Artificial Colors

Artifical Colors


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Bye Bye, Artificial Colors!

Can artificial colors cause hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral issues for children? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Some experts have proposed the link now for years and years. In fact, one physician, Dr. Ben Feingold, wrote a book back in 1974 entitled Why Your Child is Hyperactive warning of the large amounts of food colors as well as flavors and preservatives that were increasingly being consumed by the average American child. Since then, there have been countless animal studies linking food colors with negative health consequences, including cancer. Other countries have banned many of the FDA approved food colors that are heavily used in the US.

Recently, a bill was proposed in California to require warning labels on foods with artificial colors. The report supporting the bill compiled data from 1970 to the present including both animal and human studies and found convincing evidence that artificial food dyes do cause behavioral problems in children.

Yet, here we are today and more than ever artificial colors are slipped into our foods, including many foods that are marketed to our children and foods that many children are consuming on a daily basis.


Making food “pretty” has become the status quo in the US, but it’s not doing us any good. Big Food uses artificial colors to trick us into thinking that food is healthier or fresher than it actually is and to make food brighter so it is more appealing and attractive for our kids. Who benefits from foods being more appealing? Big Food. More appealing foods sell better. Who loses? Our kids and anyone else who is consuming foods “poisoned” with these artificial, toxic ingredients. The unfortunate truth is that artificial colors are harmful and have been linked to health concerns for decades. 

This month we are going to dive into the scary world of artificial colors. Artificial colors have been linked to some awful health conditions AND have been banned in other countries, but they are still allowed in food in the US… The FDA banned many uses of Red 3 in 1990 because it causes cancer in laboratory animals, and yet, it’s still allowed in many foods. What further evidence does the FDA need to decide that these colors are downright dangerous to our children and should no longer be in ANY of our food?

Also WHY are they used to begin with? They add no nutritional value and are strictly used to make food more appealing. It’s another form of marketing. Why does cereal need to be bright red? Why does candy need to be bright yellow? It doesn’t.

Why are artificial colors used?

Artificial colors help Big Food sell their products. 

Vibrant, brightly colored food appeals to consumers. As a species, we have relied on visual cues for thousands of years to help us determine what is edible, nutritious, and safe to eat. Colors often signal that food is ripe or that it contains healthy compounds. It also increases our desire to eat it. Because of this, color is money for food manufacturers!

Children are especially attracted to bright colors and susceptible to targeted marketing. Food dyes make processed food more appealing and exciting. Look at any food marketed to kids today. Most are full of bright colors that rarely (or never!) exist in nature.

So, what are artificial colors?

Artificial colors are usually derived from petroleum or crude oil (commonly used to make plastic, asphalt, and gasoline). These dyes are chemicals that are put in many foods, especially foods marketed to children. The main reason they are used is to make food look more appealing and attractive to kids and consumers in general. Artificial colors give food a brighter hue than colors derived from natural sources, such as beets and turmeric. They also are much cheaper to put in foods and have a longer shelf life, which all translates into more profits for Big Food.

These dyes are banned in many countries but are still allowed in the US, despite the terrible associated side effects. Red No. 3 was banned from cosmetics in 1990, yet the FDA still allows Red No. 3 to be put into our foods.

There are 7 artificial colors approved for use in the US.

Each comes with their own health risks and most are banned in other countries:

FD&C Blue No. 1 Brilliant Blue

FD&C Blue No. 2 Indigotine

FD&C Green No. 3 Fast Green

FD&C Red No. 3 Erythrosine

FD&C Red No. 40 Allura Red

FD&C Yellow No. 5 Tartrazine

FD&C Yellow No. 6 Sunset Yellow

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Why should we avoid artificial colors?

Artificial colors (AFCs) have been studied dating back more than 45 years. In his book, Why Your Child is Hyperactive, Dr. Benjamin Feingold proposed that pediatric hyperactivity and learning problems were due to certain foods and food additives, including artificial colors, but his findings were rejected by the food industry. Surprise, surprise! Since then, countless studies have shown more and more negative effects that these artificial colors have on children’s behavior. 

Nearly 50 years of studies strongly suggest or prove that artificial colors are harmful. Yet, the FDA still allows them in our food. Keep in mind that it took the FDA nearly 40 years to ban trans fat despite the data that piled up for decades on the negative health impacts. 

