Bye Bye Dye! Healthier alternatives to artificial food coloring

by on May 4, 2012 · 41 comments                       

No artificial colors

Color Me Happy!

My almost 5 year old, Taia, has a pretty hard core intolerance to food coloring. If you would’ve told me a year ago that I’d be writing about food dye sensitivity here on Kelly Lester’s blog, I would have laughed in your face! Wow! Taia has always been a bundle of energy. We always just assumed that it was inherited (I’m more than a tad energetic myself). Until I discovered RedDyeFree. Even after I found out and researched the effects food coloring has on some children, it took me SIX months to attempt removing them from Taia’s diet! SIX MONTHS!

I guess I should give you a little back story. Taia is the sweetest, most thoughtful girl in the world. But sometimes a “switch” somewhere in her flips and she throws these horrible tantrums. Tantrums in which she will throw things, yell things that she doesn’t even understand the meaning of (often it’s not even English.) After only 3 weeks without food coloring, the tantrums magically stopped. As a test, we gave her a Dum Dums lollipop. One tiny little Dum Dums lollipop.  And guess who was up all night whining, crying and yelling? You guessed it. That was the day that we decided to take away dye for good.

Taia has been a completely different child since we took away food coloring. She is still extremely loud, fun and energetic just like her momma. But she sleeps now and doesn’t throw those horribly scary tantrums!

We’ve had a few incidents where she got a little out of control, and with a little research we found out that someone had given her food coloring by mistake. They are honest mistakes though. Who would ever think that marshmallows have Blue #1 or most popcorn with butter has yellow #5? And frankly, a lot of people don’t take it seriously. Who would believe that FOOD COLORING can cause a sweet, angelic little girl to lose her mind? I didn’t believe it until I saw it. Most of our friends and family were leery until they witnessed the results themselves.

We’ve been saved by Trader Joe’s and other natural food markets. In lieu of the treats the other kids get at school for good behavior, etc, Taia gets one of all natural treats and doesn’t feel left out. Thanks to the plant-based colors, her snacks and candies are just as bright and delicious as the dye-full varieties! She doesn’t even miss food dyes anymore. She knows she can’t have them and accepts it. She thinks she’s the cool kid at school because she gets special treats or stickers instead of a few M&M’s. I still manage to make her super cute bento lunches with natural coloring, using our EasyLunchboxes, of course! We were still able to dye Easter eggs this year, thanks to Chocolate Craft Studio.

More and more research is being done on the subject. This CBS article is one of the more recent. More dye free resources can be found on my post here. I’ve read about children who have been able to stop taking their ADHD medications just by removing food dyes from their diets! It seems like a daunting task at first, but gets easier very quickly. I can now glance at a label and recognize the dyes in an instant. Here’s a handy list of colorful foods to watch out for.
I’m certainly not saying that EVERY child needs to go dye-free. That depends on the child and parents. We are ALL different. But if you think it may be beneficial to your family, it is certainly worth a 3 week trial!

UPDATE 8/14: An excellent article from Kid Kritics Approved.
Click the pic for more:

Pumpkin latte wake up call. Stop giving us artificial colors!

Are you or your child sensitive to artificial colors? Share your experiences in a comment below.

I’m Lori Jewett and I attempt to blog about Taia’s dye free bento lunches over at Pink ‘N Punchy Lunches.  I am the mother of the aforementioned almost 5 year old ball of energy, 2 fur babies, a blue beta named Nemo and I’m married to the man responsible for spoiling us all rotten! In between it all I work full time, create the school yearbook, and am next year’s PTA secretary, among all the other odd jobs I pick up. I wouldn’t have it any other way! I’m proud to be able to share a couple of my dye-free lunchbox meals  in Kelly’s upcoming cookbook: Cooking with Trader Joes – Easy Lunchboxes.

  Buy EasyLunchboxes on Amazon and get FREE shipping!  
  Sign up for my newsletter
1 Jessy at Our Side of the Mountain May 4, 2012 at 8:28 am

Thanks for your post! (And I’ll be heading over to your blog soon!) My 7-year-old son has Sensory Processing Disorder, and I have read that these kiddos can be sensitive to food dyes and artificial sweeteners and preservatives. We have been slowly removing some of this from our diet for a healthier diet in general. He has been doing better with his “meltdowns” and ability to deal with sensory stimuli, but continues to have a few of “those days”. Perhaps removing MORE of the artificials would help!

2 Kelly Lester May 4, 2012 at 9:23 am

That’s so great to hear Jessy. I always think that diet should be the first thing really examined when a child is having issues. So much safer than many alternative treatments… I hope he continues to make progress! Thanks for sharing :)

3 jennifer ricker May 4, 2012 at 10:05 am

Thank you for that fun post! I’ve thought about trying to cut out dye – but you’ve shown me how easy it can be to turn it in to a lifestyle change for the whole family…with amazing results!

