Finding (and Avoiding) Artificial Food Dyes

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Our recent petition asking Kraft to remove artificial dyes from their line of macaroni and cheese has stirred up a lot of discussion about food dyes in general. It’s no secret that mac and cheese is not the only product on the market harboring petroleum-based synthetic food dyes…they are unfortunately in quite a lot of processed foods. I’ve already shared all the reasons I hate these unnecessary – yet potentially harmful – artificial dyes, and our hope is that if Kraft pioneers the change by replacing artificial dyes with natural dyes that other companies will follow suit with their products. But in the meantime, following are the names of the FDA-approved dyes so you can look for (and hopefully avoid) them in food products.

Finding and avoiding artificial dyes - 100 Days of Real FoodNote: This is the “currently approved” list because, unsettling enough, the approval status does change.

The following FD&C color additives are either no longer authorized or restricted for use – that’s right the FDA once thought these seven food dyes were “safe” but have since changed their minds: Green 1, Green 2, Red 1, Red 2, Red 3 (still used in food, but no longer in cosmetics or external drugs), Red 4, and Violet 1. In fact, if you look at food, drugs and cosmetics in total there are 91 different dyes that were once approved and are now no longer authorized or restricted for use. Others before us have petitioned the government to pull artificial food dyes off the shelves, but have unfortunately gotten nowhere. This is another reason why we have turned to the food industry to (hopefully) take the lead on making this positive change with natural dye alternatives instead. In the UK artificial dyes are still allowed for use, but require a warning label stating, “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” So, as a result, food companies have mostly switched to natural dyes in order to avoid slapping a warning label on their packages.

Even though these dyes are still widely used in the US, I did find this statement on the FDA website, “Exposure to food and food components, including AFC [artificial food colors] and preservatives, may be associated with behavioral changes, not necessarily related to hyperactivity, in certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, and possibly in susceptible children from the general population.” I’d also like to share a link to a really interesting science experiment conducted by a kid who tested the effects of yellow dye in mice. The results are rather astounding…click to see for yourself!

Artificial Dyes Found in Surprising Places

What was once reserved for colorful, celebratory cake frosting is now lurking on almost every shelf in the grocery store. In fact, consumption of food dyes has increased 5-fold since 1955 (up from 3 million to 15 million pounds per year) – 90% of which is from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40. This is one of the many reasons why the argument that we grew up eating this stuff and turned out “just fine” doesn’t hold up – processed food has changed (and continues to change) since we were kids. So nowadays unless you shop somewhere like Whole Foods or Earth Fare (supermarkets that don’t allow products with artificial dyes), get ready to do some label reading in order to avoid the above list on your next shopping trip.

Below are some examples where we found artificial food dyes. They are not just found in neon colored beverages and brightly colored candies – all of the following (even including brown cereal, whole-wheat pizza crust, and white icing!) are examples of packaged products that contain artificial dyes:

frosting pic

Pickels Pic

boboli Vitamins Pic

Fiber One Pic

lunchable

Motrin Pic

Crystal-Light

Doritos PicOatmeal

yoplait

life cerealAnd of course, the infamous macaroni and cheese!

mac and cheese

Have you found artificial dyes lurking in surprising places? Please let us know in the comments below.

PS – Check out our recent experience trying to make holiday cookies with natural dyes.

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277 comments to Finding (and Avoiding) Artificial Food Dyes

  • Adrienne trogdon

    We have had to avoid all dyes bc my 6year old daughter is bipolar. ALL color ( especially yellow and caramel coloring) cause a severe reaction in her. We have also had to start cutting all sugars & high fructose corn syrup! We are still surprised at stuff that has color. Beef bouillion, pancake syrup, shake n bake, seasonings etx. Medication is our BIGGEST battle. All medication is colored and even if it is white, it is made with color. I mean pills also, not just liquid. It has really surprised us at the HUGE difference color makes for her.

  • […] 100 Days of Real Food: Finding (and Avoiding) Artificial Food Dyes […]

  • Heather

    My daughter and I are allergic to red 40 and other red colorings it breaks my heart when she can’t have something and other kids can her allergy is more severe than mine she breaks out in bad rash on her cheeks and back mine I gets migraine and wanna get sick :(

  • Sharon

    Did people know carmel coloring in pepsi and coke is brown dye and yellow dye. I am very allergic to yellow dye so had to give up soda.

