Artificial Food Dyes: Good or Bad ?


Artificial Food Dyes: Bad or Good?

The connection between color and taste is logical. Even in ancient times, natural ingredients like plants and herbs used to add color to foods to improve their appearance. But can this illusion threaten our health?

Dyes are used in the food industry for many reasons, replacing color loss due to exposure to light, heat, air, temperature, or storage conditions. They also make foods more attractive and desirable for consumers. After the industrial revolutions and effect of the increasing population, the food industry started to use synthetic food colors, also known as artificial food colors, rather than natural coloring. First artificial food dye called “mauve” developed in 1856 from coal tar by Sir Henry William Perkin. Nowadays, food dyes mainly make from petroleum - the same petroleum that we used as fuel in our cars. The most popular dyes are used in the United States are yellow5, red 40, yellow 6, and blue 2. Especially red 40, yellow 5, and yellow 6 make up 90% of all dye used in the US.

Nevertheless, the safety of these dyes very controversial. Regulatory agencies, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Safety Authority (EFSA) settled that artificial food dyes do not show significant health risks. But not everyone agrees with that settlement.  Over the past few decades, some researches show that these dyes have may long-term health problems. In 1973 a pediatric allergist claimed that artificial food dyes could cause hyperactivity and learning problems in children. He also suggested an elimination diet program for treatment that eliminates all foods containing artificial dyes. Also, Researchers at Southampton University found that consuming certain artificial dyes with sodium benzoate increased hyperactivity in kids age 3-9. Despite these studies, and many others, both the FDA and the EFSA have no shown no conclusive evidence to connect the dyes to either ADHD or learning problems in children. However, interestingly, in 2009, Great Britain asked its food companies to stop using artificial dyes. As of 2010, they made the warning labels required for every food that contains artificial dyes.

Another suspicious health risk is cancer. An animal study about Blue 2 found a statistically significant increment in brain tumors than the control group. But researchers also said that there was not enough data to state Blue 2 causes brain tumors. Red 3, also known as Erythrosine, is the most questionable dye. Male rats that Red 3 tested on had an increased risk of thyroid tumors. Based on this study, the FDA announced a partial ban on Red 3 in 1990 but later removed it. They decided there is no direct relation between Erythrosine and thyroid tumors. In the US, Red 3 has been mostly replaced by Red 40, but it is still used in some products.

Additionally, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40 may contain contaminants known as cancer-causing substances like Benzidine and 4-Aminoazobenzene. Nevertheless, these contaminants are allowed in the dyes because they are present low levels, that are presumed to be safe. Besides these risks, like every food and food additive, they can cause critical allergic reactions in every age group. Especially Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6.


To sum up, artificial food dyes are likely not dangerous for most people, but they also have no nutritional benefit. Therefore, avoiding processed foods that contain artificial food dyes can improve your overall health.


CONTENT: Seyda Nur Açıkgöz




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