4 Lori Jewett May 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Jessy- It seems daunting at first but it gets easier!! We’re slowly cutting more and more artificial stuff out! Right after this posted, I was at the school and ran into a special resources teacher who was upset with a parent of a child with ADHD. She was in the hallway ranting because “If the kid needs medication, why can’t we give them the medication! She would give them diabetes meds if they needed that!” I kept my mouth shut, but this child eats food dyes. Personally, I think that would be a great place to start before medicating them! The day I met the child, I thought they could benefit from diet changes. The parent and I have had discussions about Taia’s diet but never her child’s. Obviously it isn’t my business but I was hoping that talking to me would encourage her to give it a try!

Jennifer- you can do it! I will help!

5 Susan of Litttle Ladies Who Lunch May 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Although it’s difficult to navigate around the food dye at times (especially for school-age kids), I consider it to be a huge blessing in disguise. The sort of popcorn that would contain food dye, for instance, isn’t the type you’d want to feed your kids anyway, regardless of whether or not they exhibit a sensitivity to dyes. Air-popped popcorn is the way to go, and honestly – it’s really just as simple as the microwaveable variety that comes with so many health hazards attached to it. I’m with you 100% and avoid dyes at all cost (even on Halloween, birthdays, all other holidays — I’ve figured out creative & yummy ways around it). I think overall though, we as parents should pay more attention to the amount of processed snacks our kids are eating in general, whether they contain food dye or “natural” dyes.

6 Kelly Lester May 5, 2012 at 4:51 am

Indeed Susan! I have a microwave air-popper for Popcorn that I purchased on Amazon
( a few years ago that I couldn’t be happier with. We use it several times a week. Easy, fast, and no additives!

7 Lori Jewett May 5, 2012 at 6:18 am

And now I’m shopping for an air popper! Taia eats popcorn like it’s going out of style! I may go get one at Kohl’s today! :) I really didn’t know that it was that easy!!
Lori Jewett is the cool author of..Will I ever get caught up?My Profile

8 Holly May 18, 2012 at 10:19 am

I have an air popper and love it! I try not to microwave too much! The microwave is really bad, specially if you are microwaving in anything ( I mean anything, even it is it “ok” to microwave in) in plasic! I make air-popped popcorn for a lot! It is such a healthy treat, you can use olive oil, or grapeseed oil, and a little sea salt. Yummy! But to tell you the truth, I love it with butter! LOL

9 Rebecca May 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

Thanks for sharing your story. It’s still amazing how many of us parents don’t know that food coloring is made from petroleum and how bad they are for human consumption. I blog about our own experience with severe reactions to food coloring, and collect guest bloggers’ stories, to spread awareness at My DFD Facebook page is a great place to get support and to ask questions of our growing dye-free community.
Rebecca is the cool author of..Hindsight, Regret & This Dye-Free Parent’s Learning CurveMy Profile

10 Kelly Lester May 5, 2012 at 11:54 am

Your blog is fantastic Rebecca!! I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from my fans and our community here via Last night I was cleaning out our overstuffed spice cabinet, and on the top shelf with all the baking supplies (not much of a baker these days, so I rarely get up there (ug, how old is that brown sugar?!) I found a little box of those squirty artificial food coloring bottles with the pointed caps. You know the ones. And yep, they got tossed. I’ll have a little more room for another bag of sugar now!

11 Lori Jewett May 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Rebecca! I love your blog! I’ve actually posted links to it on my blogs FB page!

LOL Kelly!!
Lori Jewett is the cool author of..Will I ever get caught up?My Profile

12 Lori Jewett May 5, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I use the dye we can’t use to make colored fun ice cubes for baths and stuff like that!

13 Nathalie Hardy June 6, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Me too! My boys love heart-shaped cubes of color tossed in the tub :) Also to tint shaving cream into paint … just not for human consumption.
Nathalie Hardy is the cool author of..So its not millions, but stillMy Profile

14 Jen May 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm

You aren’t alone. We’ve been avoiding dyes for a long, long time but we also eliminate the artificial flavorings, BHA, BHT, TBHQ and aspartame which are just as bad. If you start listing resources on your blog, be sure to include the Feingold Association at the top! It was started by parents just like you back in 1976. The website is full of good info:

Here’s a links to a freebie it sends out each month: Lots of great ideas for our kids.

