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. My son is now 35. But back when he was 3-6 he was seemed like constantly sick with an Upper Respiratory Infection. Exhausted of traditional drs. not healing him, only more and stronger antibiotics, I took him to an allergy clinic.

    During the first few minutes with the information gathering nurse, (she asks you questions before the dr sees you). Of course she asks is he allergic to medicines? i had to answer yes, to Sulpha drugs. ( He and his sister broke out in a rash on this type of antibiotic, the school had me pick them up. They thought it was measles)

    The nurse stopped what she was doing and handed me a paper says, “If they are allergic to Sulpha drugs, do NOT feed them these foods. On that list was red and yellow dyes! And then I was finding that it was almost impossible to avoid foods that would be made without dye. Especially yellow. smh.

    Apples and oranges were also on that list, and me as a mom, thought those foods he needed most, so I was insisting that he eat them. THEN I find out they are on this list! Whoa!

    The first subscription that the dr gave him, an antibiotic, but after hearing my long story, perscribed an antibiotic from a totally different “family”, and POW, it knock that infection right out! 3 yrs of him suffering, 1 right dr. who listened, and was not “traditional” put him on the path of healing.

    Final results of the R.A.S.P. test, he was allergic to over 200 grasses and pollens.

  2. This is so frustrating to me. Red dye send my kids bouncing off the ceiling, and I hate having to be the guy in the grocery store that everyone gets sick of going around because he is reading every label on every product. On the bright side, we have found it pretty easy to eliminate these from our diet…. on to gluten, and all other processed foods!!!

  3. We have eliminated artificial food dyes from our diets and home. Marshmallows…which means most homemade rice Krispy treats have dyes. Beware of white/vanilla ice cream and vanilla pudding. Buying whole real food eliminates dyes, but when we buy processed food, we typically buy organic to avoid food dyes,

    1. I have found two brands of marshmallows that don’t contain artificial food dyes; Campfire and Great Value from Wal-Mart.

  4. I am trying so hard to eliminate this from my family’s lifestyle. It IS hard, it’s in everything. At our Walmart, you can not buy pickles without food coloring. I checked every single brand. And the ballfield…. can I just say, I HATE GATORAID!

  5. The glucose test drink for diabetes yesterday at Kaiser contained Yellow 6 and Red 40. What pregnant woman wants to drink something toxic orange looking?

  6. I was shocked a couple years ago to find food coloring in crescent rolls. I just don’t understand what’s wrong with the color of bread or rolls that they’d need to be alerted.

    Pillsbury® Original Crescents
    PhotosIngredientsNutritionAllergy Info
    Enriched Flour Bleached (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Water, Soybean and Palm Oil, Sugar, Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Baking Powder (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate). Contains 2% or less of: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Mono and Diglycerides, Vital Wheat Gluten, Dextrose, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, TBHQ and Citric Acid (preservatives), Yellow 5, Color Added, Red 40.

  7. My children are 5 and 3 and I’m searching for pain relief medicines that are dye-free and artificial flavor-free. It seems that Little Remedies only offer their range for infants. Any thoughts?

  8. 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…

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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 :(

  15. 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.

  16. Lisa, just out of curiosity what pain reliever do you use? I see that Tylenol and Motrin are two meds we should avoid giving to our children. Thanks!

    1. We honestly only use pain killers or fever reducers maybe once a year so I do still use conventional meds for those occasions. I have not had much of an opportunity to experiment with natural alternatives (thankfully)!

  17. Along the lines of white icing, and in the spirit of S’Mores season, marshmallows often have one of the blue dyes as an ingredient.

  18. Linda Grossmann

    I am highly allergic to Red dye. The way I found out was I have allergies and for some reason all the pills are Red. So stopped taking it. Problem stopped somewhat. I tried Tynenol for the headaches and started having the same feeling as with sinus meds. Looked on the bottle and THERE IT WAS! Nobody reads the inactive ingredients! I compared it to the generic and No Red Dye! Didn’t have any problems! So what is the purpose of putting red dye in something white?

