Artificial food dyes are chemical substances that are added to food to enhance its color, appearance, or flavor. However, some food dyes have been associated with health concerns, and their safety has been the subject of ongoing debate. Parents are waking up to the problems associated with these artificial colors, especially in our most vulnerably population: the kids.
Groups like Dye-Free Kids and the Dye-Free Family on Facebook show the desire to learn more about the link between artificial additives and behavioral problems, health problems, allergic reactions, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and cancer risk. While many families are taking strides in removing the artificial dyes, the classes at Freedom Kitchen Kids covers the removal of all artificial ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup. But let’s dive into detail on artificial food coloring and provide some healthier options for the whole family.
What are food dyes
There are many food dyes that are commonly used in the food industry, and they are typically categorized as either natural or synthetic dyes. Here is a list of some of the most commonly used food dyes:
Dyes from natural sources:
- Caramel* (E150a) – obtained by heating sugar, used in colas, baked goods, and sauces
- Beet juice (E162) – derived from beets, used in beverages, desserts, and processed foods
- Annatto* (E160b) – derived from the seeds of the achiote tree, used in cheese, butter, and margarine
- Carotenoids (E160a) – derived from fruits and vegetables, used in processed foods, dairy products, and beverages
- Anthocyanins (E163) – derived from fruits and vegetables, used in beverages, desserts, and confectionery products
While these may be derived naturally does not mean they are benign. Many parents notice a difference in their child’s behavior even with the “natural food dyes” and it remains unknown if only natural ingredients are used.
*Caramel coloring and Annatto have been noted by many parents as causing the same behavioral issues as artificial dyes. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Caramel coloring is made by heating a sugar compound (usually high-dextrose corn syrup), often together with ammonium compounds, acids, or alkalis.”
Synthetic, Artificial Food Dyes:
- Tartrazine (E102) – yellow dye, used in beverages, candy, and baked goods
- Sunset Yellow (E110) – orange-yellow dye, used in beverages, desserts, and snacks
- Carmoisine (E122) – red food dye, used in beverages, desserts, and confectionery products
- Allura Red (E129) – red food dye, used in beverages, candies, and snacks
- Brilliant Blue (E133) – blue dye, used in beverages, confectionery products, and dairy products
One example of a controversial food dye is tartrazine, also known as FD&C Yellow No. 5. Tartrazine has been associated with allergic reactions, including hives, asthma, and even anaphylaxis, in some individuals. Additionally, some studies have suggested that tartrazine may exacerbate symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.
Another example is Red Dye 40 (Allura Red AC), which has been associated with hyperactivity in children and may also be linked to an increased risk of cancer.
Studies link food additives to children’s behavior
Study findings have suggested a link between artificial food colors and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or hyperactivity in children. For example, a review of several studies conducted by McCann et al. (2007) found that consuming artificial food colors was associated with an increase in hyperactivity in children with ADHD. Another study by Buka et al. (2012) found that consuming foods with artificial colors was associated with an increased risk of hyperactivity in children.
Additionally, some studies have suggested that artificial food colors may exacerbate symptoms of ADHD in children. For example, a study by Schab and Trinh (2004) found that children with ADHD who consumed foods with artificial colors had a higher level of hyperactivity compared to those who did not consume the colors.
While the exact mechanisms underlying the link between artificial food colors and ADHD/hyperactivity are not fully understood, some researchers have proposed that the additives may interfere with brain function and increase excitability in some children. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential risks and benefits of consuming artificial food colors, and regulatory agencies have established guidelines for safe consumption of food dyes.
The toxicity of food dyes can depend on several factors, including the amount consumed, the age and health status of the individual, and the combination of dyes with other substances.
Potential link between food dye and cancer risk
There have been some studies investigating the potential link between food dyes and cancer, as shown in these 2 studies:
- Mucci et al. (2021) – This study analyzed data from a large cohort of women and found that higher consumption of artificially colored beverages was associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. The authors suggest that the artificial colors may contribute to the risk of breast cancer by increasing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8260233/
- Grosse et al. (2016) – This study evaluated the potential carcinogenicity of six synthetic food dyes. The researchers found that two of the dyes (Red 3 and Citrus Red 2) were carcinogenic in mice, and they recommended that the use of these dyes in food should be re-evaluated. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27414033
Committing to a dye-free diet
Real food can be found without food dyes. When going dye-free you are well on your way to removing artificial ingredients found in unhealthy foods. Let’s start here with real food. Real food don’t need food labels!
- Fresh fruits and vegetables – Most fresh fruits and vegetables do not contain food dyes, although some may be naturally colored. For example, blueberries, beets, and red cabbage contain natural pigments that can add color to foods.
- Whole grains – Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread typically do not contain food dyes.
- Nuts and seeds – Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds are typically not artificially colored.
- Dairy products – Many dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are not artificially colored, although some flavored varieties may contain food dyes.
- Meats and seafood – Most unprocessed meats and seafood do not contain food dyes (although farm raised fish is known to be injected with food dye).
Dye-free snack foods
Here are some examples of snack foods that are typically free from artificial food dyes:
- Fresh fruit – Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, and many other types of fresh fruit are naturally free from food dyes.
- Raw vegetables – Carrots, celery, cucumbers, and other raw vegetables are also typically free from artificial colors.
