10 Things You Need to Know About Food Dyes

Experience Life
by Experience Life
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10 Things You Need to Know About Food Dyes

Artificial food dyes are ubiquitous in today’s food system. Yellows No. 5 and 6 lend Kraft mac-and-cheese its golden hue, while Red No. 40 tints McDonald’s strawberry sundaes. A variety of sodas, crackers, candy, cereal, ice cream, and other processed foods sold in the U.S. also contain artificial colors.

At best, the dyes are aesthetic enhancers, lending cosmetic effects but no flavor or nutritional benefit. At worst—and as many real-food advocates claim—they are a public-health menace linked to behavioral problems and other consequences. Here are the top 10 things you need to know about dyes:

1. In the United States, the FDA has approved nine artificial food colors, mostly derived from petroleum.

2. In Europe, a warning label has been required since July 2010 on foods that contain certain artificial colors.

3. In the 1970s, pediatric allergist Ben Feingold asserted that hyperactive kids who eliminated artificial flavors and colors from their diets showed a remarkable improvement in behavior.

4. In 2007, the U.K.’s Southampton Study showed for the first time that artificial food colors and additives can affect the behavior of kids who don’t have any proclivities toward ADHD.

5. In 2012, a meta-analysis of 24 studies showed that as many as 33 percent of kids with ADHD may benefit from diets free of artificial-food colors and additives.

6. Some experts say that some children would not develop ADHD if they weren’t consuming artificially colored foods.

7. Animal studies have shown a link between artificial dyes and such health problems as reproductive issues and kidney disease.

8. In 2011, the FDA acknowledged that the dyes may have negative effects on some kids, but since it didn’t find absolute proof that artificial dyes cause hyperactivity, it ruled that companies could continue using the dyes in foods without warning labels.

9. The more whole, nutritious, unprocessed foods you eat, the less likely you are to run into artificial dyes.

10. Avoid anything with terms such as “FD&C Lakes” (a type of dye pigment), “Citrus Red,” or “artificial color.”

—Maggie Fazeli Fard for Experience Life

Do you look at labels for food dyes? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

About the Author

Experience Life
Experience Life

Experience Life is the best whole-life health and fitness magazine you’ve never heard of — until now!  We aim to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenge the conventions of hype, gimmicks, and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. No six-pack-abs-in-five-day promises. Just real, in-depth coverage of health, fitness, nutrition, and optimal-living topics to help you reach your healthy-living goals. Visit ExperienceLife.com to explore 10-plus years of archives, to sign up for our newsletters, and to subscribe to our print or digital editions. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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7 responses to “10 Things You Need to Know About Food Dyes”

  1. Avatar Alex Gonzalez says:

    Do you have any sources for the studies? I’d like to read them.

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  2. Avatar KShadows says:

    My 6 year old son has a serious intolerance of artificial red dye (red #40). His behavior is drastically different since we cut it out, and it’s very obvious if he’s had some by accident. It makes him impulsive, argumentative, and he says he feels like he can’t control himself. I wish they would replace it with natural dyes as they do in the UK

    • Avatar Margo says:

      My son, now 13, experienced the same issues you mention KShadows. We eliminated ALL artificial food color from his diet from the time he was 3, with only the occasional ‘oops’ (especially at school) and one day post-Halloween (where we would plan a day for him to be allowed the candy). There are more options available now, but I tell ya… for years I was convinced that most foods on the market must be naturally grey, because why ELSE would so many things “needed” to have dyes added! The worst offender we discovered was actually tartrazine (yellow), not red. We’ve noticed an improvement in the last few years; the color doesn’t affect him nearly as much. But he still doesn’t get much of it (now it’s just become normal to avoid the artificial colors).
      Best of luck to you!

    • Avatar charlespry says:

      your kid has adhd

      • Avatar KShadows says:

        No, actually he doesn’t. Especially since ADHD wouldn’t improve with the elimination of a food item. Studies have shown those artificial colors to have a neurotoxic affect on children (and some adults).

        Thanks Margo, I will keep an eye out for the yellow stuff too!!!

  3. Avatar Irnz says:

    I never particularly understood the need to add artificial colors to food and medicine. It often gives an off flavor to foods and at least to me is mildly irritating. I think I hate the most when cough syrups have huge amounts of the stuff. Im taking the medicine to calm my throat, but in the process irritating it more…I don’t care if my food looks pretty, just that it tastes good.

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