    1. There is very little red dye in tylenol. The red dye is only on the outside of the pill where they wrote “tylenol”. This probably didnt cause your reaction.. probably was in your diet from something else.

  19. My son is autistic. He is 8 years old & only eats a few items due to his hate for different textures and pickiness… his teacher suggested a different diet due to his actions and behaviors lately. He is throwing bigger more severe tantrums and his ticks are getting out of control. What foods dont have these dyes I them..? Its easy to point out the ones that do but what about the ones that dont. Where are they where can you find the biggest selection of them, I am new to this and it seems harder to find “safe foods” can anyone help me out.?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Christina. Stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Earth Fare are where you will find the best selection of foods without artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. ~Amy

  20. What about caramel coloring and annatto coloring? I have noticed a HUGE difference in my daughter since taking all colorings out of her diet but was told these are natural and fine. What are others thoughts? I have looked online and see caramel has 4 types two good two bad but no label specifies that!!!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Kara. As a rule, we just try to avoid additives and preservatives. Annatto, a tree seed, is natural but does cause allergic reactions in some individuals. ~Amy

  21. These dyes are in all medications, both over the counter and are heavy in prescription medications. No one ever mentions the dyes in meds.

  22. I can’t stand that they add colors to MEDICINE! I’m fortunate in the fact that my son doesn’t often get sick at all because of an immune system supporting liquid I give him, but when he does run a very high fever I can’t control with cold environment and popsicles, I have to give him something.. Thank goodness they sell dye-free store brand acetaminophen and ibuprofen! I don’t like using them at all, but these are a much better option… Why try and make a sick child hyper???

  23. This experiment was done on 4 mice who probably weren’t genetically identical. You can’t draw any conclusions from such a small sample size, especially when the mice could have other differences. Mice are very attuned to differences in behavioral cues, so even just observing the mice expectantly could have a difference.

  24. We’re trying to cut artificial colorings because I’ve notice a trend between my daughter’s tantrums and bouts of intense sadness with her intake of red food coloring. I was surprised to find Yellow #5 and Red #40 in Pillsbury Crescent rolls. Thanks for all this info– it’s helpful as we try to learn what we can and can’t have.

  25. Everything has adverse effects in the long run, so I try to avoid making spontanious changes at once. If I’ve always lived a certain way, then I personally tend to stick to that. Some natural substitutes such as extracts of vegetables may trigger (chemically caused) allergies.

  26. Serious reactions from color with both my 10 year old son (anger, won’t listen) and my 12 year old daughter (over the top silly, won’t listen). They are both great kids if I can keep them away from artificial colors…quite a challenge. We avoid anything without an ingredient label.
    My son sneaked a white “butter mint” as we left a restaurant the other day and within 10 minutes he became out of control…no ingredients on the wrapper. White is definitely not safe, as mentioned by others.

  27. Mallory, Wickles doesn’t have dye. If you have a all natural food store like Earth Fare try there. It’s one of my favorite places to shop.

    1. I just looked at the ingredients for Wickles pickle chips at Harris Teeter. The second ingredient is sugar, and it also includes Polysorbate 80 and Yellow 5. Am I missing something? Am I looking at the wrong thing?

  28. I’ve found artificial dye in cheese, frosting, white cake mix, Hamburger Helper, all sorts of pickles and relish, meat, medicine, white toothpaste, and practically anything and everything you wouldn’t expect.

  29. My husband and I have just started thinking about starting a family. My doctor said to just find some OVT prenatal vitamins and call when we’re pregnant. It is CRAZY how every vitamin bottle I picked up had some form of dye in it. Any ideas what the best options are for unprocessed pre-natals?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Erin. Have you consulted with a Naturopathic Doctor? They might be able to advise you on this. Best of luck. ~Amy

  30. Chick-fil-a ice cream!! It infuriates me! Probably because I was relying on it too much for a special treat for our family. Why do you need food dye in WHITE ICE CREAM?!? Also, children’s liquid antibiotics. Can’t read labels there, gotta ask the pharmacist before they fill it!