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Dangers of Artificial Food Dyes and Food Colorings

Food dyes and food colorings are intended to make our dishes look delish and appealing to eat. They make our cookies festive and our store-bought smoothies appear healthy. Like sugar, food dyes and food colorings are in everything and they are not good for us. 

Since 1955, an individual’s food dye consumption has increased five times over. Crazy, right?! And since that time, signs have indicated these food dyes cause health issues and may even lead to cancer.

Let’s take a look at some of the worst artificial food dyes and ones to avoid. 


Worst Food Dyes

And with most modern food dyes are synthesized from petroleum, and today, there are nine common food dyes, with Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 being the worst offenders and accounting for 90% of food dyes used in everyday foods. 

Red 40 – This bad boy dye is used in so much! From drinks to desserts to pet food. It is also a carcinogen linked to cancer and has triggered lymph tumors in lab tests. It’s known to cause hyperactivity in children. And if there’s any indication of its potential danger, you should know it’s already banned in some European countries. 

Yellow 5 – Also known as tartrazine and E102, this food dye is found in desserts, candies, baked goods, and even pet food. Like Red 40, it has caught the attention of European health officials, who’ve mandated that foods with this dye must contain a warning label. 

It has been known to cause neurochemical effects such as ADHD, aggression, and insomnia. And can even affect asthma, allergies, and thyroid issues.

Yellow 6 – Used in baked goods, beverages, and sausages. Similar to Yellow 5, it may cause thyroid and kidney tumors.


Common Food Dyes and Colorings

  • Red 2 – Known to cause asthma and cancer.
  • Red 3 – Carcinogenic that may cause thyroid cancer and nerve damage. Red 3 is commonly used in baked goods (like cherry pie) and ice creams. 
  • Citrus Red 1 – This food dye is sprayed on oranges to give them a brighter presentation. However, it can damage our chromosomes and eventually lead to cancer. 
  • Citrus Red 2 – This is also used on orange peels, which can cause cancer if eaten. 
  • Blue 1 – Found in baked goods related foods, candies, and soft drinks, this food dye can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer. 
  • Blue 2 – Also found in candy, this food dye can cause brain tumors. 


Other Food Dyes

There are many other food dyes out there to be aware of, such as:

  • Green 3 – Found in candies and beverages, this food dye may cause bladder tumors.
  • Caramel Coloring – Commonly found in soft drinks, sauces, pastries, and bread. Sadly, it has been known to cause cancer in lab mice when made with ammonia. Even sadder, food manufacturers are not required to tell consumers if it is, in fact, made with ammonia. 
  • Brown HT – Causes asthma, cancer, and hyperactivity in kids. 
  • Orange B – Common in hot dog and sausage casings, and horrible for our liver.
  • Bixin, Norbixin, Annatto – Also all known to cause hyperactivity in children.


Reach for Foods with Natural Dyes

It sounds daunting and a bit overwhelming to tip-toe around and avoid every single one of these nasty additives. Instead, here are some simple things to remember: 

  • Avoid fast foods and sugary drinks
  • Reach for fruits and veggies instead
  • Avoid milk and meat with added hormones

The absolute best thing you can do is to reach for foods that use natural dyes such as beta-carotene, annatto, carotenoids, and carmine. 

However, if you love to bake or cook at home and need a substitute, there are natural food dye options you can purchase in natural food markets. 

Alternatively, you can even make your own food dyes from scratch (if you have the patience and talent). Simply think strawberries and raspberries for pinks, beets for reds (often seen in red velvet cakes), matcha for greens, and red cabbage for blues. 

Obviously, anything you consume can be substituted for something more natural. But even natural foods (like Annatto!) can sometimes create food sensitivities. If you find a lot of foods disrupt your digestion or even give you brain fog, speak to a specialist at Naturna.  



Potera C. The artificial food dye blues. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118(10):A428. doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a428 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957945/

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