  • Pat Karacia

    I want to make cupcakes for a child with artificial food coloring allergies. Anyone know one or can I use a box cake.

  • Gabrielle Moreno

    I already knew that food dyes were bad for the human body before I visited this site, but this has taught me even more about which foods have dye in them. This explains why my little niece reacts oddly to colorful foods from the stores.

  • Rebecca Smith

    Thank you for posting on this issue. My son is autistic and we have recently discovered that he reacts violently to food coloring. I am finding that I have to read every label even bath and hand soap products! It is not necessary and I hope that Kraft and other businesses will follow suit to eliminate the coloring.

  • Vycles

    6 to 7 years ago I got a call in the middle of the night from my frantic sister. Her 1 yr old daughter was screaming and wouldn’t stop. She was having night terrors but looked like she was awake. Besides that, she would turn from this sweet angel to a defiant mean child after having candy. Months later it was discovered that she was having a reaction to Red 40. A short time after that it was discovered that my Mother’s headaches were happening after consuming Red 40.
    So all I knew about any of the “synthetic food dyes” was that Red 40 can be bad because my sister said so.
    4 yrs ago we adopted 3 youngins ages 6, 8, & 9 then. It came to my attention the bad behavior of my youngest boy, DB, after eating at a party, and I remembered “Red 40 is bad”, so I monitored as much of his red, orange, purple intake as I could.
    This year, actually this MONTH it all came to my attention in a FB post of a friend about Red 40 AND Yellow 5 being evil. So I am trying to do my homework and learn the FACTS not myths about the severity, reactions, and the importance of getting rid of, synthetic colored food dyes.
    I’ve read, and thank you everyone for sharing your experiences and such on this matter, blogs and comments on this and other pages. I’ve seen so many different allergic reactions that I have never considered before on these sites and comments of people.
    I was diagnosed with Migraines when I was in the 3rd grade. I have had severe headaches my whole life since. To the point that, in 2006 I was caring for my bed-ridden grandma in our home, and had to stay in my room for 2 months with aluminum foil over the windows, for darkness. She felt like it was her fault and chose to move to a senior-home. “Migraines” would come and go. Sometimes they would last for days, sometimes only hours. Sometimes I would go a month or so without even having one. Sometimes I had one every, or every other day or so.
    All this to say, I believe the headaches to be an effect to the synthetic dyes in our food and products. Since I have cut out all of those dyes that I can from our household, I haven’t suffered from the headaches. Or the fits of rage that I have always suffered with, the rage has only reached it’s ugly head after I have accidentally ingested, or had the colored dyes absorbed through my skin.
    Johnson’s baby lotion (Pink), John Frieda shampoo and conditioner (Red), all of my mouthwashes and toothpastes, and Model Magic (like a playdoh) that the kids and I have loved to play with, ALL have the synthetic food dyes in them made from petroleum. :(
    There are so so so many FOODS that have them in them. Grocery shopping is going to be a challenge next week, but it is too important to not try. :)
    …just for a laugh for you, ya should have been a fly on the wall when my 19 yr old daughter discovered that I threw away all of the marshmallows from the Lucky Charms and then I asked her not to bring the Fruity Pebbles into our home anymore. It was kind of comical. ;)
    Blessings to all!

  • […] In countries where these dyes are banned, some companies like Kraft use natural colorants instead, such as paprika extract, annatto and beetroot. The food blogger and activist Vani Hari—a.k.a. “Food Babe—petitioned Kraft asking that they remove artificial dyes from American Mac & Cheese. She says, “The European version of Kraft macaroni and cheese has paprika and beta-carotene, but the one here [in the US] has Yellow #5 and Yellow #6. Attention deficit disorder, autism, and all of these things linked to hyperactivity disorder have increased dramatically in the United States. Nobody’s really looking at the chemicals, and kids everywhere are eating this Mac & Cheese.” Where they are banned: Norway and Austria. In 2009, the British government advised companies to stop using food dyes by the end of that year. The European Union also requires a warning notice on most foods containing dyes. Here are some tips for avoiding food dyes. […]

  • Jamie

    I stumbled across your blog in a google search looking for information on food dye allergies. My 18 month old breaks out into rashes and has trouble with sleep whenever he eats something with red40. I am in shock by the number of foods that have dyes in them. Most of these foods I would never have thought of. I couldn’t understand why my little boy got a rash today and then I realized I gave him a pickle!

    Thanks for the info…

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