Making cookies is totally a recipe for fun (pun intended). Consider the “ingredients”—rolling dough, cutting fun shapes, getting messy, and decorating with icing, sugars, and sprinkles—not to mention you get a sweet end product that makes everyone smile long after the kitchen’s been cleaned up.  While many parents are being more attentive to sugar intake (especially over the holidays), those vibrant colors that make these delectable confections look so eye-catching should raise a red flag, too.

Did you know that the European Union requires labels on foods containing artificial colors? And that the U.K. called for a voluntary ban on six artificial colors? Artificial food colorings used to dye icing, candies, flavored popcorn, yogurt, cereal, and macaroni and cheese have been linked to many health risks, which children are more vulnerable to than adults, says Christopher Gavigan. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Commonly used food dyes, such as Yellow 5, Red 40, and six others, are made from petroleum and pose a ‘rainbow of risks.’ Those risks include hyperactivity in children, cancer (in animal studies), and allergic reactions.” Despite these concerns, about 15 million pounds of these petroleum-based dyes continue to be used in food each year in the United States. No warnings. No labels. No nothing.

While common household American brands have replaced artificial colors with natural vegetable dyes in the foods they sell in Europe, here at home it’s up to you to take control of your grocery cart and keep those egregious ingredients out.

How can you still enjoy your favorite treats without the worry?

1. Avoid products that contain names with numbers.  Make sure to read labels and pass on products listing Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, Citrus Red No. 2, Green No. 3, Blue No. 1, and Blue No. 2.

2. Head to the produce section and the spice aisle. Pick up organic vegetables, fruits, and spices that can be used to color frosting and foods naturally—plus they offer the health benefits of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Natural Alternatives to Artificial Food Dyes

3. Believe it or not, look for products that say color added. Milton Stokes, M.P.H. and R.D., shares in an Eating Well article, “Counterintuitively, the terms ‘artificial color,’ ‘artificial color added’ or ‘color added’ also indicate that nature-derived pigments were used since synthetic dyes must be listed by their names.”

4. Try these easy recipes for natural food coloring:

5. Join Healthy Child Healthy World in petitioning brands to remove fake dyes from their snacks.

Whatever recipes you choose, remember to have fun! And, go ahead, get a little messy—it’s nothing a little Honest bubble bath won’t take care of!

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23 thoughts on “5 Ways to Avoid Risky Artificial Food Dyes

  1. Here in Brazil, from time to time, we eat savory pancakes, lunch or dinner!

    And a friend taught me how to make pancakes colored using organic foods to create the color!

    Eg: for a orange pancake I use carrot !

    My little brother loves!

    Using food as organic dye is an awesome way to encourage children to be healthy!

    In the future when I have kids, I’ll do anything to be healthy, and the tips of Honest will be very useful! =)


    1. Hi Alison. We share your frustration that red dye is used is so many things — and places you’d least expect. Thankfully there are options out there without these additives. On a happier note, congrats on your pregnancy! We know it’s an exciting time.

  2. Nothing at Trader Joes has artificial dyes. It’s the one place I don’t have to label read. Whole Foods carries plant based food coloring that I bought for baking. My son [7] now reads labels and tells me when there is artificial dyes in something :). When he has dyes, he becomes completely unfocussed and hyper.

    1. Kris, thanks for sharing that Trader Joe’s has made a commitment to keep artificial dyes out of their foods. And that’s terrific that your son is part of the grocery shopping and baking process — hopefully we’ll arrive at a point where we won’t have to read labels to check for artificial dyes because there won’t be any anymore!

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