Food Dye, Is It As Innocent As It Looks?


Posted on Monday, September 5, 2016

Written by Jill Dixon, of Clean Living Connection LLC

Copyright of Clean Living Connection LLC

Food Dye and Coloring, is it as innocent as it looks?

Our world is made up of colors, beautiful colors! Colors are a way for us to show our preferences and personalities. Color has been used as symbols in our world, dating back 40,000 years earlier. If you have you ever watched a sun set or a sun rise then you know how marvelous color can be to have in our lives.

Color is also used to sell you something. It is often associated with food especially candy. Did you know that food in commercials is often painted to promote it and make it look more appealing? Have you seen Katy Perry’sCalifornia Girls” video which depicts a land of candy and color in an attempt to gives slight undertones of innocence and sweetness? How about the longtime favorite children’s game, Candy Land and even Candy Crush for adults? We are trained to love color and associate it to our palate at a very early age. But is it as innocent as it looks in our food after we ingest it? The first step is to understand exactly what it is.

Food Dye/Coloring/Additives ~ What is it?

It is important to know how the food industry defines food coloring or color additive. According to the U.S. FDA (Food & Drug Administration) the legal definition is “any substance, the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result – direct or indirectly – in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food.”

Around 1900, Food dye was synthesized originally from coal tar and now petroleum.

Well then what is Coal Tar & Petroleum? Coal Tar is a thick liquid or semi-solid obtained as a by-product in the destructive distillation of bituminous coal. In the US, Coal Tar may be used as an active ingredient in OTC drug products. Coal Tar is a known human carcinogen.

Petroleum is a liquid found in sedimentary rocks below the earth’s surface. It is extracted for fossil fuel (crude oil), which eventually becomes the gas that runs our cars or the oil that heats our homes. HIGH Contamination concerns and organ system toxicity. Where would we find petroleum and/or coal tar? You will find them in personal care products, paints, photographic chemicals, asphalt pavements, gasoline and much more. So what is it doing in our food?!

Why is food dye used?

According to the FDA Color Additive is used in foods:

  1. To offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture, and storage conditions.
  2. To correct natural variations in color
  3. To enhance colors that occur naturally
  4. To provide color to colorless and “fun” foods.

What do you notice about the 4 reasons color additives are used? They are purely for aesthetic purposes. There is no nutritional value to food dye. It is said, we eat with our eyes as much as our mouths.

FDA data shows a dramatic 500% increase in consumption of dyes since 1955, even though the list has gone down from 700 to 7 approved dyes. That increase is a good indication of how Americans increasingly have come to rely on processed foods such as soft drinks, breakfast cereals, candies, snack foods, baked goods, frozen desserts, and even pickles and salad dressings that are colored with dyes.

Every year 15 million pounds of artificial food dyes in the US Food and that only factors in 8 different varieties.

Let’s Take a Deeper Look at Each Food Dye

Blue 1: (E133) FD&C Blue No. 1 – used in dairy products, sweets and drinks. Studies show can cause hyperactivity, skin rashes, bronchoconstriction, and chromosomal damage. As found in cupcakes, sushi, cereals, Poptarts, Fiber One cheesecake, Gatorade, Crystal Light, Hershey’s Chocolate Pudding, Cheetos Flavor, Beggin’ Strips for pets, Special K Protein Shakes in Strawberry and Banana.

Banned in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland & Sweden.

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Blue 2: (E132) FD&C Blue No. 2 – aka Indigotine, commonly used in pharma drugs, desserts, beverages,  pet food, and as a medical diagnostic aid. Has been known to cause nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, skin rashes, breathing problems, brain tumors in male rats, and other allergic reactions. As found in Poptarts, skittles, colored cupcakes.

Banned in Norway.

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Green 3: (E143) or FD&C Green No. 3 – Has been found to have tumorigenic and mutagenic effects in experimental animals; bladder and testes tumors in rats. Rarely used. As found in jellies, fish and some desserts.

Red 3: (E127) FD&C Red No. 3 – aka Erythrosine, recognized in 1990 by FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals and banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. All uses of Red 3 lakes (combo of dyes & salts that are insoluble) are banned.       However, FDA still permits in ingested drugs & foods with about 200K pounds of dye being used annually. As found in some cupcakes and Special K Protein Shakes in Strawberry and Banana.

Citrus Red 2: Permitted only for coloring the skins of oranges not used for processing, is toxic to rodents at modest levels and caused tumors of the urinary bladder and possibly other organs. Only allowed on orange peels.


Red 40: (E129) FD&C Red No. 40 – aka Allure Red, Most widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune system tumors in mice. Causes hypersensitivity reactions in a number of consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. As found in some decorated cupcakes, sushi, caramel syrup, Poptarts, Fiber One Cheesecake, Publix Strawberry Preserves Low Sugar, Fanta, Cheetos Flavor, Beggin’ Strips for pets.

Prohibited throughout Europe.

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Yellow 5: (E102) FD&C Yellow No. 5 – aka Tartrazine, this coal tar dye is considered one of the most dangerous artificial colors due to its high risk of contamination with several cancer-causing chemicals. Causes sometimes severe hypersensitivity reactions in small number of people and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. As found in some cupcakes, cereals, sushi, Poptarts, Fiber One 90 Calorie Mint Fudge Brownies, Powerade, Fanta, Crystal Light, Pickles, some dressings, Cheetos Puffs, Cheetos Flavor, Beggin’ Strips, Cat Temptations.

