The Dangers of Food Dye Allergies & Healthy Alternatives
  /   Dr. John Snow

The Dangers of Food Dye Allergies & Healthy Alternatives

Food dyes have been the subject of controversy for a very long time. For decades, food dyes have been cited as a potential cause of hyperactivity in children, with studies supporting the idea that the theory is valid.

That’s why many health-conscious parents made the decision to pull away from artificially colored foods.

Now, newer concerns relating to food dyes as a potential allergen are causing parents to reignite their skepticism about the safety of artificial food additives. If it’s time to raid your kitchen and change your snacks, drinks, and even multivitamins, here’s what you need to know about safe replacements. 

What Is a Food Dye Allergy?

Food dye allergies are extremely rare. While not as common as shellfish allergies or peanut allergies, they have the potential to be just as serious. Things like food dye allergies tend to slip under the radar. 

When parents screen their children for allergies, they tend to seek obvious culprits in major food groups. They don’t scrutinize the very bottom of the ingredients list for a non-food ingredient.

Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are FDA-approved food dyes, commonly used as colorants in drinks, candy, baked goods, ice cream, gelatin treats, fruit snacks, and condiments. These dyes are so prevalent, and they may be difficult to avoid in most common foods. 

People with allergies to food dyes can experience anaphylactic reactions. An anaphylactic reaction is narrowing the airway, causing rapid heartbeat and drops in blood pressure. 

Some people significantly struggle to breathe. Other people may feel symptoms similar to a panic attack. Mild allergy symptoms include hives, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, itchy skin, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

People with sensitivities to food dyes may experience stomach pain or cramping and gastrointestinal upset after ingesting something that causes sensitivity. 

Sensitivities aren’t inherently dangerous, but their symptoms can be unpleasant to deal with. Many people with sensitivities to foods tend to limit their consumption to avoid discomfort.

Could My Child Have a Food Dye Allergy?

If you suspect your child is currently experiencing an allergic reaction, go to the emergency room immediately. You should never wait to see if symptoms resolve on their own. They may rapidly escalate and reach a point where they become fatal. Never take any chances. 

If you believe your child is sensitive to food dye or any other food, simply stop giving that food to your child and book an appointment with the pediatrician. Your child’s pediatrician will be able to evaluate your child for potential sensitivities or food allergies. 

This is crucial information for parents to have. Your child may not be able to communicate or correlate the way they’re feeling with what they ate. 

This is especially true if your child feels ill after “sneaking” a treat they weren’t supposed to have, like candy or ice cream they found. Children don’t want to incriminate themselves. 

As a parent, you need to know what foods may not be safe to store in a place where your child may have access to them.

Are Food Dyes Dangerous? 

Your child doesn’t need to have an allergy or intolerance to food dyes to experience the potential harms they may cause. If you’re making an effort to eliminate unnecessary chemicals from your home, food dyes should be at the top of the list.

Many food dyes contain a chemical called benzene. Benzene is a colorless, flammable substance that evaporates quickly and leaves behind a slightly sweet aroma. It’s used to turn food dyes into liquids that can be used effectively for large batch cooking. 

Benzene is one of the most commonly used chemicals in the United States. Despite its safety status, all research points to its potential risks. In fact, benzene is extremely dangerous when inhaled. The effects of swallowing benzene aren’t much different. 

Research in laboratory animals suggests that ingesting benzene can lead to the development of malignant tumors. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Toxicology Program (NPT), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the American Cancer Society all recognize benzene as a known carcinogen. Despite the awareness of the risk, benzene continues to be used around the world. 

It may not be possible to avoid all sources of benzene, but avoiding sources like artificial food dyes is simpler. It doesn’t require a major upheaval of the average family’s lifestyle, and every change you make to protect your family from harm is a worthwhile effort. 

There’s No Reason To Use Food Dyes. Period.

There is no circumstance under which food dyes are necessary. There is no food, candy, toothpaste, or mouthwash that needs to be a specific color in order to taste better or function differently. These dyes are manufactured solely for cosmetic purposes and added to products to make them more appealing.

Children often respond to bright or unusual colors with excitement. Your child may want the neon green-colored “kiwi” flavored juice simply because it looks fun and exciting. The chances are high that the juice is highly processed, full of refined sugar, and loaded with artificial colors and flavors. 

Real kiwi juice is green and tastes like kiwi because it is made from kiwi. 

Food dyes, like every other artificial ingredient, need to be manufactured. Manufacturing requires ingredient sourcing, resources, water, and energy. As the planet needs to be especially conscious of resource usage, and energy expenditure, manufacturing things with no real purpose isn’t wise. 

Many artificial colors are manufactured in China. The Chinese manufacturing industry has a long and complicated history of environmental pollution. Many manufacturing processes release emissions into the air that cause a drastic decline in air quality, leading to smog and potentially causing adverse effects on human health. 

Many factories allow their waste products, like excess from the dye manufacturing process, to seep into waterways where they contaminate resources that humans, animals, and plants need to survive. The fewer artificial products we use, the better off every person, animal, and ecosystem will be. 

How To Avoid Food Dyes at the Grocery Store

Read the labels of everything you purchase that isn’t whole food. Food dyes are usually listed towards the bottom of the ingredients list. Dyes are highly concentrated, so it doesn’t take much to permeate an entire product batch. 

In addition, dyes are generally named after the color they replicate, making them easy to spot.

If you need a quick solution, look for products that boldly advertise that they don’t contain artificial colors or flavors. You won’t need to spend as much time reading the back of every box, which can be a daunting task when you have a toddler begging for snacks. 

Healthy Alternatives to Food Dyes 

Foods don’t need to be dyed or colored at all. Even still, many companies prefer to boost or change the colors of their products. Some foods in their raw form don’t look appealing. Natural juices or fruit snacks may be amber in color, making it challenging to distinguish flavors and colors at a glance. 

If companies feel their final product would significantly benefit from a boost in coloring, plenty of natural sources perfectly serve the same purpose. Beet extract produces natural red and pink colors. Turmeric lends a yellow, orange, or gold hue. Blueberries and Concord grapes have a solid, natural purple hue. 

There is a wealth of “imperfect” produce. Fruits, vegetables, and berries that don’t look attractive or would otherwise go bad before a family has a chance to use them can easily be repurposed into natural food coloring.

In addition to imparting color, extracts from these fruits add flavor and nutrients to the foods they infuse. 

Hiya Is Free From Artificial Colors and Flavors

Hiya doesn’t use artificial colors or flavors in our children’s chewable multivitamins. Hiya’s vitamins get their color and flavor from a unique blend of organic fruits and vegetables. 

Our vitamins are sweetened with natural monk fruit rather than refined sugar. Did we mention, Hiya’s packaging is eco-friendly and reusable?

We send refills for our reusable containers according to a pediatrician's recommended schedule. There’s no reason to produce a new plastic bottle every time your child needs more vitamins. Our non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free multivitamins are manufactured in the United States. 

We keep everything close to home and as natural as possible. We believe that parents should feel good about the vitamins they give their children.


New report shows artificial food coloring causes hyperactivity in some kids | UC Berkeley Public Health

Benzene and Cancer Risk | American Cancer Society

China Shuts Down Tens Of Thousands Of Factories In Widespread Pollution Crackdown | Forbes