15 Kelly Lester May 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Thanks Jen! Great resource. I appreciate you posting here :)

16 Ludicrous Mama May 6, 2012 at 12:06 am

I am going to try going dye-free. It’s gonna be hard. Every time I turn around I see some STAPLE in her life that is chock full of dye! And my husband thinks it’s a waste of time. UNLESS it affects her behavior. And then “we’ll see.” I started this week and her weird screaming fits (she just screams “No!” no matter what you ask her) have drastically reduced.
I started this week, but just when I’m feeding her. We went from 1-2 a day last week to only 2 this week! And one was on the day she got a GoGurt at school for snack, the other when Hubby gave her yellow popcorn at the movie theater. I’m hoping it will help her night terrors too. I’ve read a few parents who’ve said it helps. Since Hubby deals with those now that I have Baby, I don’t know if they’ve gotten better or not. Baby’s a great sleeper, so I sleep right through! Teehee!
Ludicrous Mama is the cool author of..May the Fourth Be With You – Star Wars Bento Blog HopMy Profile

17 Nathalie Hardy June 6, 2012 at 9:21 pm

It did help with my son’s night terrors. As in … they stopped. At about three he started to understand that red dye didn’t make him feel good and we worked on helping him identify how to protect his body from things that weren’t good for him. So now he’s actually really good at monitoring himself when friends offer things he can’t have … our approach wasn’t about what he can’t have but rather that “we fuel our bodies with food that tastes good and makes us feel good.” We happen to be into the whole God thing so we also talk about “God’s” red versus “fake” red so he knows he can have strawberries and tomatoes since God made them … for some reasons language and explanations have helped him take ownership of it. Good luck! I know it can be hard to convince someone of things like this. btw -love that you are sleeping :)
Nathalie Hardy is the cool author of..So its not millions, but stillMy Profile

18 Jen May 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Don’t put dyes in the bathtub! The dyes are absorbed through the skin.

19 Nathalie Hardy June 6, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Awesome. And here I thought I was being a cool mom … duh! Largest organ in the body … glad you mentioned that.
Nathalie Hardy is the cool author of..So its not millions, but stillMy Profile

20 Lori Jewett May 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm

YIKES!! Good thing we’ve been out for a while, I guess! I won’t buy it out of sheer principle! :)

21 Jen May 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Here’s another good resource. You can read what other moms are saying:

Did you watch The Doctors today?!

22 Giselle May 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm

This is really a great idea and for sure a lot of people would be interested with this.. Anyway, thank you for stating some exciting activities here..
Giselle is the cool author of..Natural Gout TreatmentMy Profile

23 George Shorts May 14, 2012 at 11:03 pm

I’m just glad your daughter’s okay when you removed dye from her diet. It must be hard for Taia not to be able to eat M&Ms or chocolates that have artificial colors in them.
George Shorts is the cool author of..the wonder wheelerMy Profile

24 Taylor May 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Yikes! I didn’t know that food dye could have such nasty health effects. I’ve got a sweety pie 5-year old niece who acts like your daughter used to. I’m gonna show my sister this article. Thanks! :)
Taylor is the cool author of..My Beaverton cosmetic dentistMy Profile

25 Nathalie Hardy June 6, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I am teared up reading this! I have so much to say, but want to come back and read this when I’m not so tired. My heart breaks for parents and children who don’t know, understand, or believe this and suffer. Before I pulled red dye from my son’s world – really!?! Nestle Quick chocolate syrup? – he threw epic head-banging, raging and sometimes dangerous tantrums. The labels started early … it was during potty training I discovered the connection. One stupid red M&M and we were done for the day. I wish the FDA had taken this seriously because … well, I could really go off but would be preaching to the choir .. anyway thanks for putting your story and some lovely alternatives out there.
Nathalie Hardy is the cool author of..So its not millions, but stillMy Profile

26 Staci June 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

It is true… son who is 18 and has a seizure disorder has been dye free for a few years now. It has made a huge difference in his behavior. Whenever something is accidentally given to him (like someone else said, dyes are in almost everything- even pickles!) you can tell right away. I try to keep them away from all of my kids because it obviously does something to your brain chemistry to cause behavior changes- some kids just display it differently. My son always asks if things have dye in them before eating them because he knows how it makes him feel. Trader Joes is a great place to find alternative treats!

27 JoAnn December 6, 2012 at 10:04 pm

I am an adult that is greatly affected by food dyes. I don’t have behavior problems but I have always have had sleep issues. In high school I went in to anaflactic shock from what I now beleive was food dye related. They never found a cause (1997). It took me having a major reaction in a hospital for it to me diagnosed. I was on a medication for a uti that had so much dye in it it causes your urine to turn neon orange. It was to much for my body to handle. It looked like I was having a stroke. I was admitted to ICU and the next morning a nurologist came in and figured out what was going on. Luckily it wasn’t a stroke! Thank God!! It is a condition called dystonia. I have had it a couple of times since because a) sometimes I am not aware of what was in the food or b) I stopped caring at the moment because I wanted it (dam you cherry cokes!). It is sometimes hard to find no/natural dyed foods but it is getting easier.

