Is Artificial Food Coloring Bad For You?

food coloring

Should you avoid artificial food coloring?

Mmm…Nothing says homemade like Red #40, Yellow #5, and Blue #1.

If you eat any processed foods, chances are there’s some type of food coloring in it. Even stuff that’s natural might have it; oranges are often injected with dye to give them their bright orange color. Seriously, oranges.

Food dyes are regulated by government agencies around the world. In the United States it’s the FDA doing the work, and what they ban and allow doesn’t always match up.

For example, Blue #1 and Blue #2 are banned in Norway, Finland and France, but allowed in the US and included in everything from candy to pet food. The golden yellow of Kraft macaroni and cheese? Brought to you by Yellow #5 and #6, both banned in the European Union. That bright blue in Nutrigrain Blueberry bars? That’s not thanks to some wild sourced blueberries. Nope, it’s Blue #1.

To be clear, these products exist in other countries, they’re just colored naturally instead of with artificial food coloring. Fanta in the UK for example is colored with pumpkin and carrot extract, while in the US it’s Red #40 and Yellow #6. Food chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s refuse to sell products with artificial food coloring. If they’re not willing to sell it, are you willing to buy it?

There’s a laundry list of research out there that shows how the body reacts to these synthetic dyes. There have been reports of allergic reactions to Yellow #5 and various studies have shown links between the consumption of food dyes and hyperactivity.

Americans are eat five times more food dyes in 1955, and while there are arguments for and against the safety of food dyes, one thing is sure: they’re artificial and synthetic. If you believe in putting whole, natural food in your body, products with artificial food coloring, which are often the processed products to begin with, shouldn’t make the cut.

For a visual of food dyes, where they are banned and health-related issues that they are linked to, check out this infographic, which covers artificial food colorings and their links to everything from brain tumors to insomnia.

Colors to Die For


Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.