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Avoiding Artificial Food Coloring

Food Coloring


Updated June 02, 2014

Benefits of Food Coloring

Do we need food coloring?

Without food coloring, many processed foods likely would have a drab or uneven color, which would not always be appetizing. That doesn't mean that we need artificial food coloring though, as more natural food coloring can usually get the job done too.

The CSPI reports that many big companies sell different versions of foods in the United Kingdom with natural food colorings, while in the United States, they contain artificial coloring. For example, M&M's, Skittles, Starburst Chews, and the strawberry sauce that McDonald's uses on its sundaes. The strawberry sauce is made with Red 40 in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, they use real strawberries.

But even with artificial food coloring in foods, it doesn't have to be in everything your child eats.

What does chocolate milk mix look like without Red 40 in it? Does your child's candy really need to leave a tattoo on his tongue? Does everything he eats need to leave a temporary stain in his mouth and around his lips?

Do all foods for kids have to be blue, orange, or purple?

Apparently not, which may be why Heinz doesn't sell blue and green ketchup anymore.

Avoiding Food Coloring

Most children with ADHD likely don't need to be on special diets, but if you are concerned that food coloring is causing your child's behavior problems or other reactions, then you could work to avoid artificial food coloring by:

  • giving your child more whole foods and avoiding or limiting the amount of processed food he eats.
  • reading food labels and checking for artificial food coloring agents on the ingredients list, including Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Red 3, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6.
  • look for foods that use natural food coloring, which is indicated by ingredients such as annatto extract, beta-carotene, beet powder, caramel color, fruit juice, paprika, saffron, turmeric, and vegetable juice.
  • avoiding flavored milk (strawberry milk doesn't have any strawberries in it)
  • avoiding or limiting foods with a lot of different bright colors on them, for example something like Kellogg's Pop-Tarts Frosted Double Berry toaster pastries. These breakfast treats look fun, but if you check the food label, they do have almost all of the artificial food colors in them, including Red 40, Blue 2, Yellow 6, and Blue 1.

If you start reading food labels more actively, you might be surprised that artificial food coloring agents have already been replaced by natural food coloring ingredients in many foods. Not surprisingly, snack foods, sugary cereals, and most foods that wouldn't be on any ones list of healthy foods had artificial coloring added to them.



U. S. Food and Drug Administration. Food Ingredients and Colors. Updated April 2010.

Complementary and alternative medical therapies for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism. Weber W - Pediatr Clin North Am - 01-DEC-2007; 54(6): 983-1006.

Bateman B, Warner JO, Hutchinson E, et al. The effects of a double blind, placebo controlled, artificial food colourings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children. Arch Dis Child. 2004;89:506–511.

McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, et al. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2007:370(9598):1560–1567.

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