Food Dye Allergies and Behavior

Food Dye Allergies and Behavior

There are many ingredients in our food that we oftentimes don’t know about -- and they can cause dramatic side effects.  Food dyes are regularly added to food products, and while they might make food look good, they might cause negative reactions in our bodies.

Some parents of special needs children, particularly those with ADHD or autism, have noted that Red 40, one of the most common and approved food dyes, causes intense behavioral changes in their children.  Some parents have reported after their children consume Red 40, they throw loud and violent tantrums or exhibited aggressive behavior.  The dye has also been shown to cause allergic-like reactions or hyperactivity.

Children with ADHD show tremendous improvement in their attention and behavior when given a diet free of Red 40.  While Red 40 is used in a great number of foods, reading every label will ensure you are not consuming the dye.  Even if the label does not list each specific dye, the phrase “artificial colors” might indicate the use of a dye.  Also with the “natural foods” craze, many food companies are using natural dyes such as beta-carotene, paprika, turmeric, and beet juice.

The FDA regulates the use of dyes, and only FDA-approved dyes within legal limits are allowed.  However, Red 40 is one of the dyes that is approved by the FDA.  Food coloring is available for use in food as “dyes” and “lakes.”  Dyes dissolve in water while lakes are the insoluble form of dyes.  Dyes are more commonly used in beverages, dry mixes, and baked goods, while lakes are used for pill coatings, hard candy, and chewing gum.

There are no specific allergy tests for food dyes, and it is often not even considered a true allergy, but rather it is a food intolerance or non-IgE reaction (allergic reaction). 

Many over-the-counter medications have dye-free formulas, and choosing “all natural” (but be sure to read the label anyway!) foods will help you rid your child’s diet of food dyes.  The FDA states that there is not sufficient scientific evidence for a causal link between food dyes and hyperactivity, even though UK studies in 2007 and 2010 suggested a link between the two, even for children without a hyperactivity disorder.  Even with the lack of scientific evidence, trying a food dye-free diet might be worth a try.

To view more information regarding food dyes and potential links to behavior problems, visit the Center for Science in the Public Interest,, and the FDA.

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Written by: Candice Evans See other articles by Candice Evans
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