Dye-free living

Tips for Avoiding Food Coloring


I have posted before about my son’s food coloring allergy, but I wanted to be able to go into some more detail on the different everyday items that contain food coloring. Some of these you will have guessed, some you might not have. The reason I think this is so important is that the FDA seems to refuse to acknowledge that food coloring is as prominent in our food (and non-food) supply as it really is. I read one article citing that the FDA associated the hyperactivity in children with the “sugary, sweet foods” that contain the dyes. Having dealt with a severe allergy (how I wish it were simple hyperactivity) to chemical food dyes, I have to say that is completely ignorant. It is in so much more than cookies, cakes and candy. So, for the curious, here is a list of the many foods you will need to label-check if you are trying to avoid food dyes:

Sweets | I’ll go into more detail here, because you might be surprised at some of it!


The Bad
Even the prepackaged, only chocolate and white cakes. And Twinkies. And the boxed chocolate cake mixes. And, while we’re at it, the icing. Yes, white, too.

The Good
Homemade cakes and icing really aren’t that hard, and it’s pretty easy to make them cute without using food dyes. And it’s typically significantly cheaper than buying a box. And as much as you love them, you know you don’t need those Twinkies.


The Bad
You’ve already guessed that your favorite M&M cookies are full of food dyes, but so are the Snickerdoodles at your favorite cookie shop, and the chocolate chocolate chip cookies in the package at the store, and the ones rolled up in the little package.

The Good
Again, homemade cookies are way better and cheaper, but if you really need some dye-free store bought stuff, it is out there. Immaculate is a fantastic brand, and even some varieties of Pillsbury doughs are free of dyes.


The Bad
Again, you know a lot of candy has food coloring in it. Pretty much any colored candy you pick up at the grocery store, with the exception of a few, has food coloring in it. What you may not know is that Sugar Babies have food coloring in them, as well. As do those white “candy sticks” (candy cigarettes, if you’re from my generation).
The Good
Thankfully, this is one area where marketers have taken notice of the natural trend and there are some brands out there that are just fabulous. One is UNREAL. Their candy is completely natural, and they have some candy-coated chocolates and candy-coated peanuts that are just delicious. For all other ‘colored’ candies, our family has been blessed to have an aunt in the UK (where food dyes are banned) who sends us candy a couple times a year. Trader Joe’s also has a pretty great candy collection.


Another notable sweet with unexpected food coloring is marshmallows. Apparently blue makes things appear whiter. But most store brand marshmallows steer clear of this rather unnecessary added ingredient.

Store bought pumpkin pies sometimes have food coloring. Pumpkin is plenty orange on its own, but last year my dad picked up a cheap pie and it was full of the junk. But don’t bother buying pies. Make your own. It’s so much yummier.


Cooking & Baking

– Beef Boullion

– Seasoned Salt

– Bacon Salt (they have switched to an ‘all natural’ formula, but if you bought your bacon salt a while back, you might check it out)

– Croissant rolls — basically any of the ones you find in a tube, with the exception of the Immaculate brand.

Salty Foods

– Pickles

– Dean’s French Onion Dip

– Cheetos, Doritos, most of the flavored Ruffles

– Certain flavors of Cheez-Its

Breakfast Foods

– Cinnamon Rolls in a tube (all non-natural brands)

– Eggo Waffles (store brand waffles do not typically have dyes)

– Most breakfast cereals (even if they don’t appear to be colored. Life, for example.)

Non-Food Items | We have found food coloring in many household items and play items that we surely didn’t expect to have to battle with. If you haven’t already switched to all-natural household items, you might check the labels on the following, as well… though, note that many of the following items are generally considered non-consumable and may not have all or any ingredients listed:

– Dish Soap (dishwasher, too)

– Laundry Soap & Fabric Softener

– Hand Soap (even if it is clear soap!)

– Hand Sanitizer

– Shampoo & Conditioner

– Body Wash

– Bubble Bath

– Medicine (syrups AND pills, prescription AND OTC)

– Playdoh (all brands, sadly)

– Face Paint

– Markers (discovered this after he colored all over himself)

– Make Up (lipstick, eye shadow, etc.)

– Hair gels

– Hair dyes

– Perfumes/Colognes/Body Sprays

These days, my family pretty much looks at all labels for anything we buy. We haven’t gotten to the point of cutting everything chemical out of our lives (and if you have – kudos!), but we steer clear of these ones for sure. For my son, and for the rest of our family, too. Chemical dyes have been shown to be neurotoxins, and I can’t think of a single reason I would want those near my family.

The Good News

The good news is, there are a lot of foods and items out there that aren’t full of chemical dyes. I think this will become more and more true as our culture becomes more aware of the amount of chemicals used in our foods, and therefore become more naturally-minded. If you’re looking for better food options, Target sells a lot of natural brands, and if you have one near you, Trader Joe’s actually has a pledge to not sell foods with artificial coloring in them. And they even have red velvet cake. (I think Whole Foods may have this pledge as well.)

What do you think about chemical dyes in our foods and household items? Will you consider making changes to your family’s purchasing habits? Do you know of foods I missed, or stores that are good resources for naturally-colored foods? Please share below!


1 thought on “Tips for Avoiding Food Coloring”

  1. Check out feingold.org. They publish list of foods and non-foods by brand name which meet their requirements for an ADHD diet. They do not permit synthetic dyes. It’s been very helpful for my family, not for hyperactivity, but for a bunch of other symptoms.

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