Dangers of Food Dyes

A Mindful Approach to Life through Aromatherapy, Nutrition & Fitness.

It’s Easter which, although a religious holiday, is also the time of the Easter Bunny. This means fun and colorful candy, cakes and other treats. My two daughters, although adults now, still request their name written in jelly beans on Easter morning! We love those plastic eggs filled with candy and no matter how old you are, can’t wait to see inside … did we get jelly beans – maybe some Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, M&M’s, or my personal favorite, Peeps?

Unfortunately, those brightly colored goodies contain a dirty little secret, which is listed right there on the label … and no it’s not sugar, … it’s food dyes! Red 40, Blue 1, Green 3, Yellow 6, are just a few of the 9 dyes approved for use in food in the United States.

We eat with our eyes … so much so, that food scientists claim that the color of our food trumps flavor and texture in how we taste and perceive our food. Many companies have tried and failed to remove the color from a particular food because of public outcry.

The following is a direct quote from the Food and Drug Administration’s website as to why food and color ingredients are added to food: “… to provide color to colorless and “fun” foods. Without color additives, colas wouldn’t be brown, margarine wouldn’t be yellow and mint ice cream wouldn’t be green. Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat.”

It’s obvious that the FDA considers these color additives to be safe, but what exactly are they, and how are they made? Here are some of the facts:


Several of the dyes, including Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40 all contain benzene, a known carcinogen. The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that benzene can cause cancer in humans, with long-term exposure affecting the bone marrow and the blood leading to anemia and leukemia.


Although originally made from coal, food dyes now come from petroleum, an unrefined fuel source. Petroleum is also found in antifreeze, nail polish and paint, and considered toxic in high amounts.


There have been many studies done that now show a direct link between certain food dyes and hyperactivity in children. It is estimated that 8% of children’s ADHD symptoms are being caused by these dyes. In California, there are an estimated 38,600 children adversely affected which puts the cost of treatment at over $800 million annually. California is currently leading the charge of awareness by putting together a bill (SB 504) that would require a warning label on all food containing synthetic food dyes. If passed, it will be the first in the nation.

There are over 1000 different foods that contain these toxic dyes, most of which are geared towards children, in the form of “fun” foods. Although the FDA has established legal limits for the amount of cancer-causing contaminants in dyes, these numbers are based on usage from 20 years ago, which has increased over 50%. The FDA also did not consider the fact that children, who are consuming more dye per unit of body weight than adults, are far more sensitive to carcinogens.

Although not as vibrant, most of the synthetic dyes can be made today from natural sources such as beta carotene (think carrots, bell peppers, sweet potato), paprika, turmeric, beets, spinach, etc. Eating a whole food, unprocessed diet with natural colors is the best way to avoid these food dyes, as well as improve your overall health. If you must purchase a processed food, make sure it is 100% organic, as they are prohibited from using any artificial colorings.  Always read labels, as some manufacturers of breakfast cereals are voluntarily beginning to remove these dyes from some of their products as well.

I understand that removing these dyes from our food will change what it looks like and that the bomb pop from the ice cream man will no longer stain your tongue blue, but is that really a necessary ingredient that makes us like it any more or less?  Just think if we all started now, our future children won’t know the difference, and to them, a pale pink or a light blue will be the norm.  Support and encourage food manufacturers to continue to remove these dyes from our cereals, and pressure law makers to get more bills like SB504 on the voting ballot.

Here’s to clean, naturally colored food!









Tami Broderick