and reduce exercise caused fatigue

Annatto as an example of a carotenoid

Carotenoids – Another group of powerful antioxidants that provide warm yellows, oranges, and reds. They are auxiliary pigments for the photosynthesis process and studies show* they may contribute to the protection of tissues – of both the plants and microorganisms that synthesize them as well as the animals that consume them.

Chlorophyll – here we’ll mention a feature not very well known, but probably intuitive, from chlorophyll derivatives. Due to their affinity for other organic molecules, studies suggest* they can be used as internal deodorant, helping to neutralize body odors in colostomy patients and also by those that suffer trimethylaminuria. And we say intuitive, because who has not resorted to granny’s advice of chewing celery, parsley, or cilantro to control breath and BO?

close up of turmeric rhizome

Curcumin – A bright and neon-like yellow pigment. This flavonoid is extracted from turmeric root, which is widely used in It has been studied* for its anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties and is one of the examples of bioactive substances that have successfully jumped from the table to the nutraceutical field.

To sum it up

Although there is no scientific evidence showing that natural colors have nutritional value as food additives with a direct correlation to health benefits, natural colors are made from natural sources that are well known by consumers. This confers a ‘wellness halo’ to foods and drinks that are naturally colored that may lead consumers to choose products colored with natural sources over other options.

*Check out the studies below for additional reading on these pigments.

Blesso, C. N. (2019). Dietary Anthocyanins and Human Health. Nutrients11(9), 2107. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11092107

Espinosa-Moncada, J., Marín-Echeverri, C., Galvis-Pérez, Y., Ciro-Gómez, G., Aristizábal, J., Blesso, C., Fernandez, M., & Barona-Acevedo, J. (2018). Evaluation of Agraz Consumption on Adipocytokines, Inflammation, and Oxidative Stress Markers in Women with Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients10(11), 1639. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10111639

Hair, R., Sakaki, J. R., & Chun, O. K. (2021). Anthocyanins, Microbiome and Health Benefits in Aging. Molecules26(3), 537. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26030537

Kilua, A., Nomata, R., Nagata, R., Fukuma, N., Shimada, K., Han, K. H., & Fukushima, M. (2019). Purple Sweet Potato Polyphenols Differentially Influence the Microbial Composition Depending on the Fermentability of Dietary Fiber in a Mixed Culture of Swine Fecal Bacteria. Nutrients11(7), 1495. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11071495

Luna-Vital, D. A., & Gonzalez De Mejia, E. (2018). Anthocyanins from purple corn activate free fatty acid-receptor 1 and glucokinase enhancing in vitro insulin secretion and hepatic glucose uptake. PLOS ONE13(7), e0200449. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200449

Mozos, I., Flangea, C., Vlad, D. C., Gug, C., Mozos, C., Stoian, D., Luca, C. T., Horbańczuk, J. O., Horbańczuk, O. K., & Atanasov, A. G. (2021). Effects of Anthocyanins on Vascular Health. Biomolecules11(6), 811. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom11060811

Pei, R., Liu, J., Martin, D. A., Valdez, J. C., Jeffety, J., Barrett-Wilt, G. A., Liu, Z., & Bolling, B. W. (2019). Aronia Berry Supplementation Mitigates Inflammation in T Cell Transfer-Induced Colitis by Decreasing Oxidative Stress. Nutrients11(6), 1316. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11061316

Abedimanesh, N., Asghari, S., Mohammadnejad, K., Daneshvar, Z., Rahmani, S., Shokoohi, S., Farzaneh, A. H., Hosseini, S. H., Jafari Anarkooli, I., Noubarani, M., Andalib, S., Eskandari, M. R., & Motlagh, B. (2021). The anti-diabetic effects of betanin in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats through modulating AMPK/SIRT1/NF-κB signaling pathway. Nutrition & Metabolism18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12986-021-00621-9

Belhadj Slimen, I., Najar, T., & Abderrabba, M. (2017). Chemical and Antioxidant Properties of Betalains. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry65(4), 675–689. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.6b04208

Chen, L., Zhu, Y., Hu, Z., Wu, S., & Jin, C. (2021). Beetroot as a functional food with huge health benefits: Antioxidant, antitumor, physical function, and chronic metabolomics activity. Food Science & Nutrition9(11), 6406–6420. https://doi.org/10.1002/fsn3.2577

Lechner, J. F., & Stoner, G. D. (2019). Red Beetroot and Betalains as Cancer Chemopreventative Agents. Molecules24(8), 1602. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24081602

Raish, M., Ahmad, A., Ansari, M. A., Alkharfy, K. M., Ahad, A., Khan, A., Ali, N., Ganaie, M. A., & Hamidaddin, M. A. A. (2019). Beetroot juice alleviates isoproterenol-induced myocardial damage by reducing oxidative stress, inflammation, and apoptosis in rats. 3 Biotech(4). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13205-019-1677-9

Barros, M. P., Rodrigo, M. J., & Zacarias, L. (2018). Dietary Carotenoid Roles in Redox Homeostasis and Human Health. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry66(23), 5733–5740. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.8b00866

Coronel, J., Pinos, I., & Amengual, J. (2019). β-carotene in Obesity Research: Technical Considerations and Current Status of the Field. Nutrients11(4), 842. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040842

