Red Dye In Food

“Families are struggling against a tide of junk information on junk food.”

– Diane Abbott

A Sea of Red Dye:

Dying our food isn’t new. We’ve been using natural ingredients, like beet juice and turmeric, to enhance our food’s colour for thousands of years. But the modern food industry has taken it to a staggering new level.

Artificial dyes are added to a massive array of foods, from pop to pickles. Red Dye 40, derived from petroleum, is the most common and a modern staple in candy, cereal, baked goods, gelatin powder, drugs, and cosmetics.

Red 40 (which goes by other names too, as you’ll see below), is pretty much everywhere. Here’s an incomplete list:


  • M&M’s
  • Reese’s Pieces
  • Strawberry Twizzlers
  • Skittles
  • Peeps
  • Jelly beans


  • Powerade Orange
  • Crush Orange
  • Sunny D Orange Strawberry


  • Pickles
  • Some cherry pie filling
  • Some bbq sauce


  • Cap’n Crunch
  • Trix
  • Fruity Cheerios
  • Fruity Pebbles

Before we go on, it’s an important note that there’s no nutritional value to Red 40. It’s cosmetic only, there to make our cereal berries redder and our orange pop iridescent orange.

Red Dye & ADHD:

Evidence is mounting that synthetic dyes are bad for our kids’ health. The evidence tying them to hyperactivity, allergies, and learning disorders is accumulating steadily. Young children seem especially vulnerable.

Controversy has surrounded Red 40 since the 70s, when Dr. Ben Feingold developed a diet treatment for hyperactivity which eliminated artificial colours, flavours, and aspartame. Kids’ behavioural issues improved quickly when these were cut from their diets.

In 2007, a Southampton University study confirmed the link between certain synthetic dyes and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It was the first conclusive evidence to support 30 years of speculation.

Europe has since legislated a warning label on all foods containing certain artificial colours. Canadian labels usually require manufacturers to disclose what specific synthetic colour they’re using, which is at least better than US standards, which allow the ingredient to be listed as “color.”

What impact does labelling have? Think of it this way: in the US and Canada, McDonald’s strawberry sundaes are tinted with Red 40. In England, they’re coloured with real strawberries.

Digging deeper into the studies makes it clear that Red 40 doesn’t affect all kids the same way. Some kids can gobble down the red licorice and fruit punch and remain attentive and well-behaved. Others can eat 1 pink frosted donut and be hyperactive for hours. There’s no clear answer to what the difference is, but signposts point to genetics.

What You Can Do About It:

It takes a little persistence to cut way back on Red 40, but you can do it. Read the labels, and don’t limit yourself to red or orange foods. Cheeses, peanut butter crackers, salad dressings, and marshmallows can all carry it.

Red 40 goes by these aliases:

  • Red no 40
  • FD&C Red No. 40
  • Allura Red
  • Allura Red AC
  • C.I. 16035
  • C.I. Food Red 17

You can cut back on the processed foods. The more grocery shopping you do from the outside of the store (as opposed to inside the aisles), the less synthetic colour you’re going to eat.

No one needs ingredients –like Red 40, even with dyed foods. Look for foods coloured with paprika, beet juice, carotene, red cabbage, or turmeric instead. Being aware of what’s on the label is the best way to stay in control of what you and your family are eating.