Banned in Norway, Austria, and Finland.

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Yellow 6: (E110) FD&C Yellow No. 6 – aka Sunset Yellow, orange shade shown to cause adrenal tumors in animals and linked to allergies, hyperactivity in children, nausea, nasal congestion, and more. It is used in cereals, baked goods, ice cream, drinks, canned fish, and many medications including DayQuil capsules and Extra Strength Tylenol. As found in decorated cupcakes, cereal, caramel syrup, Poptarts, Powerade, Fanta, Cheetos Puffs, Cheetos Flavor, Beggin’ Strips, Cat Temptations. Special K Protein Shakes.

Banned in Finland, Norway and the UK.

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Orange B  – approved for use only in sausage casings, but has not been used for many years. Limited Testing.


So let’s just sum up the studies available on food dye and make it easy for you… “Almost all the toxicological studies on dyes were commissioned, conducted, and analyzed by the chemical industry and academic consultants.”

“Most of the studies were commissioned or conducted by dye manufacturers, so biases could influence design, conduct, or interpretation of the studies. Second, most of the studies lasted no longer than two years, and some were much shorter. Also many did not include an in utero phase. Most studies did not include mixtures of dyes.” Food Dyes, A Rainbow of Risks, Center For Science In The Public Interest, 2010

So the results of many studies are due to a 1.) Bias and financial incentive, 2.) No long term studies 3.) No effective studies on in utero 4.) Mixtures are not studied.

As well as there being a large discrepancy in food dye studies performed and or supported by the food industry themselves, there are no studies on the combination of food dyes. Just go to your grocery store and start picking up packages, you will find plenty of ingredient labels stating the use of more than 1 food dye.

There is a study from 1975 by Benjamin Feingold who published his study “Hyperkinesis and Learning Disabilities Linked to Artificial Food Flavors and Colors.”  The study found a “possible link between the consumption of these artificial colors and a sodium benzoate preservative and increased hyperactivity” in adults and children. He recommended that parents try putting their hyperactive children on an “elimination” diet and further testing was recommended.  Let’s stop and think about how popular and well taken that study must have been among the food industry! The FDA goes so far as to combat this singular study, by still specifically mentioning this study in their food dye marketing brochure so they can attempt, at best, to discredit it.

However Europe took a much different stance to protect its citizens. Take a look back at the list of food dyes that are banned in Europe. Due to the concern of organ damage, birth defects, and allergic reactions, mixtures of dyes cause hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in some children, the British Government advised companies to stop using most food dyes by the end of 2009, and the EU required a warning notice on most dye-containing foods effective after July 20th, 2010.

So Are There Labels or Warnings of Risk?

The only label you will find in the United States is on the FDA’s own Food Ingredients and Colors marketing brochure. “Because of inherent limitations of science, FDA can never be absolutely certain of the absence of any risk from the use of any substance. Therefore, FDA must determine – based on the best science available – if there is a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers when an additive is used as proposed.” That certainly does nothing for the safety of the consumer. It looks like a CYA for the FDA to me!

See here for the full FDA Food Ingredients and Colors pamphlet

Burden of Proof

We live in an age where the burden of proof lies on the shoulders of the consumer. We are the ones tasked with proving something is not safe to get it off the market but we are negated by profit and science-for-hire.


Some food dyes can and do come from natural sources, so it is definitely available to the food industry if they so choose and we begin demanding it by what we do and do not purchase. Here are some natural sources that provide additional color to food:

  • Beet Juice
  • Beta-carotene
  • Paprika oleoresin
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Saffron
  • Grape-skin extract
  • Elderberry

Closing Thoughts

Yet again it is evident that we need to continue looking deeper into our foods, and to take an active role and personal responsibility in knowing what we are putting into our bodies. We are bombarded by the industry everywhere we turn, from commercials, to games, to music videos, to billboards to grocery store checkout counters and the list goes on. Our children are at the most risk as the market is working hard to ingrain poor eating habits and instant gratification into their daily lives. We as parents must be diligent. One of the best things you can do for you kids is to educate them as they grow. Take them to the store, explain to them how bad it is for their health as most products that include food dye also includes a large amount of sugar. As parents can we complain that our kids are wild and can’t sit still if they are all hopped up on foods that may even give off the slightest question as to a causation? It is up to you to decide how much is enough. If kids are eating very healthy at home and avoiding food dye for the most part, is it bad to allow them to eat that frosty, colored cupcake at a birthday party? In moderation maybe? Only you can decide what’s right for your kids.

I do encourage you to help them to discern between real food grown and taken from the earth versus processed ‘fake’ foods. Just because the food industry tells us we can ingest it, does not mean that we should. I must admit, I love it when my 5 year old tells her grandparents when a food might have dye in it and she knows to avoid it. Momma pride right there! I’ve done my job if I can instill awareness and wise, healthy decisions. Here she is helping me read package ingredients and taking pictures of the offenders.



Real food is flowing with color, I think we have just become to accustomed to shopping on the inside isles and looking at boxes that we forgot how beautiful real food can be!

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See my entire Food Dye presentation on YouTube HERE when I was invited by Dr. Cade Copeland to speak at one of his educational programs for LIFEStrength Health Center‘s Heal Your Gut – Hack Your Health #1.






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