Artificial Food Dyes: The Dangers of Colorful Food


While grocery shopping this week, Meghan pointed to a can of Campbell’s soup and declared, “Look, Mommy! Dora soup!”  She doesn’t even watch Dora the Explorer, but she knows who she is because she’s plastered all over her underwear.  Dora and Elmo.  Apparently they don’t make plain underwear anymore, they must have some television character.  Anyway, I digress.

It occurred to me that so much food on our supermarket shelves is marketed to children.  It also occurred to me how dangerous that is.  Kids are attracted to labels that have cartoon characters on them. Kids are also attracted to bright, colorful foods.  The food companies know this, and that is why a good chunk of foods that are made specifically for children are loaded with artificial food dyes.

Here’s the problem.  Those artificial food dyes that make the food so pretty to look at and appealing to the younger crowd can cause serious health risks.  Most parents just think they are making their kids happy .  They want the colorful foods.  What’s the big deal?  They don’t understand the dangers that come with consuming artificial food dyes.

Studies have shown that artificial food dyes are associated with the following conditions:

1.  Cancer, including brain tumors

2.  Allergies, asthma, and sensitivities

3.  Behavioral issues, hyperactivity, and ADHD

4.  Decreased cognitive function, lowered IQ

I don’t know about you, but those are all things I hope I  can help my child avoid.  So what can we do?  Educate ourselves.  Here’s a look at the specific food dyes you will find in numerous foods throughout America and their proven effects:

Yellow #5: hyperactivity, eczema/hives, aggressive/violent behavior, asthma, irritability, sleep disturbances/insomnia, increased susceptibility to infection

Yellow #6: hyperactivity, eczema/hives, asthma,

Red #40: hyperactivity

Red #3: Tumors, neurochemical and behavioral effects

Source:  Smart Guide to Food Dyes

Other food dyes, like Blue #1 and Green #3 have suggested links to cancer, hyperactivity, and more, but have not yet been proven conclusively.

As a consumer and parent, you need to be aware of what foods you are bringing into your home.  You would be surprised at the number of foods (especially processed foods) that contain artificial food dyes.


You need to become a label reader.  Steer clear of foods with ingredients that have a color followed by a number.  You can pretty much assume any food that has an unusually bright red, green, yellow, or blue color is made that way with an artificial dye.  But it’s not just the bright and colorful foods that have dyes.  That would be too easy, right?  Some more muted-toned foods that have food dyes include:  Honeycomb cereal, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Hostess Twinkees, Doritos, Hamburger Helper, Sun Chips, and Pillsbury vanilla frosting.

Just looking at that list above, you see that it’s in processed foods aisle where you are going to find most of these artificial food dyes.  Just by limiting or eliminating processed foods from your diet, you will be greatly reducing your chances of consuming artificial food dyes.

What makes me most sad is that well-meaning parents are unknowingly causing health problems for their children by feeding them foods with artificial food dyes everyday.   Will you please help another parent get educated about food dyes by passing this article along?  My mission is to feed my family the most natural, nutritious foods I possibly can and I want to help other parents do the same thing.

On another note, thanks to everyone who entered to win the Healthy Habits Plate.  There’s still time to enter, click here if you haven’t yet!

What are your thoughts on artificial dyes in our foods?


  1. says

    I think it’s ridiculous! There should be laws against this sort of stuff being inour food, but unfortunately we have to look after ourselves instead of our government looking out for our best interests. I know a lot of people say there isn’t a lot of color added to food so it can’t be that bad, but I notice a HUGE difference in my son after he’s eaten red Jello. We hadn’t had it in a really long time and shortly after he had it he was off the walls and just going crazy. Imagine the other things that are happening inside him that you don’t notice right away. Awful!

    • Maryea says

      The European Union requires a warning label on any foods with artificial dyes. I wish our government would at least require that so unknowing parents would see that there are dangers!

