Dye-free living, Health & Wellness

The Truth about Food Coloring

I’ve shared our journey to living a life free of synthetic food dyes, but I realize that, apart from my son with the allergy, it can be unclear why these products are bad and should really be eliminated from our diets – and lives – entirely. There are a multitude of resources out there regarding this topic, so I’ll give you a break down and then some links so you can dig deeper if you so desire.

The Basics
Synthetic Food Colors are found in just about everything. I talked about it here, but it is in many many things. Add to that the general lack of knowledge of how awful it is, and you’ll find that it’s in ‘natural‘ products, as well. It is completely chemical, made in a lab from petroleum derivatives, and several variations of it have been pulled in the last few decades because they were proven to be carcinogenic or otherwise toxic. Very little testing was done before these lovely things were approved to be put into our food, so many of the side effects weren’t discovered until much later.

The Truth about Food Coloring | LearningtoLiveIt.com
It’s anything but harmless, trust me.

The Risks
As you’ll read in the links below, the UK and several other countries have decided that the benefit of these products (they’re pretty), does not outweigh the many risks of using and consuming them. A European study showed that synthetic colors (specifically Red 40 and Yellow 5 – the two we use the most in the U.S.) caused severe hyperactivity in children. In a double-blind test, the children who were taken off of food dyes showed improved behaviour during the elimination period, and a drastic change once dyes were re-introduced. (I personally attribute the fact that my son skipped the ‘terrible twos’ entirely to artificial food coloring having been out of our diet for the better part of a year.) It’s been shown in other studies that these synthetic dyes cause allergic reactions, and proven in yet more studies to be cancer-causing, neurotoxic, and even to cause chromosomal damage! It’s my personal belief that the increase in the use of artificial dyes (we use 5x the chemical dyes today that we did 50-60 years ago) contributes to a large number of medical, behavioural, and societal issues we face today that were almost non-existent in previous generations.

Sounds delicious, right?

The Proof
If you like reading super technical stuff, here is a copy of the actual study done in the UK that initiated their banning/increased labeling standards of synthetic dyes, and here’s a breakdown of what it says.

You can also find some more fun food coloring reading at family gone healthykitchen stewardship, red40.com, and a wonderfully enlightening read by Robyn O’Brien at AllergyKids. If you’re a fan of infographics, I’m particularly fond of this one.

And last but not least, here are some sources for natural food dyes:
DIY: here or here
Buy It: here or here

The process of eliminating synthetic dyes from our diets has been a fairly arduous one, but I’ve found it to be worth it. If you or your children are suffering from ADD/ADHD, Migraine headaches, Eczema, food allergies, etc., I would encourage you to look at the ingredients in your food and consider that there could be a correlation.

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!

Dye-free living

“Food” allergy update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my son’s odd food-coloring allergy, so I thought I would do that.

After months and months of prayer (and oh so many break outs), we had a breakthrough in the area of healing. Our little Bear is no longer allergic to Annatto. He can have regular cheeses, and I no longer have to make enchiladas with mozzarella. (Hallelujah, seriously.) This was probably the single most exciting thing that happened to me all year. Okay, top 5. My son could now eat anything that said “all-natural” without having to scour the ingredients or wonder which “color” had been “added.”

Small update, but a huge difference! This was SUCH a load off of our family’s hearts. He still has a severe allergy to all of the numbered (synthetic) food dyes, but those are so very much easier to track down. And my recipes can go back to normal. That just makes a mommy’s life so much easier!

Dye-free living

Our Journey to a Dye-Free Life

Dye Free Journey

My oldest son has suffered from ‘allergies’ for as long as I can remember. The typical runny nose, cough, ear infection cycle pretty much defined my son’s first year. At some point, though, his skin got involved. Shortly after his first birthday, we noticed he had eczema that was pretty severe. Some days were worse than others, and it had been suggested that he had an allergy. We tried just about everything on the market, (including Benadryl – if it was an allergy, surely that would help, right?) and we couldn’t get consistent results at all. My husband decided our best bet was prayer, so we took our son to the Healing Rooms, a ministry at our church for physical healing. We didn’t see a whole lot of immediate improvement, but we knew God didn’t want our son to suffer.