- Popcorn – Plain popcorn without added butter or flavorings is usually free from food dyes.
- Nuts and seeds – Almonds, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and other types of nuts and seeds are usually free from artificial colors.
- Rice cakes – Plain rice cakes are typically free from artificial colors, although some flavored varieties may contain food dyes.
- Plain crackers – Some crackers, such as saltines or plain rice crackers, are typically free from food dyes.
- Natural granola bars – Some brands of granola bars use natural ingredients and do not contain artificial colors. Look for brands that use ingredients such as oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
- Cheese – Cheese sticks or cubes are typically free from artificial colors, although some flavored varieties may contain food dyes.
Making healthy snacks
Kids can learn how to my their favorite foods with whole foods, which provides greater nutritional value and sans the artificial colorings. The Freedom Kitchen Kids program teaches kids natural alternatives and how to read nutrition labels.
Clean food companies
I know, life is busy, and it seems to take so much time to prepare our own food, so I compiled a short list of brands that I have found to be clean:
- Annie’s Homegrown – This brand offers a range of organic and natural snacks that are free from artificial flavors, synthetic colors, and preservatives.
- Simple Mills – Simple Mills offers a range of snacks made from simple, whole food ingredients that are free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
- Enjoy Life Foods – Enjoy Life Foods offers a range of allergy-friendly snacks that are free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
- MadeGood – MadeGood offers a range of snacks that are made with whole grains and free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
- Smart Sweets – Smart Sweets offers a range of low-sugar gummy candies that are free from artificial colors and flavors.
- Unreal – Unreal offers a range of candy and snack products that are free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
- Bare Snacks – This brand offers a variety of baked fruit and veggie chips that are free from artificial colors and flavors.
- That’s It – That’s It offers a range of fruit bars made with simple, whole food ingredients and no added sugars or artificial colors.
- Larabar – Larabar offers a range of fruit and nut bars made with simple, whole food ingredients and no artificial colors or flavors.
- RXBAR – RXBAR offers a range of protein bars made with simple, whole food ingredients and no artificial colors or flavors.
- KIND – KIND offers a variety of snack bars made with whole food ingredients and no artificial colors or flavors.
- Clif Bar – Clif Bar offers a range of energy bars made with organic ingredients and no artificial colors or flavors.
- Simple Truth – This brand offers a range of natural and organic snack options, including trail mixes, nuts, and fruit snacks that are free from artificial colors and flavors.
- Sprout Bake – A wholesome sprouted oat flour, sprouted almond butter, batter ready for you to bake.
It is always a good idea to check the ingredient list and nutrition label of any packaged food to ensure that it is a good fit for your individual dietary needs and preferences. Additionally, choosing whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible can help to minimize exposure to food dyes.
Sports drinks should come with a warning labels
Many parents think that choosing sports drinks over soft drinks is a healthier option; however, there are artificial ingredients and color additives in most popular sports drinks. Here are some clean sports drinks that are free from artificial food dyes:
- Superieur Electrolytes – is among my favorites, it ships in small containers and you mix it with water at home. It is free from artificial colors and sweeteners.
- BodyArmor Lyte – BodyArmor Lyte is a low-calorie sports drink made with coconut water and natural flavors, and free from artificial colors and sweeteners.
- Ultima Replenisher – Ultima Replenisher is a sports drink powder made with natural flavors and sweeteners, and free from artificial colors.
- Skratch Labs – Skratch Labs offers a range of sports hydration mixes made with real fruit and free from artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners.
- Nuun Sport – Nuun Sport offers a range of hydration tablets made with natural flavors and free from artificial colors or sweeteners.
- Zico – Zico offers a range of coconut water-based sports drinks with natural flavors and free from artificial colors or sweeteners.
Sneaky salad dressing
While we know the kids needs to reduce their artificial food dye consumption, we may overlook how much food dye the adults are consuming. It is used by food manufacturers in sneaky ways, like salad dressing! So, I thought I would include a short list of clean salad dressings.
Here are some clean salad dressing brands that are free from artificial food dyes:
- Primal Kitchen – Primal Kitchen offers a range of salad dressings made with simple, whole food ingredients and no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
- Tessemae’s – Tessemae’s offers a range of dressings made with organic and non-GMO ingredients and free from artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
- Annie’s Homegrown – Annie’s Homegrown offers a range of organic dressings made with simple, whole food ingredients and free from artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
- Bolthouse Farms – Bolthouse Farms offers a range of dressings made with simple, whole food ingredients and free from artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
- Bragg – Bragg offers a range of dressings made with organic and non-GMO ingredients and free from artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
It is important to note that while these brands may claim to be clean and free from artificial food dyes, it is always a good idea to check the ingredient list and nutrition label to ensure that the product is a good fit for your individual dietary needs and preferences. Additionally, making your own salad dressing using simple, whole food ingredients can help to ensure that you are consuming a healthy, dye-free option.
We are at a Fork In the Road
The adverse effects of processed food products are taking a toll on our kids. We must do better, if not for us, then for them. This series will continue as this is not a comprehensive list but I will continue to share the brand names of companies that I have come to trust, which I share in all of my cooking classes.
And I’ll be watching for the Documentary, To Dye For….
Leave A Comment