Artificial Food Dyes: Know The Risks!

Artificial Food Dyes: Know The Risks!

Written By: Kristi Caruana

In today's fast-paced world, the impact of seemingly harmless elements in our food can often be underestimated. The labels on our food products are crowded with unfamiliar terms, chemicals, and additives, leading us to question: What are we really putting into our bodies? 

What was once an unfamiliar notion to our grandparents and great-grandparents has now seamlessly integrated itself into our modern eating habits, convenience over transparency. The prevalence of artificial food dyes adds to this, beneath vibrant colors lies a realm of controversy and potential health concerns that deserve our attention. 

Red 40: Increased hyperactivity & risk of certain cancers
Red 3: In 1990 the FDA removed this dye from cosmetics due to concerns of cancer & DNA damage, but never banned it for use in food
Yellow 5: Can trigger attention deficit issues & other behavioral effects

Yellow 6: Can trigger attention deficit issues/other behavioral effects & adrenal tumors in animals

Blue 1: Can cause allergic reactions & may cross the blood-brain barrier. One study showed kidney tumor growth in animals

Blue 2: Can cause allergic reactions, brain & bladder tumors

Green 3: Caused significant increases in bladder & testes tumors in animals. Suspected of causing genetic defects 

In the past 50+ years, the consumption of artificial food dyes has surged by an astounding 500%, according to FDA data. Originally being sourced from coal tar byproducts, their sources evolved over time, and dyes are now derived from petroleum oil—a substance known to harbor toxic heavy metals like lead, aluminum, cadmium, and mercury.

When ingested, they can accumulate in the body over time, a process known as bioaccumulation. Major concerns revolve around how the accumulation of harmful heavy metals impacts brain health, with studies indicating that prolonged exposure through tainted food dyes might contribute to brain-related issues. 

Heavy metals have the ability to disrupt the way brain cells communicate, interfere with important cellular signals, and increase oxidative stress, an accelerator that speeds up the development of chronic diseases, including cancerWhen heavy metals promote oxidative stress, it damages cells on a genetic level. This disruption can lead to difficulties in thinking, memory problems, to more severe conditions like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and even multiple sclerosis.

In a baffling contradiction, the products intended for children frequently mask some of the most harmful additives, like artificial food dyes. We've all bought into the idea that sugar is the culprit behind kids' energy spikes or erratic behavior, but new research is unraveling a different story! Beyond sugar's influence on energy levels, artificial food dyes also play a significant role in children's behavior. 

Studies have consistently associated artificial food dyes with hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention deficits, and mood disturbances in children. 

Food dye consumption has escalated from 12 mg/capita in 1950 to a staggering 62 mg/capita in 2010! This escalation, though concerning, is followed by an even graver revelation: just 30 mg of artificial food dye has shown to trigger behavioral problems in children!

Researchers at Purdue University have estimated that children might ingest around 100 mg of artificial dyes daily, a figure that could potentially double depending on the diet of the child. The neurobehavioral effects on children and the growing consumption rates prompt us to look beyond bright colors and delve deeper into the realm of science and evidence that spans decades. As caregivers, educators, and advocates for young minds, it's our collective duty to be well-informed about the additives present in the products we offer. By demanding transparency and prioritizing safer alternatives, we take a crucial step towards safeguarding the developing brains and emotional well-being of the generations to come.

In our quest to understand the impacts of artificial food dyes, a particularly alarming revelation surfaces—one that resonates deeply with society’s growing concerns about cancer.  As the frequency of cancer cases increases, our attention naturally shifts to the factors we can control. The existence of openly carcinogenic elements within our food supply should prompt us to fully recognize the potential these additives have on long term health. 

The reality is, artificial food dyes don't just impact kids, they affect anyone who consumes them. These dyes have been linked to various health problems like allergic reactions, asthma, hives, mood swings, trouble with sleep, and escalated tumor growth.

Studies show that dyes Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 contain aluminum, a neurotoxin, and benzene, a dangerous chemical that's known to cause cancer in humans. It’s a strange world, we're allowed to have cancer-causing chemicals in our food, but the companies who put them there don’t have to put how much they're using on the label!

These dyes account for 90% of artificial food dyes used in our food supply. 

Choosing to steer clear of artificial food dyes isn't just about making a healthier choice, it's about reclaiming control over what we put into our bodies. While the mechanisms behind how these contaminants contribute to cancer and escalated tumor growth are still being studied, their continued presence in our products alone is cause for pause. 

Embracing natural alternatives isn't just a trend, it's a way to safeguard our well-being and create a ripple effect of consumer change. By opting for real ingredients in our own kitchens, we take a monetary and lifestyle stand for transparency, better health, and a brighter food future for ourselves and generations to come!

Natural Dyes To Use At Home:

Red: Beet juice, pomegranate juice, raspberry puree, hibiscus flowers, cherry juice, tomato

Orange: Carrot juice, turmeric, annatto seeds, paprika, sweet potato, pumpkin 

Yellow: Saffron, turmeric, pineapple juice, calendula petals, chamomile 

Green: Spinach juice, matcha powder, green spirulina, kale, parsley 

Blue: Blueberry juice, butterfly pea flower tea, elderberries, red cabbage + baking soda, blue spirulina

Purple: Blackberry juice, grape juice, purple sweet potato, purple cabbage, red onion, açaí 

Pink: Hibiscus tea, raspberry puree, beet juice, rose petals, cranberry 

Additional Sources:


Arnold LE, Lofthouse N, Hurt E. Artificial food colors and attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms: conclusions to dye for. Neurotherapeutics. 2012;9(3):599–609

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