Food Dye Dangers—The hidden hazards of artificial food dye

October 2012 View more

NMAG1012_HealthThink sprinkles and bright colors. They are found in everything from rainbow-colored cereals and fluorescent drinks, to pudding and cheese, and especially candy. It’s hard to avoid food dyes, but these added ingredients could be destroying your health. In the United States, we are now consuming five times as much food dye as we did in the 1950s.

Registered Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner says overall, we eat too much processed food containing food dye. “I encourage people to use food dye as a  ‘marker’. When you see it in a food, that’s a red flag that this food is processed and there are more wholesome options you should swap in,” said Blatner.

Processed food can lose its natural color, vitamins, and flavor with exposure to high temperatures, moisture, light, and air. Synthetic dyes are added to make our food look better and more appetizing. The dyes are made from petroleum and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Common Food Dyes

There are nine approved food dyes used in the U.S. If you take a quick tour of your pantry, chances are you may see Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40. Those are the most common dyes.

Dyes and Health Concerns

For more than three decades, researchers have explored the relationship between food dyes and hyperactive behavior in children. There is no conclusive evidence to show that synthetic dyes cause ADHD, but some studies in Europe have linked the two. In fact, some manufacturers in other countries have removed artificial dyes completely from the market. That’s why candy, like skittles and M&M’s, is not as brightly colored overseas as they are in the States. In fact, European lawmakers now require warning labels on food that contains synthetic dyes.

Eliminating Food Dyes

“Generally, dietary factors do not affect behavior to a significant degree. However, a small subset of children with ADHD may benefit from elimination diets,” said Joyce C. Rabbat, M.D. from Loyola University Medical Center. The idea of removing certain items or ingredients from your diet dates back to the 1970s when pediatrician Benjamin Fiengold first claimed that there was a link between food dyes and a child’s behavior.

Decisions regarding elimination diets should be made on a case-by-case basis. If attempted, elimination diets should be supervised by a physician, and the child should be monitored for adequate nutrition,” said Dr. Rabbat.

The FDA says there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that food dyes cause behavioral changes in children. They voted against requiring warning labels, saying more research is needed.

However, some grocery store chains have opted not to wait for additional research and have taken action on their own. For example, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s do not sell any food items containing synthetic dyes.

Research has shown that food dyes have no nutritional value. So while future studies could shed light on the exact impact food dyes have on children, we know enough today to make healthy choices.

“It would be no surprise to me if when children, or adults, ate less food dye they felt better, and this is not because food dye itself is a dangerous thing, but because they would be eating less processed food and more wholesome, real food such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats,” said Blatner.

See more of CBS 2 Meteorologist Mary Kay Kleist’s reports at

Avoiding Food Dyes

STOCK UP ON FOODS THAT DON’T HAVE A LABEL—Swap processed colored food for fruits and veggies.

AVOID NUMBERS—Man-made food dyes appear in ingredient lists as a color followed by a number.

VISIT THE FARMER’S MARKET—Kids get excited about colorful fruits and veggies when they aren’t competing with the colorful cereal and cookie boxes.

—Mix different fruits, freeze grapes, bake kale chips, make veggie dips, etc. If it’s not easy and fun, it won’t be eaten by kids or adults.