Food Dyes

Colorful macarons dyed with food coloring

There is a common ingredient in our food (often associated with sugar) that I think is worth tackling this holiday season — especially since it’s avoidable once you recognize it. So, in this episode we’re talking about food dyes.


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I haven’t worked up the courage to do an episode on refined sugar yet — it’s a staple of the American diet, we already know it’s bad for us, and yet we continue eating it and letting our kids eat it. It’s a big subject to tackle, and I would never want to make anyone feel bad, so I’m not going to go there yet. However, there is a common ingredient in our food (often associated with sugar) that I think is worth tackling this holiday season — especially since it’s avoidable once you recognize it. So, in this episode we’re talking about food dyes.

Who hasn’t gone up to the bakery window in your grocery store and stared at the sheet cakes? How do they get the red frosting to look so perfect when spelling out “happy holidays”? And those blue dreidels and yellow menorahs? They look real. The colors, the frosting, the mouth-watering thought of slicing into the cake… 

It’s a festive, beautifully delicious disaster for your body. And again, I’m not talking about the sugar right now — I’m talking about the color. 

Artificial food dyes should not be ingested by any living thing. But not surprisingly, artificial colors and dyes are in way more foods than we realize: breakfast waffles and cereal marketed to kids, sodas and juices, salad dressing, candy like M&Ms, Cheetos, Doritos and other snack foods, and yes, many cakes, cookies and dessert.

So, what’s my issue with food dye? To start, artificial colors are man-made in a lab with chemicals derived from petroleum. As a reminder, petroleum is a crude oil product, used in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and tar.


If you’re thinking, well, if it was that bad the FDA wouldn’t have approved it and it wouldn’t be allowed in our food. But these same artificial colors and dyes require a warning label in countries outside the US and have been banned in countries like Norway and Austria. They’re hardly ever used in the UK and the rest of Europe. And yes, the FDA has approved it for us.

Okay, so artificial colors are made from crude oil. What else?

According to PubMed, a dot gov website, “During the past 50 years, the amount of synthetic dye used in foods has increased by 500%. Simultaneously, an alarming rise has occurred in behavioral problems in children, such as aggression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The ingestion of food delivers the greatest foreign antigenic load that challenges the immune system.”

In other words, artificial dyes and colors have been found to disrupt the immune system, cause an increase in hyperactivity in kids (even those who aren’t diagnosed with ADD or ADHD) and are linked to negatively impacting a child’s ability to learn.

These artificial colors are also contaminated with known carcinogens and have been linked to long-term health problems such as asthma, skin rashes, and migraines.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply.

And do you know the worst part about this? Artificial coloring is used for nothing more than marketing. The only purpose of adding carcinogenic, toxic crude oil into our food is to make it more eye-catching on the shelf. To entice your kid to say, “Look, mom! That ketchup is purple! Purple’s my favorite color — can we get it?”

The manipulation of these food corporations knows no bounds.

So, during a time and season when it’s more important than ever to keep our immune systems strong and during a time when our already very distracted kids are forced to sit on Zoom for hours, my suggestion is to actively avoid any type of artificial food dye or coloring.

These dyes will be on the ingredient list of the food label and what you’re looking for is: Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 (these are the most popular), as well as Blue 1, Blue 1 Lake, Citrus Red 2 and Orange B. But really if you see anything on the ingredient list that’s a color then put it back on the shelf.

My son is still little so we haven’t quite gotten to the time of going to birthday parties yet, but I honestly already have anxiety just thinking about it. Artificial coloring runs rampant in kid’s birthday cakes — and there are plenty of people who will say, “Oh c’mon, let kids be kids. It’s a right of passage — it’s fine in moderation.” But for the average kid, it’s not moderation — let’s say your kid is invited to one birthday party per month or a student brings in cupcakes to school once per month, then there are the holiday parties — you’re looking at 12-15 times a year minimum that your kid is ingesting a crude oil containing known carcinogens. I’m not saying to ban birthday cakes but can we all agree the food dye isn’t necessary?

If you’ve listened to this podcast long enough, then you know I almost always have a better alternative to suggest to you. If you were looking forward to decorating gingerbread houses with your kids or making holiday cookies, and I’ve just taken the wind out of your sails, don’t worry! I’m going to link to some non-GMO, artificial-food-dye-free options in the show notes at

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Clean Living Podcast — I’m your host Shannon Lohr. If you learned something from this episode, please make sure to click Subscribe so you don’t miss an upcoming episode. Here’s to creating a cleaner, more sustainable world for all of us.