  2. Lisa says

    Like you, Maryea, I have done my research and absolutely refuse to have processed foods in my home. My kids have foods that are whole and unprocessed and homemade snacks that are nourishing to their growing bodies. This is something that I’m very passionate about and it makes me very sad to see other well-meaning parents who just aren’t aware of the dangers feeding their kids these foods. Even something as simple as dill relish has Yellow #5 in it. I steer clear of the middle aisles as much as possible and I make homemade muffins, cookies, pancakes, energy bars, popsicles, lemonade, etc. so that we can keep that junk out of our bodies where it belongs. Unfortunately, my kids are exposed to some of it at school. The teachers hand out treats left and right that I don’t let my kids have at home. Fortunately, my oldest comes home and tells me that he doesn’t like it most of the time and he ends up throwing it away! Hip, Hip, Horray!!!

    • Maryea says

      Oh, I hope that Meghan will be the same way when she gets school aged! I know I can’t totally shelter her from all bad foods, but I just hope that someday she’ll make good food choices on her own. :-) That’s awesome that your son prefers the homemade stuff!

  3. says

    I wish I was still working at WIC back in FL b/c I would have this on my desk for a handout in 5 seconds flat!

    I’ll totally pass it along to the mommas I know here in NC though! <3

    keep up the great work — I try so hard to keep dyes and such out of my home but my toddler of a husband insists on eating nerds and m&ms on the regular. booo! Thank goodness i'm the one doing the shopping! =)

    • says

      Thank you so much, Jenn! My husband used to be a HUGE M&M addict, but recently he announced (without my nagging him!) that he didn’t want to eat them anymore because of the artificial colors. My hands off approach to his eating is working! :-)

  4. says

    It’s really scary that it’s come to the point that everything pretty much has it unless you shop at a natural food store or produce market. I’m sometimes shocked that they have food dye in certain things. I don’t think the color should make any difference!
    Take for example red velvet cake – I made it once and I’ll NEVER make it again. I put so much food dye that I thought I could faint. There’s absolutely NO reason for food dye in a cake that tastes perfectly fine in it’s original color. I think people have become accustomed to the fact that it’s there and it’s “safe”.
    I do like to bake with colors, but when I use a little pink in my fondant I know it will be tossed to the side. I’ve learned so much since starting baking and I realize the dangerous side effects. Moderation is key if you MUST buy something, but in the long run is it worth it?

    • says

      It’s true–so many awful ingredients are hard to avoid in mainstream grocery stores. It really makes me sad.

      As for the red velvet cake–I believe that Whole Foods sells natural food coloring. You’ll have to check that out.

  5. Amanda says

    Wow – this was a real eye opener. I had no idea of the danger. I admit I’m a little scared to read the labels of some items currently in my pantry.

  6. says

    I think that dyes, added this and that, are all far from ideal! However….I realize that my child lives in a world where people will give her foods that are not necessarily what I would choose for her, but I have learned to balance it and feed her great,wholesome real food at home and try not to stress when out.

    Great topic!

    • says

      Good points, Averie. I totally agree. You can’t stress about every single morsel that your kid eats.
      I definitely think more awareness is needed though. This little blog world that we live in is not the norm in America, unfortunately. Most parents just don’t know about what it means to feed their children nourishing foods and what kinds of things should be avoided. It really does make me sad.

  7. Gina says

    Here is your chance to do something about food dyes!!

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will hold a hearing on food dyes March 30 – 31, 2011. The US public has been invited to give their opinion on why these chemicals should be eliminated from the general food supply. You can send your submission by March 23, 2011 to Carolyn Jeletic, the Designated Federal Official. Her email address is

    • Maryea says

      Wow thanks for sharing the link. I’m glad that mother was able to figure out it was the artificial foods causing her son’s problems.

  8. Sherry Beard says

    I came across your page as I am working on a college paper. We are allowed to report on any topic and I chose food. My intent is to report on dangerous chemicals, substances in foods we consume on a regular basis. If you have any suggestions in addition to the dyes I would love to hear from you. Thanks!

    • Maryea says

      I think it would be great to include information of dangerous preservatives and the negative effects of certain ingredients in processed foods, like high fructose corn syrup. I don’t know how broad you want to go, but genetically modified foods (GMO’s) would be an interesting addition, as well. Good luck on your paper! :-)


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