What’s inside this article: A look into current research on artificial food colors and how they affect children’s behavior, including a list of popular (and some surprising) foods containing red dye-40.
Currently, research is raising more and more concerns regarding red dye 40 and other artificial food colors.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) believes that current scientific research is “too substantial to dismiss” but more research into red dye 40 needs to be conducted to fully understand its effects.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
This post contains:
- What we currently know about red dye 40 and other artificial food colors
- How it affects children’s behavior, particularly those with an ADHD diagnosis
- Which popular foods contain red dye 40.
- Which foods are safe to eat
What is Red Dye 40?
Red dye 40 is a chemical compound that comes from coal tars.
It’s a reddish-orange color. So, it’s found in many red foods. However, it’s also known to turn up in less surprising places. For example, chocolate pudding.
Coal tar is a thick dark liquid by-product of burning coal (like during the production of petroleum products)
Dyes made from coal tars are created by mixing various fragrant smelling hydrocarbons like benzyne and toluene.
Benezynes are sweet-smelling chemicals derived from natural gases and crude oil.
Toluene is a solvent used in paints, lacquers, thinners, glues, correction fluid, and nail polish remover.
What Do We Know About Red Dye 40?
Doctors have theorized since the 1920s that red dye and other artificial food colors could affect child behavior. But no real research was conducted until pediatric allergist, Dr. Benjamin Feingold, presented the findings from his patients in 1973.
Since 1965, he’d been having his patients with ADHD follow a special diet that contained no artificial food colors.
At the time, he claimed that 60-70% of his patients no longer met the diagnostic threshold for ADHD once they changed their diet.
However, it’s not an allergic reaction.
Research shows that consuming red dye 40 affects the metabolism of other nutrients and affects brain functioning without crossing the blood-brain barrier.
Also, Red 40 contains p-Cresidine, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says is “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen.
Artificial Food Colors Don’t Cause ADHD
It’s believed that red dye and other artificial food colors cause pediatric hyperactivity and learning issues.
They don’t cause ADHD.
However, in many cases, children sensitive to food dyes may have enough symptoms that they’re pushed over the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
But, with a change in diet those symptoms subside to a more manageable level. In other words, the dyes are exasperating the symptoms of ADHD.
Consumption of red dye 40 has quadrupled in the last 50 years.
Popular Kids’ Foods with Red Dye 40
Unfortunately, this is a pretty popular food additive in kids’ food. If your child is a picky eater they might currently be consuming quite a bit of this harmful dye.
I’ve been checking food labels since learning about the effects of artificial colors.
Here are some of the foods I’ve found that contain red dye 40.
- Captain Crunch
- Fruity Pebbles
- Lucky Charms
- Toaster Strudels
- Reese’s Pieces
- Strawberry Twizzlers
- Chocolate Pudding
- Fruit Rollups
- Motts Applesauce
- Crush Orange
- Some pickles
- Some BBQ sauces and other condiments
What to look for on your food labels:
Red dye 40 has a few different aliases, so check your food labels. If you see any of the following in the ingredient list, the product contains red dye 40.
- Red 40
- Red No. 40
- FD & C Red No. 40
- FD and C Red No. 40
- Allura Red
- Allura Red AC
- C. I. 16035
- C.I. Food Red 17
Are you Canadian?
Fortunately, in the United States, companies are required under the FDA to label dyes used under the list of ingredients.
However, regulations are a little more relaxed in Canada. In Canada, they simply need to report “colours”. So, if you’re in Canada you should check your labels and avoid anything containing artificial colors.
So what’s safe to eat? When grocery shopping – look for foods that are marked “no artificial flavors or colors”, or “Organic”.
Some safe foods:
- Bear Paws
- Annies Bunny Fruit Snacks
- Annies Cheddar Bunnies
- All whole foods – i.e fruits, vegetables
- Anything labeled organic
Popular Organic Food Brands
- Kashi – They carry a huge variety of bars, cereals, waffles, and more
- Nature’s Path – A Canadian, family-run company. They have many bars, cereals, oatmeals, and cookies. They also have an “Envirokidz” line of products made specifically for children.
- Love Grown – Love Grown has some fun fruity cereals and chocolatey cereals for kids that are completely organic and safe to eat.
- Made Good – Gluten-free, organic oat snacks.
- Kind – Protein bars, chewy kids bars, whole-fruit snacks, and more
- Larabar – Fruits and greens, chocolates, brownies, cereal bars – they have tons of flavor choices
- Simply – A new line of products from Fritos Lays that offers organic versions of their popular products like Doritos, Cheetos, potato chips, etc.
Hopefully, this list offers a viable alternative for some of your children’s favorite snacks. I know how hard it can be to find foods your child will eat if they’re picky or have sensory issues.
Have you tried this diet?
If you’ve eliminated artificial food colors or solely red dye 40 from your family’s diet, I would love to hear from you.
Share your experience and favorite products in the comments. It will be super helpful for other parents looking for more information.