Should I Avoid Artificial Food Coloring

My son was kicked out of Sunday School. Shocking, I know. His behavoir was so bizarre the teacher told me, “I don’t know what to do with him.” And she only had him for one hour each week! Turns out, my little boy had a sensitivity to food coloring. Once we discovered the problem, and eliminated it from our home and his diet, he was a new person. So, when you ask yourself, “Should I avoid artificial food coloring?” answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Keep reading and Andrew will tell you why.

Given easy-to-gloss-over names like blue #1, red #40, and yellow #5, food dyes are chemicals that sound completely innocuous.  But is this really the case?  Are those brightly-colored candies that you give your child really that safe?  In reality, what are these chemicals?  Today, we will take a look at just three of the rainbow of colors found in our foods.  Why these three?  Well, these three are said to account for a whopping 90% of all food dyes used in modern food products.  Let’s get started!

Should I Avoid Artificial Food Coloring?

The Dangers of Food Coloring

Yellow #5 (Tartrazine)

As always, let’s shed some light on the real name of these chemicals.  The actual name of yellow #5 is trisodium-1-(4-sulfonatophenyl)-4-(4-sulfonatophenylazo)-5-pyrazolone-3-carboxylate, so it is easy to see why they just call it yellow #5 (or tartrazine).  It is found in a host of things from candy, to soda, to even mouth wash.  If the product is yellow, orange, or green, it probably contains yellow #5.

So what does the research say that it does?  One article in the Journal of Pediatrics shows a direct link between consumption of yellow #5 and behavioral modifications in children.  A large percentage of the children taking part in the study were found to be more irritable, restless, and unable to sleep when ingesting yellow #5.  Interestingly, the effect was dosage-dependent; this means that the larger the amount consumed, the greater the effect.  Another article in the Food and Chemical Toxicity journal drew a link between even low doses of tartrazine and harm to the liver and kidneys.  Both of these are vital organs and greatly influence your general well-being.

Researching the toxic effects of yellow #5 has proven to be a rabbit hole that seems to have no end.  A plethora of other articles can be found linking it to worsening asthma, hyperactivity, and even possibly cancer.  This is one additive to avoid at all costs.

Red #40 (Allura Red)

Red #40 has an equally-colorful (pun intended) name: disodium 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonate.  It is another very common food additive in most red, purple, and orange foods, drinks, and cosmetics.  Some consider it “natural” because it is formed from all-natural petroleum and coal tar.

Once again, let’s return to the primary literature and see what the science folks are saying about this one.  A. Bawazir from the King Abdul-Aziz University Department of Zoology studied the effect of red #40 on an animal model (rats) which allowed him to perform analysis on tissues samples from around the body.  He found that consumption of red #40 degraded kidney and brain tissue.  It is thought that the red #40 dye interfered with the body’s antioxidant defense system which led to oxidative damage in those tissues.  Read the original article in the Life Science Journal.  And in case brain and kidney damage isn’t enough for you, red #40 may also increase the risk of cancer as it contains benzidene, a known carcinogen.  Find out more here.  Sadly, of all the dyes, this one is the most common.

Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow)

The final colorant to help us bring an end to our day (oh the puns!) of dyes is sunset yellow.  Its name is disodium 6-hydroxy-5-[(4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonate.  Another chemical found in all sorts of products that you probably use.  Even though this one is called yellow, it is actually more of an orange color commonly used with other dyes to produce a brown color like all of us like in our chocolates and caramel (where it often lurks).  And one final fact before getting into the research is that this chemical is actually banned in some European countries, yet it is totally allowed by the FDA.

What can artificial food dye do to you?

Well, let’s start with a case report.  It is the report of one man who was in and out of the hospital over a two-year time period with severe intestinal problems (intense cramps and sudden weight loss).  Each time, what caused the bout of intestinal distress to end was removal of yellow #6 food dye from his diet.  Although it is only one man’s story, it is an interesting read which can be found here.  A study performed in 2007 by Jim Stevenson, and others, showed a link between several food dyes and hyperactivity in young children.  The effect was seen in both populations studied (3-year-olds and 8/9-year-olds).


So, as we wrap things up, I just want to say that it is important to remember that these chemicals have NO beneficial reason for being in our food aside from giving them a certain look.  However, there are very serious adverse side effects associated with ALL of them (even the ones not mentioned).  We do not need them in our food, and they should be avoided.  And remember, the more of us that stop buying products containing these things, the more likely they will be removed from the shelves.  It all starts with you.


Pickles are notorious for having artificial coloring in them. You don’t need to eat store-bought pickles. Making your own with cucumbers, a few spices, salt and your own Mason jar is so simple. For all the supplies you will need, check out the Fermentools store.


Andrew and Michelle are the new owners of a 12-acre homestead in rural America. They are just embarking on this journey that is far removed from their city-life upbringing, so they realize that they have a lot to learn in order to succeed in this new place.Come along with them and read more about what they learn as they make this transition at their blog Simple Life Homestead.

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