Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe?

Health + Wellness

Do Food Dyes Cause Allergies?

Some artificial food dyes can cause allergic reactions (28, 33, 34, 35).

In multiple studies, Yellow 5—also known as tartrazine—has been shown to cause hives and asthma symptoms (36, 37, 38, 39).

Interestingly, people who have an allergy to aspirin seem to be more likely to also be allergic to Yellow 5 (37, 38).

In a study conducted in people with chronic hives or swelling, 52 percent had an allergic reaction to artificial food dyes (40).

Most allergic reactions are not life-threatening. However, if you have symptoms of an allergy, it may be beneficial to remove artificial food dyes from your diet.

Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are among the most commonly consumed dyes and are the three most likely to cause an allergic response (3).

Bottom Line: Some artificial food dyes, particularly Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Should You Avoid Food Dyes?

The most concerning claim about artificial food dyes is that they cause cancer.

However, the evidence to support this claim is weak. Based on the research currently available, it is unlikely that consuming food dyes will cause cancer.

Certain food dyes cause allergic reactions in some people, but if you do not have any symptoms of an allergy, there is no reason to eliminate them from your diet.

The claim about food dyes that has the strongest science to back it up is the connection between food dyes and hyperactivity in children.

Several studies have found that food dyes increase hyperactivity in children with and without ADHD, although some children seem to be more sensitive than others (1).

If your child has hyperactive or aggressive behavior, it may be beneficial to remove artificial food dyes from their diet.

The reason dyes are used in food is to make food look more attractive. There is absolutely no nutritional benefit of food dyes.

Nevertheless, there is not enough evidence to support that everyone should be avoiding artificial food dyes.

That said, it always helps to eat healthy. The biggest sources of food dyes are unhealthy processed foods that have other negative effects on health.

Removing processed foods from your diet and focusing on healthy whole foods will improve your overall health and drastically decrease your intake of artificial food dyes in the process.

Bottom Line: Food dyes are likely not dangerous for most people, but avoiding processed foods that contain dyes can improve your overall health.

Healthy Whole Foods Are Naturally Free of Dyes

The best way to remove artificial food dyes from your diet is to focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods.

Unlike processed foods, most whole foods are highly nutritious.

Here are a few foods that are naturally dye-free:

  • Dairy and eggs: Milk, plain yogurt, cheese, eggs, cottage cheese.
  • Meat and poultry: Fresh, unmarinated chicken, beef, pork and fish.
  • Nuts and seeds: Unflavored almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables: All fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Grains: Oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley.
  • Legumes: Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, navy beans, lentils.

If you want to avoid all dyes in your diet, always read the label before you eat a food. Some seemingly healthy foods contain artificial food dyes.

Bottom Line: Most whole foods are highly nutritious and naturally free of artificial dyes.

Take Home Message

There is no conclusive evidence that food dyes are dangerous for most people.

Nevertheless, they may cause allergic reactions in some people and hyperactivity in sensitive children.

However, most food dyes are found in unhealthy processed foods that should be avoided anyway.

Instead, focus on eating nutritious whole foods that are naturally dye-free.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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