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Food dyes are chemical compounds developed to promote the physical appearance of food by altering its color. Some dyes are produced from petroleum products.

Synthetic food dyes form sports drinks, baked foods, and bright candy colors. Some salad dressing brands, smoked salmon, and pickles use these dyes. For over 50 years, the manufactured food dye intake has escalatedby over 500%, with children being the most consumers. There are different individual opinions regarding the safety of food dyes. Many people claim adverse side effects like cancer, allergies, and hyperactivity, particularly in children. This article discusses whether food dyes are dangerous or safe for human health.

Definition of food dyes

They are referred to as chemical compounds developed to improve the physical outlook of food by providing it with syntheticcolor. Food coloring has been applied widely for centuries, first established from coal tar in 1856. Today petroleum is used as a source of food dyes. The safety of amajority of these dyesis unquestionable. However, a few may be toxic. Food manufacturers prefer these synthetic dyesover natural colorings like beet extract and beta carotene since they offer a better vibrant color. Every artificial dye in use today has undergone testing to certify its safety. Some regulatory agencies have shown that dyes do not posea substantial health risk. Of course, not everyone is on board with this observation; it therefore doesn’t come as a surprise when some regions or countries put a ban on food dyes whilst others embrace the product.

Artificial dyes: Food dye certification.

The food regulatory agencies like FDA and EFSA have approved the food dyes as follows:

  • Erythrosine (Red No. 3) is used in cake-decorating gels, popsicles, and candy by offering a cherry-red coloring.
  • Allura Red (Red No. 40)- This dye is dark red in drinks, condiments, sports, cereals, and candy.
  • Tartrazine (Yellow No. 5)- This dye is a lemon- yellow in soft drinks, cereals, candy, popcorn, and chips.
  • Sunset Yellow (Yellow No. 6)- This orange-yellow dye is utilized in sauces, preserved fruits, candy, and baked goods.
  • Brilliant Blue (Blue No. 1)- This dye has greenish-blue color and is used in canned peas, ice cream, icings, popsicles, and packaged soups.
  • Indigo Carmine (Blue No.2) – This dye is royal blue in cereal, snacks, ice cream, and candy.
  • The Yellow 5, Red 40, and yellow 6 are the most renowned food dyes. These three dyes comprise 90% of all foods consumed in the US. Some dyes have been legalized in a few countries but rejected in others. Fast green or Green No. 3 is FDA approved but prohibited in Europe. Carmoisine, ponceau, and quinoline yellow are among the food colorings legalized in the EU but rejected in the US.

Side effects

It might cause hyperactivity in children.

A pediatric allergist suggested that learning challenges and hyperactivity in sensitive children resulted from preservatives and artificial colorings in food. Scientific evidence was minimal during that period, and many people embraced this philosophy. The expert initiated elimination diets for treating ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). This type of diet excludes all manufactured food colorings together with other countable ingredients. A study conducted in 1978 did not establish any difference in children’s behavior after they received a dose of artificial dyes. Many studies have demonstrated a negligiblebut notable link between hyperactivity and synthetic food dyes in children from that period. Certain clinical research claimed that eliminating these dyes from the food and sodium benzoate, a preservative, appreciably lowered hyperactive symptoms. Further, research established that 73% of infants with ADHD experienced a reduction in symptoms when preservatives and artificial food dyes were eliminated. In this relation, another study showed that sodium benzoate and food dyes spiked hyperactivity in both 8-, 9- and 3-year-oldchildren. Nevertheless, since the participants in this study were given a combination of ingredients, there is a challenge on the cause of hyperactivity. Yellow 5, called tartrazine, is linked to behavioral adjustments, including restlessness, irritability, sleeping difficulty, and depression. Also, a 2004 research found that artificial food dyes escalate hyperactivity conditions in children. Some children react differently towards food dye due to their genetic makeup. Regardless, the EFSA and FDA have not concluded on the safety of these dyes due to a lack of enough evidence. The premise of these regulatory agencies states that every substance is friendly until confirmed harmful. Nevertheless, the evidence is sufficient to air some concerns on the same issue. Surprisingly, the British government started urging food processors to seek other food color alternative compounds. In 2010, the UK warned against allfood makers that used dyes in their products.

Some dyes might have cancer-causing contaminants

Although many food dyes did not show adverse effects in toxicity from astudy, there are concerns about the potential dye contaminants. Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40might have cancer-causing contaminants. 4-aminoazobenezene,4- aminobiphenyl, and benzidine are possible carcinogens present in food dyes. Therefore, they are accepted in food dyes since they are available in minimal amounts, assumed to be friendly.

Should you avoid food dyes?

It is alleged that food dyes might be carcinogenic. This is the most alarming claim against this product considering that there is no concrete proof. From the current study, food dye consumption cannot cause cancer. Certain dyes are allergic, and children with hyperactivity and aggressive behavior should avoid them.


No study has come out with proof that the concerns leveled against the safety of food dyes are somewhat true. it is however proven that  they might trigger allergic reactions in certain individuals and hyperactivity in some children. Of couse the source of the dyes might not be so edible, that’s why some should be avoided. Concentrating on whole foods in place of processed ones improves overall health. Most people use these dyes to boost the appearance of foods although they lack any substantial nutritional benefit.Nonetheless, always consider getting healthy foods. The best way to improve your entire health is to avoid processed foods and focus on whole foods rich in nutrients.

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Barbara is a freelance writer and a sex and relationships adviser at Dimepiece LA and Peaches and Screams. Barbara is involved in various educational initiatives aimed at making sex advice more accessible to everyone and breaking stigmas around sex across various cultural communities. In her spare time, Barbara enjoys trawling through vintage markets in Brick Lane, exploring new places, painting and reading.

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