Artificial Dyes: The Impact on Children and Alternatives for Coloring Food

It’s back to school time and sometimes because the children are now on the go with school and afterschool activities, it’s easier to buy snacks and foods that are processed and packaged when the family is on the go. The problem is that many of these foods have some sort of food coloring.

Did you know that the food coloring found in many of your favorite snacks and treats can negatively impact children’s health?

Artificial dyes are used to give foods like candy and cereal bright colors, but these dyes have been linked to health problems like ADHD and cancer. This blog post will discuss the dangers of artificial food dyes and provide some alternatives for food coloring.

What are Food Dyes?

Food dyes are chemicals that are added to food and beverages to give them color. These dyes are made from petroleum and coal tar and have been linked to cancer, congenital disabilities, allergies, and other health problems. Many countries have banned these dyes in food, but they are still used extensively in the United States.

There are two primary food dyes: synthetic (artificial) and natural. Synthetic dyes are made from petroleum and coal tar, and natural dyes are derived from plants or animals. Both dyes can be dangerous to our health, but synthetic dyes are generally more harmful because they contain more toxic chemicals.

The three most common food dyes are Red 40, Yellow five, and Blue one. These dyes are used in various foods and beverages, including candy, cake mix, cereal, soft drinks, and sports drinks. Studies have shown that these dyes can cause behavioral problems in children, such as hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder.

In 2010, the European Union required that all foods containing synthetic dyes must be labeled with a warning stating that they “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” The United States has not followed suit, and these dyes are still being used in many foods and beverages.

Artificial Dyes Currently Used in Food

The following food dyes are both permitted by the EFSA and the FDA:

  • Red No. 3 (Erythrosine): A cherry-red coloring commonly used in sweets such as lollipops and popsicles, as well as cake decorating gels.
  • Red No. 40 (Allura Red): A rich, dark red dye found in sports drinks, sweets, condiments, and grains.
  • Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine): A lemon-yellow dye used in sweets, soft drinks, snacks, popcorn, and cereal.
  • Sunset Yellow (No. 6): A orange-yellow dye found in candies, sauces, baked goods, and preserved fruits.
  • Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue): A greenish-blue colorant used in ice cream, canned peas, packaged soups, icing, and popsicles.
  • Blue No. 2 (Indigo Carmine): A royal blue pigment used in sweets, ice cream, breakfast cereals, and snacks.

Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are the most widely used food dyes. These three account for 90% of all food dye consumed in the United States.

There are a few more dyes that have been given the green light in some nations but not in others. Green No. 3, often known as Fast Green, is legal in the United States but illegal in Europe.

Food colorings permitted in the European Union but prohibited in the United States include Quinoline Yellow, Carmoisine, and Ponceau.

Impact of Food Dyes on Children

The use of food dyes is controversial. Some believe they are safe, while others contend they can cause health problems, especially in children. Some commons effects reported in children are:

Behavioral Problems

Several studies suggest a link between food dyes and behavioral problems in children. One study found that kids who consumed high levels of food dyes were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Other research has shown that food dyes can cause hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and other behavioral issues in children.


Food dyes have been linked to hyperactive behavior in children. A study published in The Lancet found that a mixture of food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate caused some kids to become more hyperactive and disruptive. The researchers concluded that these artificial additives “should no longer be considered safe” for food use.

While this study found a connection between food dyes and hyperactivity, it’s important to note that not all children will be affected similarly. Some kids may be more sensitive to these additives than others. If you’re concerned about your child’s reaction to food dyes, you can always talk to your pediatrician.


Food dyes also cause allergies and other reactions in some people. A study published in the journal “Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology” found that food dyes can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.

The study’s lead author, Dr. John D. Boyles, said that food dyes “can cause a variety of adverse reactions, including hives, itching, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.”

So what’s the alternative? Many parents are turning to natural alternatives, such as fruits and vegetables, to color their children’s food.

Alternatives for Coloring Food

While food dyes are undoubtedly convenient, a few natural alternatives can achieve similar results.

Natural Food Coloring: Pink

Beet juice can be used to create a pink natural food dye. Simply wash the beet and blend it in a blender with half a cup of water. Blend until smooth, then strain the liquid. Your natural food dye is now ready!

Natural Food Coloring: Yellow

Turmeric is commonly used as a natural yellow food coloring. To create this natural food dye, mix one teaspoon of turmeric with two cups of water. Boil the mixture, then let it steep for about an hour. Once it has cooled, your natural food dye is ready to use!

Natural Food Coloring: Green

Mix one cup of water and two tablespoons of spirulina powder to create a green natural food coloring. This natural food dye is perfect for adding color to any dish!

Natural Food Coloring: Blue

Blueberries can be used to create a beautiful blue natural food coloring. Simply wash one cup of blueberries and blend them in a blender with half a cup of water. Blend until smooth, then strain the liquid. Your natural food dye is now ready!

In some countries, food makers continue to utilize plant-based colorants. In the United Kingdom, Fanta orange soda is colored with pumpkin and carrot extracts, while the American version uses Red 40 and Yellow 6. In Britain, strawberry sundaes at McDonald’s are colored only with strawberries; however, in the United States, Red 40 is used. According to Jacobson, with many U.S. consumers desiring fewer artificial additives, “companies may be better off switching to [plant-based colors].”

Conclusion: Know What Your child is Eating

So what can be done to avoid the potential risks associated with artificial dyes? The best solution is to simply not use them. If you must use food coloring, there are some natural alternatives available. You can find natural food colorings made from plants, insects, and minerals at health food stores or online retailers.

While these natural food colorings may be more expensive than their artificial counterparts, they are definitely worth the investment. Not only are they safer for your children, but they also tend to be more gentle with the environment.

So next time you want to add a little color to your child’s food, consider using one of these natural alternatives. It could make all the difference in their health – and yours.

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