Finding (and Avoiding) Artificial Food Dyes

Artificial food dyes are unfortunately in quite a lot of processed foods. I’ve already shared all the reasons I hate them, but today I want to share 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 Food

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Note: 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.

In the UK artificial dyes are 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
Vitamins Pic
Fiber One Pic
Motrin Pic
Doritos Pic
life cereal

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

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325 thoughts on “Finding (and Avoiding) Artificial Food Dyes”

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  1. I was wondering is it only the list above ? I found Red 33 in something else safe or no ? Also how do you find safe alternatives ?

    1. Hi, I would check the link in the post from the FDA as this post is a little outdated. This is why we always say to read the ingredient label and avoid products that contain artificial dyes. Look for labels that say “naturally derived”. – Nicole

  2. I have chronic urticaria and apparently it can make you prone to reactions to food dyes. I found out when I started taking thyroid medication and broke out in a horrible blistering rash. Food dye is even found in benadryl. The dye free version can be hard to find. I was dismayed when I found out my favorite local custard contains food dyes (even vanilla). I’ve been trying to cut out all dyes but they lurk in unexpected places.

  3. Yes you can avoid iron pills!! Use old cast iron pans for a good means of absorbable iron in everything you cook (I say old ones because they are smooth on the inside and foods will not stick as badly)! We use them daily now and have not had iron issues since. An all natural Dr taught me this.

    1. Marshmallows often contain blue dye! Anything with a Trader Joe’s label is dye-free, which is a huge relief to our family. Eveb their candies, treats and eveb gingerbread house decorating kits are completely naturally colored. What about carmel coloring in food and beverages? I haven’t found good info on what exactly that means.

      1. This caramel coloring is manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure, which creates carcinogenic compounds. Caramel color is classified into four different classes; Class IV being the worst. – Nicole

  4. Great great information! My son and I are vegan so most products use natural dyes but it wasn’t until I read this post. The crystal light I don’t use that brand particularly but I do use mio and the last three days my son has been an emotional wreck. So they are heading out the door now. Also didn’t realize Motrin uses pregelatinized starch

    1. It’s insane to see how many of our daily products contain these dyes and to know that they trigger certain issues. – Nicole

    2. Careful with natural flavor if your a vegan. Natural can be animal products as it is *technically* natural. Many times strawberry and vanilla flavored items can be naturally flavored used from animal product. I just tend to stay away from anything that doesn’t say what it is. Just not worth it, at least to me. That’s just a personal preference though.

  5. My son has been having some behavior and emotional issues lately. A doctor recently suggested removing artificial dyes. Are there any names of ingredients I need to watch out for aside from Red 40, Yellow 5 and so on?

  6. My daughter has a severe reaction to dyes, including annatto, which is considered natural and appears in many products that don’t use artificial dyes. It is used in all orange cheese, vanilla ice cream, and many others. Each time she consumes dye it stays in her system for 3 days, and that is 3 days of depression, anxiety, anger, every form of emotional volatility. We have been reading ingredients for that past 8 years, yet our lives are frequently derailed because of something she eats at school, church, or any other event outside of the home. Although she knows what will happen, she still eats it quite often when the opportunity arises, either because she feels left out if she doesn’t, or because she feels deprived, even though I always try to get her due free versions of foods. Dye has caused so much misery in our lives, and continued to do so. On average, half of every week is affected by dyes. I couldn’t hate dyes more, yet feel helpless to do anything about it.

    1. My sister and I are both allergic to red dye 40 we didnt find out until we were in our late 20s. Rashes stuffed noses migraines. All other artificial dyes for me I have sensitivity to either I’m in the bathroom my face gets puffy and I get let’s use the phrase like an evil witch who just got a dose of adrenaline. I hear what your saying about the annato and what they also like to call Carmel colors for me too. All these years doctors prescribed meds that have the dyes in them. Even benadryl does if not the dye free option any med even tylenol with their red lettering. It is very difficult sometimes impossible for me to find meds bc of my allergies and sensitivities and its sick. It shouldn’t be in our food and definitely not in our meds.

  7. I had a 12 yr old in my daycare. When ever he came of the bus with a red face we knew he’d had a red dye. He became extremely violent. It was scary.

