Food Dyes – A Rainbow of Risks

Danger of Food Dyes

Are food dyes, or artificial colorings dangerous? What is being done?

Are Food Dyes or Artificial Coloring Dangerous?

Food dye cereal

Children are eating food dye in candy and cereal.

Yes. Watch out. You know them as food coloring, food dyes, or artificial coloring, but Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Citris Red 2, Red 3, and Red Green 3, are made from petroleum and pose a “rainbow of risks.”

Food Dye Dangers

Graphic Source:

What Are Some of the Risks? According to the latest research, those risks include hyperactivity in children, cancer (in animal studies), immune system tumors, brain gliomas, adrenal tumors, bladder tumors, and allergic reactions. In 2008, because of the problem of hyperactivity, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of these dyes. A letter was sent to the Honorable Rosa L. DeLauro, US House of Representatives, Washington, DC on June 3, 2008, and to other members of Congress, stating that “The undersigned “physicians and researchers are concerned about the effects of food ingredients, especially food dyes, on children’s behavior, including children with hyperactivity and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and are troubled by federal inaction.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not take action. The letter can be viewed here: Letter to House of Representative and Congress.  The petition can be viewed here:  Citizen Petition to the FDA.

Food dye in Twizzlers

The food dye content in Twizzler twists.

In August 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it planned to initiate rulemaking to regulate 48 benzidene-based dyes under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The act has authority for nonfood uses of these dyes in products such as textiles and inks. The Action Plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can be viewed here. Do Other Countries Also Allow Food Dyes? The British government and European Union have taken actions that are virtually ending the use of dyes throughout Europe. In 2010, CSPI released an extremely comprehensive collection of scientific data discussing metabolism and toxic effects of artificial dyes in their report “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.” A summary can be found here: CSPI Food Dyes Report.


Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Food Dye

A comparison between USA and UK Kraft Macaroni and Cheese

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in the United States has totally different ingredients than it’s cousin, Kraft Cheesey Pasta in the United Kingdom.   Kraft Cheesey Pasta is made with natural food colorings and no GMO products, whereas the USA produced product is made with petroleum chemical food dyes and GMO foods.

Kraft on Kids Menus

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is being microwaved and served in restaurants. It is listed as an item choice on children’s menus.

Food dyes are found in cheese puffs, colored sugary cereals, and even foods advertised as “healthy,” such as strawberry Nutri-Grain bars, for example, which continue to have:  Natural and Artificial Flavors, Red 40.  However, Nutri-Grain bars in Britain DO NOT contain the dyes and artificial food colorings. Why is this?

Why Does Britain Use Natural Ingredients and the United States Does Not? This photo of Nutrigrain bars was taken in 2010, when Nutri-Grain bars were strikingly different in U.S. compared to Britain.

NutriGrain Britain and US

Why does Britain use natural ingredients and US uses food dyes?

Let’s take a look at strawberry Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars.  As you can see, two different packages are used and different ingredients.  Although, yellow #6 and blue #1 is no longer listed in the United States strawberry flavored Nutri-Grain bars, Nutri-Grain bars (advertised as healthy) in the United States continue to use the RED 40 food dye. Red 40 was listed in the study by CSPI as one of the dyes that has produced harmful and very serious side effects in mice including tumors. You can find the current ingredients here:  Nutri-Grain Product Details.  Today, food dyes are found in many products in the United States. Nutri-Grain and Kraft are not alone.  

Food dye products

Food dye can be found in breakfast cereals, packaged pastries, cupcake frosting, fruit juice drinks, candies, ice cream and much more.

Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  issued a statement in 2008 in response to the Lancet study:

“For many of the assessments there were small but statistically significant differences of measured behaviors in children who consumed the food additives compared with those who did not. In each case increased hyperactive behaviors were associated with consuming the additives. For those comparisons in which no statistically significant differences were found, there was a trend for more hyperactive behaviors associated with the food additive drink in virtually every assessment. Thus, the overall findings of the study are clear and require that even we skeptics, who have long doubted parental claims of the effects of various foods on the behavior of their children, admit we might have been wrong.

Candy store food dye

Candy store in the United States displaying candies, all containing food dyes.

What Can We Do to Protect Ourselves? It’s important for everyone to take responsibility by checking labels to make sure there is no food dye or food coloring in the product.  We are responsible for making healthy choices.  What do you think about the FDA and food colorings? Do you think food dyes should be banned?


Artificial Food Dyes May Cause Cancer, ADHD, Whole Foods Magazine, September 2010 Bateman, B.J.O. Warner, et al (2004) The effect of a double blind, placebo controlled, artifical food colourings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children, Archives of Disease in Childhood 89:506=511

Borzelleca JF, Goldenthal EI, Wazeter FX, Schardein JL, Evaluation of the potential tertogenicity of FD & C Blue No. 2 in rats and rabbits, Food and Chemical Toxicology : an International Journal Published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association [1987, 25(7):495-497]

CSPI Says Food Dyes Pose Rainbow of Risks, Cancer Hyperactivity, Allergic Reactions, Center for Science in the Public Interest, June 29, 2010 Curran, Laurel, Food Dyes Linked to Cancer, ADHD, Allergies, Food Safety News, July 8, 2010 Food Standards Agency.

Compulsory Warnings on Colours in Food and DrinkLondon: Food Standards Agency; Jul 22, 2010.

Freeman, DW, Food Dyes Linked to Allergies, ADHD and Cancer: Group Calls on US to Outlaw Their Use, CBS News, June 29, 2010

Kobylewsk, S, Jacobson, MF, Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks, Center for Science in the Public Interest, June 2010, Washington DC, (pdf)

Lancaster FE, Lawrence JF. Determination of benzidine in the food colours tartrazine and sunset yellow FCF, by reduction and derivatization followed by high-performance liquid chromatography. Food Additives Contaminants,. 1999;16(9):381–390. doi: 10.1080/026520399283867.

Mercola, Dr. Joseph, Are You or Your Family Eating Toxic Food Dyes? February 24, 2011,

Opinion on Risk of cancer caused by textiles and leather goods coloured with azo-dyes expressed at the 7th CSTEE plenary meeting, Brussels, 18 January 1999, Health and Consumers Scientific Committees, European Commission

Peiperl MD, et al. Determination of combined benzidine in FD&C Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow FCF).Food Chem Toxicol. 1995;33(10):829–839. doi: 10.1016/0278-6915(95)00051-3. 

Potera, C, Diet and Nutrition: The Artificial Food Dye Blues, Environ Health Perspectives, Oct 2010, 118(10): A426, PMC2957945


Jean E. DartThis article is written by Jean Voice Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University. Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at

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