Frank, H. A., & Brudvig, G. W. (2004). Redox Functions of Carotenoids in Photosynthesis. Biochemistry43(27), 8607–8615. https://doi.org/10.1021/bi0492096

Kim, J. H., Lee, J., Choi, I. J., Kim, Y. I., Kwon, O., Kim, H., & Kim, J. (2018). Dietary Carotenoids Intake and the Risk of Gastric Cancer: A Case—Control Study in Korea. Nutrients10(8), 1031. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10081031

Lucas, R., Mihály, J., Lowe, G., Graham, D., Szklenar, M., Szegedi, A., Töröcsik, D., & Rühl, R. (2018). Reduced Carotenoid and Retinoid Concentrations and Altered Lycopene Isomer Ratio in Plasma of Atopic Dermatitis Patients. Nutrients10(10), 1390. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101390

Lawler, T., Liu, Y., Christensen, K., Vajaranant, T. S., & Mares, J. (2019). Dietary Antioxidants, Macular Pigment, and Glaucomatous Neurodegeneration: A Review of the Evidence. Nutrients11(5), 1002. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051002

Chaturvedi,D.  Singh,K., Singh, V.K. (2019) Therapeutic and pharmacological aspects of photodynamic product chlorophyllin. Eur. J. Biol. Res. 9(2), 64-76. http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.2638869

Devi, D. M., & Banu, N. (2017). Anti-Proliferative activity of Chlorophyllin from Phyllanthus Emblica L. against MCF-7 and Vero Cell line. Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology10(2), 516. https://doi.org/10.5958/0974-360x.2017.00103.2

Liu, Z., Xia, S., Wang, X., Lan, Q., Li, P., Xu, W., Wang, Q., Lu, L., & Jiang, S. (2020). Sodium Copper Chlorophyllin Is Highly Effective against Enterovirus (EV) A71 Infection by Blocking Its Entry into the Host Cell. ACS Infectious Diseases6(5), 882–890. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsinfecdis.0c00096

Rani, G. R., & Banu, N. (2017). Antibacterial activity of Sodium Copper Chlorophyllin (SCC) from Leucas aspera L. Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology10(3), 792. https://doi.org/10.5958/0974-360x.2017.00149.4

Suparmi, S., Fasitasari, M., Martosupono, M., & Mangimbulude, J. C. (2016). Comparisons of Curative Effects of Chlorophyll from Sauropus androgynus(L) Merr Leaf Extract and Cu-Chlorophyllin on Sodium Nitrate-Induced Oxidative Stress in Rats. Journal of Toxicology2016, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/8515089

Fleenor, B. S., Carlini, N. A., & Campbell, M. S. (2019). Curcumin and arterial function in health and disease. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care22(6), 459–464. https://doi.org/10.1097/mco.0000000000000598

Giordano, & Tommonaro. (2019). Curcumin and Cancer. Nutrients11(10), 2376. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102376

Kim, Y., & Clifton, P. (2018). Curcumin, Cardiometabolic Health and Dementia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health15(10), 2093. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15102093

Varì, R., Scazzocchio, B., Silenzi, A., Giovannini, C., & Masella, R. (2021). Obesity-Associated Inflammation: Does Curcumin Exert a Beneficial Role? Nutrients13(3), 1021. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13031021

Zhu, T., Chen, Z., Chen, G., Wang, D., Tang, S., Deng, H., Wang, J., Li, S., Lan, J., Tong, J., Li, H., Deng, X., Zhang, W., Sun, J., Tu, Y., Luo, W., & Li, C. (2019). Curcumin Attenuates Asthmatic Airway Inflammation and Mucus Hypersecretion Involving a PPARγ-Dependent NF-κB Signaling Pathway In Vivo and In Vitro. Mediators of Inflammation2019, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/4927430

Related posts

Coloring Different Plant Bases

A myriad of colors for a bundle of veggie bases Meat-free products come in a variety of formats and use a variety of base ingredients, all with their own specific requirements. Coloring different plant bases varies by base and desired end color. The most

The Raw to Cooked Look: Aiming for Authenticity

The plant-based meat alternative market continues to grow, in part due to interest from flexitarians. This group tries to add in more plant-based options in place of their regular meat consumption a few days a week, often for environmental, health, or ethical

Switching to Natural Colors in Confections

When you think of confections, you most likely imagine vibrant, colorful shades. To achieve those vivid hues, confections are typically colored with synthetics, but as consumers lean more toward ‘clean label’ options, demand for switching to natural

Webinar: Natural Colors for Petfood

Clean Label Kibble: Formulating PetFood With Natural Colors Pet owners want the best diet possible for their furry friends – and that means using ingredients that they recognize and understand. Formulating petfood with natural colors is a great way to

Webinar: Replacing Synthetic Colors in Confections

Simple label Sweets: Replacing Synthetic Colors with Natural colors in Confections Formulating confections with natural colors may require more considerations than when using synthetics, but there are plenty of vibrant options to keep your sweets looking

Why do you ask so many questions?

Why Do You Ask So Many Questions? When you request a natural color sample for your project, we generally start the conversation by asking you some questions. And while some of these may seem a little intrusive, the answers provide important information that

FEATURED CONTENT

Natural Colors for Seafood Alternatives
Coloring Different Plant Bases

SUBSCRIBE TO GET UPDATES WHEN WE POST NEW CONTENT!