  8. Our child has Night Terrors 100% of the time she consumes Yellow #5 and/or Red Dye 40. It is absolutely horrifying and mentally and emotionally draining. We first saw this with 1 flintstone vitamin, the paramedics said to us watch out for the dyes. We never had an instance in 13 years and now this. Now we cook all of our own food and have her on a majority carnivore diet, not by our choice, this is what she feels safest eating. When she is eating clean she has absolutely no issues and is the happiest child. We accidentally let our guard down last night and ordered from a restaurant, and that’s when it happens… 1 ingredient they do not tell us and that was all it took… Always be on Guard, never become complacent… Maybe it was an ingredient in it but we gave our child Kobe beef, I never seen beef so red before it was like the burger was medium rare which she did not like, she took 2 bites and didn’t want it so we cooked our own food for her. But damage was set, even a few drops of marocchino cherries is enough to change our worlds for the next 12-18 hrs. We hope this helps someone. Read all labels every single time just in case something changes.

  9. Red 40 is in the iron pills I have to take to manage my iron deficiency anemia. Don’t want to live with it but can’t live without!

  10. Hallelujah, All foods at Aldis are now without artificial dyes. I have not eaten puddings, pickles, cake mixes, and too many things to list in years. Now I can.

  11. Is there a specific test that shows you are your kids are allergic to food dye or is it just trial and error? How do you KNOW it is an allergy to a certain color?

  12. Has anyone actually had a dye test to see if its an allergy? I am pretty sure that this is what is going on with my son. The allergist, GI and PC all just keep telling me how rare it is and that is probably not the cause. He is very hyper, cant sit still, always going a mile a minute (yes i know 4 years do that) but I am positive his is alot more active then most, constant stomache aches. With certain foods – which i am starting to piece together as having Red Dye 40 he will be fine then all of a sudden run to the bathroom puking, diarehea and break out in itchy hives. And as soon as its all out he is back to being normal like it never happened. Any thoughts.. am I looking up the wrong tree here?

    1. I have found artificial colors in just about every freaking thing, chips, cereal, gum, candy, a lot of chocolate products, HAND SOAP, shampoo, kid’s blowing bubbles solution, jet puff marshmallows have blue dye in them, Toothpaste, etc…

    2. Hi – I thought I would share my own experience with you. I know I am somewhat lactose intolerant, but I do know that I can eat some dairy (a single yogurt) without consequence. While plain vanilla has been no problem for me, strawberry yogurt has. I’ve noticed this with other foods, too. I would get headaches and stomach aches after eating and the only link between all of them was red dye. Since then, I’ve been paying attention to labels and avoiding anything with dyes and artificial flavors. One thing you may want to try with your son is eliminating all artificial colors and see if symptoms decrease. If you reintroduce the foods with dyes and symptoms are back, then dyes may be at fault and an allergy test would be helpful to confirm. Good luck!

    3. Kristen, we were not able to do a test besides a patch test for red dye 40 for my daughter, but her symptoms range from itchy lips to hives, tongue and throat swelling, rash, and change in vital signs. Her’s is so sensitive that I actually trained a service dog for her.

      1. My son is the same way. We had to wait weeks for special order antibiotics because they kept filling his prescription with dye tainted ones. No hospital in the area had any dye free antibiotic. it’s so sad. I have been wanting to get him a service dog for it and other things. How did you train it for this and which breed?

    4. You are not looking up the wrong tree! That is how my allergy started 20 years ago. Today and I mean literally “today”, I have anaphylaxis! My blood pressure was 204 over 112! My allergies have become much worse over the years because it is in so many things and it now raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels. Today it was a prescription. On the website it did not list any dyes, even though the pill was peach. Why can’t they use natural dyes, such as beet juice, beta carotene…? Especially in medications! I know that it will probably give me a stroke, heart attack or kill me one day! Please stop giving your children artificial dyes!

    5. You are correct. I was very similar at that age. My Mom kept a food diary and my Grandma did not believe it. Grandma gave me something red and that was that. Juice, cookies, crackers, cereal, granola/fruit bars, popsicles, frostings, sprinkles, boxed pudding/jello/cake mix/pancake mix, fruit snacks… if they are not organic will contain HFCS and artificial food dyes.
      Which is a whole bad combo.
      It is not your imagination.

  13. I have wholely lost faith in our govmnt careing about our health or welfare. Everything since deregulation has gone to anything almost goes as long as there is a profit on the bottom line.disgusted. our water is getting more questionable all the time as well. Congress votes things in and then exempt themselves from the guidelines theyve set for us. Its all so confounding. I think the trump phenomenon is america telling congress we are sick of you all. Go home and get out of our lives.