A short time later, Nana had a birthday. I had whipped up a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and bright pink letters. After cake that night, my sweet baby boy was on fire. That night, I began to consider that he didn’t have simple eczema, but a pretty severe allergy to something that was causing his skin to have what looked like 2nd degree burns all over his body. That night, I began searching for answers and, for the first time, hoping that there really was a solution.

I had come across a blog post on Pinterest about a week earlier where a mom was detailing her childrens’ negative reactions to food-coloring. I honestly thought it was a little ridiculous… until the night of Nana’s birthday party. And as soon as I verbalized it, I’m sure my in-laws thought I was being ridiculous, too.

We talked to the doctor and there didn’t seem to be any sort of allergy-testing available for one so little, so we went the trial-and-error route. He broke out when I made chili, so I scoured the ingredients of the chili powder, the ground beef, everything. Same thing when we had pizza one night. For about a week we decided he was allergic to the color red. It was a long-shot but it was all we had to go on. When Mimi’s birthday rolled around, we made a cake with green and blue sprinkles and no red. The result? A less-severe, still very itchy baby bear.
We experimented with eliminating food-coloring at this point, figuring it couldn’t hurt. He would still react on occasion when he had certain cheeses. Refusing to believe it could be a cheese allergy, we searched the cheese ingredients and found that they typically color yellow cheeses. WHAT? Yes, folks. Cheese is not yellow. It is, in fact, white. Even cheddar. The coloring they use isn’t unnatural – it’s called annatto, and it’s a tropical fruit that we don’t eat (at least not in the U.S.), but we commonly use it to color our foods. But it’s also a pretty common allergen (at least one the UK acknowledges.) And my sweet son is among those allergic.
We’ve since had an allergy test performed and they didn’t test for the food coloring allergy (helpful, right?), but we also found out that we’re dealing with a mold allergy. So canned fruit and raw mushrooms are also a no-no.

My son’s reaction isn’t the one you read about most of the time. If you search the internet for “food coloring allergies,” you’ll find articles about families whose children have moderate to severe behavioural issues when they consume food-coloring, and some FDA reports stating that the majority of foods with food dyes in them are sweets that would cause that sort of behaviour (which is not true, by the way.) For my son, there’s nothing subjective about it. A sip of red soda and he looks like he just came from the burn unit. A bite of a regular pickle, and he gets the most horrendous migraine, complete with extreme sound and light sensitivity (and, since he’s two and has no idea how to handle a migraine, it means a LOT of screaming). And try as we might to avoid these allergens, they are absolutely everywhere. The dentist’s office? That polish is full of Red 40. Your hair dye? Lipstick? Markers? What about that bright blue naproxen pill? (Oh yeah, that’s why the Benadryl never worked — kids’ medicines are FULL of food dyes.)

When I discovered the reason my son was suffering, I was astonished. Red 40 was causing rashes, eczema and hives, Yellow 5 was causing migraines (in a 2 year old – can you imagine?), and now a sliver of either could very easily land him in the hospital with respiratory failure. I couldn’t be more grateful that I discovered the correlation when I did.

So why am I writing all of this? For you. I’ve talked to many many moms that have children with uncontrolled eczema, or even uncontrollable behaviour, and I can’t help but share our story of healing. We’re thankful that God gave us healing in the form of wisdom for this season. And I’m personally thankful that I’m now aware of how many chemicals we’re being fed regularly. (Gross, right?) And I’m still praying that God will give us a complete healing in time. But if you or your child are experiencing anything that you refuse to believe is normal, I want you to know that it’s possible that you’re absolutely right. It might be something crazy, but you might be able to help it.

Are you as surprised as I was to learn that synthetic food dyes are harmful – even toxic – ingredients? If you want to eliminate artificial food coloring from your family’s diet, check out my tips here