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The 8 Most Common Artificial Food Dyes & What They Can Do To Your Health


food coloring


There is a call this week to inform the public about the dangers of artificial colors and to persuade the FDA to review their thinking on this as, in spite of numerous studies linking artificial coloring to ADHD in children (as well as many other health problems), the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) have not acted.

What happens in Europe?

The European Union has regulations in place so that if food dyes are used in food, the consumers are informed of the health risks.

As a result Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's and other American companies that do business in Europe have changed to safe, natural colorings for the European market.

However, they are still using the same harmful and synthetic petrochemicals in the artificial food colorings added to food for the American public whether it be cereals or cough medicines and everything else in between.

They can do so because there is no legislation stopping them

8 of the most common artificial food dyes used today in the US (courtesy of Food Freedom Network):

1. Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue) - an unpublished study suggested the possibility that Blue 1 caused kidney tumors in mice. Used in baked goods, beverages, desert powders, candies, cereal, drugs and other products.

2. Blue #2 (Indigo Carmine) - causes a statistically significant incidence of tumors, particularly brain gliomas, in male rats. Used in colored beverages, candies, pet food and other food and drugs.

3. Citrus Red #2 – it is toxic to rodents at modest levels and caused tumors of the urinary bladder and possibly other organs. Used in Skins of Florida oranges.

4. Green #3 (Fast Green) - caused significant increases in bladder and testes tumors in male rats. Used in drugs, personal care products, cosmetic products except in eye area, candies, beverages, ice cream, sorbet; ingested drugs, lipsticks and externally applied cosmetics.

5. Red #3 (Erythrosine) - recognized in 1990 by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals and is banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. Used in sausage casings, oral medication, maraschino cherries, baked goods and candies.

6. Red #40 (Allura Red) - this is the most-widely used and consumed dye. It may accelerate the appearance of immune-system tumors in mice. It also causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in some consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. Used in beverages, bakery goods, dessert powders, candies, cereals, foods, drugs and cosmetics.

7. Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) - this causes sometimes-severe hypersensitivity reactions and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. Used in pet foods, numerous bakery goods, beverages, dessert powders, candies, cereals, gelatin desserts and many other foods as well as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

8. Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow) - caused adrenal tumors in animals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. Used in color bakery goods, cereals, beverages, dessert powders, candies, gelatin deserts, sausage, cosmetics and drugs.

Some artificial food colors are made from petroleum with added antifreeze to hold the color

Obviously we are not designed to eat petrochemicals and other toxins and every time we consume these ingredients, we put our health at risk.

The food companies who are adding these artificial food coloring to their products are doing it to make it appear more attractive to the consumer – it does not matter to them that our health will be affected. In fact we have come to expect foods to be certain colors, those they are in nature.

Much of our acceptance of foods is dependent on foods being the colors we expect and if they were a different color than you expected, you would probably think there was something wrong with them. And so, for uniformity as well as appeal, food coloring is used.

The problem lies in the type of coloring used

The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends: "Because colorings are used almost solely in foods of low nutritional value (candy, soda pop, gelatin desserts and others), you should simply avoid all artificially colored foods." In addition, you can easily recognize an artificial color on a food label. It will say either "artificial color" or specifically "FD&C [color] No. [number]."

Here is Debra Lynn Dadd's list of colors from natural sources

  • Annatto extract--yellow color from a tropical tree
  • Dehydrated beets (beet powder)--red-pink color from beets
  • Canthaxanthin--pink color from mushrooms, crustaceans, trout and salmon, and tropical birds
  • Caramel--brown color made from burnt sugar
  • Carotene--yellow color from carrots
  • Carmine extract (aka Cochineal)--red color derived from a species of beetle that feeds on cacti
  • Sodium copper chlorophyllin--green color from plants and copper
  • Toasted partially defatted cooked cottonseed flour--yellow coloring from cottonseed (may cause allergic reactions)
  • Ferrous gluconate (approved only for ripe olives)--yellowish-grey color from iron
  • Ferrous lactate (approved only for ripe olives)--green color from iron
  • Grape color extract (approved only for nonbeverage food)--purple color from the fruit
  • Grape skin extract (approved only for still carbonated drinks & ades; beverage bases; alcoholic beverages) )--purple color from the fruit
  • Synthetic iron oxide (approved only for sausage casings)--red-brown-black-yellow color from combining iron with oxygen
  • Fruit juice--various colors from various fruits
  • Vegetable juice--various colors from various vegetables
  • Carrot oil--yellow color from carrots
  • Paprika--orange color from the spice
  • Paprika oleoresin--extracted from the spice using toxic solvents
  • Riboflavin--yellow to orange color from plants
  • Saffron --yellow color from the spice
  • Titanium dioxide--white pigment from the mineral
  • Turmeric--yellow color from the spice
  • Turmeric oleoresin--extracted from the spice using toxic solvents

She also suggests that while most home cooks don't use food colors in everyday cooking, they might need some for festive occasions in baking and lists.

Natural colors you can find in your kitchen

  • Yellow - a few threads of saffron
  • Green - use spinach juice
  • Pink - cherry, raspberry or beet juice
  • Blue - blueberry juice

It is also possible to buy plant-based natural food colors for a natural and healthy food coloring

For more information here.



Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “The food matrix: implications in processing, nutrition and health.”

BMJ: “Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé),” “Ultra-processed foods and health outcomes,” “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort.”

Current Developments in Nutrition: “Effect of a High-Protein, High-Fiber Beverage Preload on Subjective Appetite Ratings and Subsequent Ad Libitum Energy Intake in Overweight Men and Women: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study.”