    1. Your statement contradicts itself, no? First you say deregulation permits anything to happen as long as there is a profit and then you say Trump is telling America telling Congress we are sick of you go home. Trump (who I voted for, before we get into a political debate) is for deregulation. Once one regulation is implemented (new) two old ones have to go. Why not just eliminate bad ones and put ones that protect the public in place? Perfect example; approving sweet & low. That was protecting business not America. Red dye-many countries would not allow red-dye in their foods or products until they joined the European Union which approved of red dyes. Guess who is in charge of that? UK & US. We NEED regulation because of the dishonesty of companies. They will kill us with their greed. If not in our food, then our cars, our medications, our inability to afford healthcare-etc. Yet our own elected officials won’t even protect us-they are also part of the greed. So yes, go home and maybe the American people will get smart and elect governors, congressman, and senators like Trump who will work for THEM instead of corporations. Fingers crossed.

  14. After spending a day in the emergency room with a migraine that appeared to possibly be a stroke (as a relatively fit, 30 year old), I really really wish the US had the same labeling rule as the UK. Our family buys very little processed food, so my sensitivity to Red40 usually isn’t an issue. But sure enough, when I looked through the foods I ate hours before the symptoms started, it turns out that the chocolate ice cream I just switched to was artificially colored. WHY? That crap wasn’t in other flavors from the same company that I’ve eaten for years, so I never thought to check until after that excruciatingly painful (and expensive) day in the hospital.

  15. Don’t forget toothpaste, shampoo, soap, lotion, sometimes bran flakes, ice cream. My one son has an allergic reaction to annatto extract, as well. It comes from a plant in Australia and is banned in all countries but Australia and the US. It is blamed as the cause of IBS for 20% of those who suffer from it. The FDA claims it’s natural, therefore “safe” for all, but is not. It lingers in vanilla ice cream and anything yellow.

    1. Thanks for sharing! I havehave suffered from IBS for 16 years but have not run across this. I will add this to my elimination list to see if it is an issue. So far, dairy, dog, and fluoride/fluoridated water are huge culprits.

  16. How can I find children’s medicines without artifical dyes?!?! Does they exist? I thinking about OTC medicines, like children’s acetaminaphen, cold medicines, and so on.

    1. If it is an allergy your doctor can send the script to a compound pharmacy. My son has to have dye free completely from everything. So his Tylenol, benadryl, and most all is meds are compounded…good luck!!

    2. I just bought cough syrup for diabetics from Walgreens (dye free and sugar free). Tastes awful, but do do the brands with dye.

  17. Hospital food. I have a yellow dye allergy, which I listed on my hospital admission form. Jello, pudding, and yogurt all had yellow 5. My husband had to bring real food to the hospital for me because all they had was processed food, which generally contains dye. The drink for a glucose tolerance test had yellow 5 and 6, so they had to order some from another hospital that didn’t have it. Also, watch the barium beverages. Loaded with dyes and sorbitol.

    1. I have an allergy to red 40 and polysorbet 60 & 80. It’s hard to try “new” things without a ton of research to make sure I don’t have an attack from the coloring.

  18. I have a daughter w a severe red dye allergy. It’s in everything from processed foods to shampoos and soaps (we have to have our own soap when using a public restroom – even in her schools). Why do we still consider this ok. This country, like no other; uses dyes for everything. There are natural ways to color things. It’s sad that so many companies won’t use them.

  19. Marshmallows! When I contacted Publix to find out if my daughter could have any of their cupcakes, the would not tell me if the cakes contained dyes. They advised me that she should not eat anything from the bakery.

  20. i am appauled. I’ve recently decided to go vegetarian. I am 18 years old btw. I now read every label before i just buy something. The amount of things I’ve seen that have these artificial dyes are crazy. I am proud of myself for finally having the guts to make healthier life choices.

  21. My husband and son get headaches when the eat anything with red dye in it. So I got use to reading the lables. Even vanilla ice cream and Tylenol have it in them. You have to read everything.

  22. Blueberry bagels. When I found it, I said to my daughter, “Have you ever noticed that the blueberries in our bagels are really blue?” It’s hard when you have a kid with allergic reactions to dye.

  23. I have found that most brands of marshemellows (for making smores in the summer) have dye!!! You have to check whole foods or even walmart has a version that doesn’t have dye

  24. My toddler son tried Goldfish at a friend’s house and had an allergic reaction. His eczema flares if he ever tries something with artificial colors. Pickles were a shocker for me, but I have found some amazing brands without dyes after I started searching. It is amazing what you can find when you decide what’s lining the selves in bulk isn’t what you want!

    1. It’s the annatto. It’s in EVERYTHING from cheese, ice cream, anything orange or yellow. Natural lollipops, it causes my son to pass blood clots. It’s crazy scary.