At this point, countless studies have shown the following negative health impacts related to artificial colors:

Behavior disorders in children:

  • Red No. 40 has been shown to trigger hypersensitivity in children, and Yellow No. 5 has been linked to hyperactivity in children.
  • Studies have shown that when you eliminate artificial colors from a child’s diet, symptoms of attention-related disorders improve and behavior problems improve.
Artificial Ingredients

Cancer and possible links:

  • Blue No. 2 – bladder and brain tumors in rats
  • Yellow No. 6 – adrenal and testicular tumors in rats
  • Red No. 40 – reticuloendothelial in mice
  • Red No. 3 – thyroid tumors in rats

Additional concerns:

  • Increased inflammation
  • Skin rashes
  • Nausea 
  • Gut disruptions
  • Immune disruptions

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If I cut artificial colors, will my kids perform better in the classroom?

Eliminating artificial colors could be one of the best things that schools could do for their classrooms—for both students and teachers. According to a study published in Neurotherapeutics back in 2012, recent data suggests that AFCs cause a small but significant harmful effect on children’s behavior, including children without diagnosable ADHD. The study concluded that AFCs are not a major cause of ADHD per se but seem to affect children regardless of whether or not they have ADHD. Also, AFCs may have an overall effect on the classroom climate if the majority of children in the class suffer a small negative behavioral effect. Basically, even if the effect is minor on a singular child, it adds up with a whole classroom of kids.

What ingredients are in artificial colors?

Most of the food dyes are contaminated with known carcinogens such as 4-aminobiphenyl, 4-aminoazobenzene, and benzidine. The FDA says that these contaminants present in the artificial colors are “present at safe levels.” WHAT?

What about caramel color?

Most people assume that because caramel sounds natural, it is. Unfortunately, that isn’t really the case. 

Caramel color is often made by mixing corn syrup with ammonia. The byproducts of this mixture can cause cancer in mice. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, concluded in 2011 that these byproducts (2- and 4-methylimidazole) are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

The State of California’s Environmental Protection Agency even lists ammonia caramel coloring as a carcinogen under the state’s Proposition 65.

How to Avoid Artificial Colors

That is plenty of info for us to want to say bye bye to artificial colors. But how exactly do we go about avoiding these all-to-prevalent ingredients? Pay attention to the colors of foods and read ingredient labels! And remember to look out for colors in other products like medicine, toothpaste, and lip balm.

Navigating the grocery store

One of the easiest ways to spot artificial colors is simply looking at the product itself. If the color seems bright and vibrant, likely it contains artificial dyes. Think about the bright blue cereal, the bright green juice, and the bright red medicines. Those all have artificial colors in them. If something doesn’t look natural, it probably isn’t. Pickles aren’t meant to be bright green, wheat or corn in cereal isn’t meant to be bright blue, and ice cream isn’t meant to be bright red. But don’t stop there. Even things that aren’t bright and obvious may still contain artificial colors. Read labels!

Read ingredient labels

Reading ingredient labels is an important step to avoid artificial colors. Luckily, it’s easy. If you see any of the artificial colors on the ingredient list on the label, leave it on the shelf. And don’t just avoid artificial colors, avoid the so-called “natural” colors too. These include caramel colors, carmine, and annatto color. If you see any of those words, put it back on the shelf and walk away.

Remember to check other consumable products

Did you know many children’s medicines contain artificial colors? Yup, even the ones that say “pediatrician approved.” “Pediatrician approved” is unfortunately just another form of marketing. Diet and nutrition isn’t a root concern for some doctors. Take Red No. 40 for example. It is a synthetic color additive made from petroleum that’s found nearly everywhere—even in children’s Tylenol that is pediatrician-approved! Recent data suggest a link between Red No. 40 and ADHD, allergies, migraines, and more.

Other products that you put on your skin and in your mouth, like toothpaste and lip balm, can also have artificial colors. Look for products with no dyes!

Want to learn more? Check out our resource guide on Artificial Colors.

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bye bye artificial colors challenges:

Cut artificial colors from your family’s diet for one month!

Do your best!

Small improvements add up over time. It can sometimes take kids (and adults!) a little while to adjust to real flavors and colors of whole foods if they’ve been used to the enhanced, artificial colors and flavors of processed foods. After the adjustment period though, those artificial things start to look and taste less appealing especially once you start feeling the difference of cutting them out!

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#superheroyou PROGRAM!

There’s no time like today. And there’s nothing like building a community of SuperHero friends to help us stick to our goals. Have a chance to earn prizes while learning new tips and tricks to help you and your family thrive ALL year.

Resource Guides

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