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


Motrin Pic


Doritos PicOatmeal


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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