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How to Cut Food Dyes From Your Diet

Common products you may not realize contain artificial dyes and which brands offer dye-free alternatives

It is not healthy when artificial food dyes permeate our diets. At best, food dyes can cause behavioral problems in children. At worst, studies have shown links to cancer. (Read more here about the fight against food dyes.)

We’ve come to expect food dyes in candy and cheese puffs (when your tongue turns blue and your fingertips turn orange), but there may be cause for concern about the dyes in other grocery store staples. Read below for the common products you may not realize contain artificial dyes and which brands offer dye-free alternatives.

Health & Beauty
At first glance, you may think, “I don’t eat lip balm or toothpaste.” But if something is on your skin longer than 26 seconds, it’s already on the way to your blood stream. Would you like a dose of Red No. 40 with that?

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Lip balm Burt’s Bees
Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine
Medicines Look for “dye-free”
Vitamins Olly
Cough drops Burt’s Bees

Canned Food
Yellow No. 5 and No. 6 make cheese-flavored foods look tasty. But there’s a covert operative sneaking onto food labels. Caramel coloring isn’t marketed with a color number combination, so it seems safe – unless you know its chemical name. The state of California listed it on a known carcinogen (cancer causing) list as 4-methylimidazole. But you can call it 4-MEI. Only the manufacturer knows which caramel color formulation is in your food – that one, or a consumer-demanded revised version – so it’s best to avoid altogether.

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Macaroni and cheese Annie’s Homegrown
Canned ravioli and spaghetti Amy’s Kitchen
Hamburger Helper Annie’s Homegrown
Chili Amy’s Kitchen

Dairy
If “colored with carmine” or “color added” appears on your flavored yogurt, rest assured it’s all-natural. But carmine is not vegan! It takes millions of dead bugs to make one pound of carmine coloring. The bright red hue is extracted from beetles – yum! Used safely in foods and cosmetics for years, carmine can cause anaphylactic shock in rare allergic reactions.

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Flavored yogurt Stonyfield Organic
Flavored milk got milk? Magic Straws
Ice cream Ben & Jerry’s

Candy
Food dye and candy are longtime friends. But the amount of food dyes should raise eyebrows. Skittles brand uses nine different chemical colors to achieve the rainbow, and candy and chewing gum can also contain wax. Where there are artificial colors, faux food ingredients often follow.

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Hard candies and jelly beans Shop in bulk at Market Street, Whole Foods or naturalcandystore.com
Chewing gum Glee Gum
Mints Altoids

Baking
Nothing creates special memories in the kitchen quite like baking. And without artificial colors and flavors, you’re more likely to recall them later!

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Flavored cake mixes and frosting Betty Crocker Gluten Free
Pudding and pie filling mixes Nature’s Child
Marshmallows Dandies Vegan Marshmallows (at Whole Foods)
Sprinkles India Tree
Gelatin KNOX Gelatine

Fruit
When you process real food and package it for convenience, color is naturally lost. Not all brands contain food dyes, but the ones that do are committing identity theft. Sorry, Mother Nature!

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Flavored applesauce GoGo squeeZ
Fruit cocktail Look for a Halal or Kosher symbol
Dried fruit and candied fruit Annie’s Homegrown

Snacks
Typically 200 calories or less, snacks should provide our bodies with fuel to keep going.  But be aware that crazy colors and flavors indicate that entertainment is on the menu rather than nutrition. If you’re lucky enough to find a savory snack without food dye, chances are you’re still getting monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer linked to everything from nausea and headaches to overstimulation of the nervous system.

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Crackers Annie’s Homegrown
Cookies Joe-Joe’s Cookies (at Trader Joe’s)
Flavored chips Good & Gather (at Target)
Fruit-flavored snacks and chews Good & Gather (at Target)

Drinks
Our bodies are made of about 70 percent water and we need it for proper function. But sales for bottled water can’t compete with the market share of flavored drinks. Caramel color and food dyes camouflage the naturally unappealing tinge of sodas and protein shakes. For optimal health, don’t drink your calories, and don’t drink your chemicals.

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Flavored tea Sweet Leaf Iced Teas
Flavored water Topo Chico
Sports drinks Powerade ION4
Energy drinks Sync Wellshots (at Whole Foods)
Soda Hansen’s
Fruit drinks Capri Sun

Cereals
The most important meal of the day has become the unhealthiest, too. Mornings are hectic and time is in short supply. If the convenience of processed breakfast foods is a must, go organic. Food is fuel for the machine that is your body. Start the day with a clean engine, not with faux ingredients.

Products that can contain dye Alternatives
Breakfast cereal Kashi, Cascadian Farm Organic
Flavored oatmeal and grits Nature’s Path
Breakfast bars and packaged pastries Kashi

This article was originally published January 2014.


Image: iStock