Food Dyes: Are They Safe?

Companies have long been adding dyes to a myriad of products including food, candies, drinks, toothpastes and shampoos. They do it because these dyes are cheaper, more stable and brighter than most natural colorings. However, how safe are these chemicals? Could it be putting your family at risk?

Food Dyes: Are They Safe?

By adding dyes and coloring to foods and a variety of products, companies can make them look more tasty or appealing to consumers. Companies have relied on this technique for ages in order to save money and sell more products. 

For centuries, we've used natural dye from natural ingredients to color food, clothing, and other products. Around the turn of the 20th century, scientists began formulating synthetic colors, derived from coal tar and other alternatives. This was done in order to reduce costs and avoid possible toxins in some of the natural compounds, such as mercury, copper or arsenic. 


However, the safety of this technique has come into question. These synthetic ingredients have been proven to have their own slew of problems. Some claim that these dyes are toxic – possibly toxic enough to cause cancer. While some dyes have been banned from use in the United States, seven dyes remain on the FDA’s approved list for use in the United States. These food dyes include Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6.

Two dyes that have come under recent attack are Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.

Other countries, like the UK, have required that food companies label products containing Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 with a warning that says: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Hence, some companies, like Kraft, have switched to using paprika and beta carotene in products like their mac and cheese (to preserve the yellow appearance) in those countries.

How Can Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 Affect My Children?

British researchers designed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to test the effects of food colorings on hyperactivity in children. Hyperactivity is one of the signs of ADHD. The children consumed foods and drinks free of six coloring agents and sodium benzoate, a common preservative. Every two weeks, the children were given a special drink that contained enough dye found in two bags of candy.

The researchers and their parents found a significant increase in hyperactivity in the children during the weeks that they consumed the drink with the artificial colors.

This research correlates with an analysis of different studies done at Columbia University and Harvard University. The analysis affirmed that removing foods and products that contain artificial food coloring can help relieve the symptoms of children already diagnosed with ADHD.

What Can I Do About This?

The first thing you can do is become more food-label conscious. Companies are required to list food dyes in their list of ingredients. Watch out for dyes that you are giving to your family. More and more companies are using natural colorants, like spices, in their products.

Also, switching to a clean diet can help you avoid these products altogether.  This involves avoiding foods that have unnecessary preservatives, additives or chemicals, like artificial dyes. If there is a mysterious ingredient you can’t pronounce or if it evokes images of scientists in white lab coats, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. Get started with our 30-day clean detox program which includes recipes made with all-natural ingredients.

Learn More: 

Colors That Prevent Cancer: Foods of the Rainbow 
Consumer Reports on Caramel Coloring 

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