28 Mary Alice December 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I was so surprised to come across this, and quite delighted. I felt like I was the only parent involved in a dye-free diet. My mom put my brother, who had ADHD on it in 1973 when we had Kaiser and our peds was following Dr. Feingold’s research (before his book was released in 1975). I was put on it for asthma and never needed medication or ER visits again. When I had kids, I automatically put them on it. My husband did not really believe it until our then 3 yr old ‘busy’ boy had a sip of his diet Coke and took off like a bat. After that he was a firm believer. It was very difficult to get others on board. They all claimed it was sugar and the dye had nothing to do with it. Yet, I gave birthday parties filled with sugar, but dye free, and had NO problems! I now have a very active grandson that my daughter has put on the diet. She cannot seem to get her in-laws to participate and they think just one red popsicle won’t really matter. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s making so many options available, making the decision to go dye-free easier!

29 Magic and Mayhem December 8, 2012 at 8:42 am

We are dye-free too, and have been for years. We have five kids and my second child reacted to dyes and other triggers (dark chocolate, mold and apples were some that we determined). I cook most of what we eat from scratch at this point since there’s so little real food offered in grocery stores anymore. It tastes much better and saves us a ton of money, too. At this point it comes pretty easily to me, but there are definitely some times in life when it’s hard on families — other kids’ birthday parties, Halloween, parades and family reunions come to mind. Even Santa hands out a bag of day-glo, made-in-China junk candy to kids around here.

Even if my children didn’t react to food coloring (and frankly, I believe most do), I wouldn’t feed it to my kids on a regular basis anyway. It’s chemicals made from petroleum that have proven effects on children’s brains and health. Ugh! And it’s in children’s vitamins, toothpaste, lip balm, macaroni and cheese, even white marshmallows. It’s sad that our country accepts this so blindly, and the first step when children react with understandable behavior problems is to medicate them. And oh yeah, it’s in their medicines too.
Magic and Mayhem is the cool author of..Calculus RhapsodyMy Profile

30 Erica January 12, 2013 at 7:33 pm

You described my son. Not diagnosed ADHD, but suspected SPD with very high energy. For us we had to eliminate all dyes, ALL preservatives (especially BHT, BHA, and benzoates). On these additives he experiences fits of rage and repetitive night terrors. Without them, he is able to manage his sensory needs using a couple special toys that spin. He has no violent outbursts or night terrors. Why are doctors still in denial over this? I come from a research background and I am sad to say that I bet a lab wanting to conduct some really extensive investigations into these topics would have a very hard time securing funding for this type of research.

31 Suzanne February 5, 2013 at 1:11 pm

My Mom started my brother on the no food coloring, artificial flavors natural everything change in his diet in the 70’s when things were not as easy as they are now. He did have ADHD. My dad, nephew , niece and now my own sweet little (terror :) ) angel is on it. It makes a big difference in there life. They can focus and think. I have this book on it that I have lent out to many families living with this, that its falling apart, it has been loved. :) I hope people will share this on Facebook and get it across the world so that more babies like ours can have a happy childhood/ adulthood.

32 Suzanne February 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm

oh and Simple Truth makes die free m&m’s :)

33 Sally February 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm

54 years old and just found out I’m suddenly reacting to artificial dyes. Looking forward to planting my garden this year and decided to add a food color garden. Many flowers are edible; why not use them for natural dyes?! Crystallized flowers with sugar are beautiful cake decorations.

34 Kelly Lester February 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Love that idea Sally!! Flowers as edible art. Why not??

35 Melissa March 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I was just told yesterday, by my son’s neurologist, that he can’t have anything artificial – colors, flavors, nada. No preservatives, MSG, sugar substitutes, sweets, etc. My son just turned 13 and has had a headache since August – kid you not – he’s been in pain everyday all the time. He started puberty and got a sinus infection and pneumonia all in August. We went to an ENT, Allergist and now the neurologist. My son will go on meds for a little bit but the neurologist told me that if I don’t get rid of all the artificial crud in his diet nothing will help him. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My biggest question was – what’s he going to eat for lunch?????? No lunch meat, no goldfish, no cookies, no drinks -what am I going to do?? Thank you for this article – I feel a little less frantic and overwhelmed. I looked up Trader Joe’s website and I am impressed at what I found!!!!!

36 Cellphone Scratch Protection March 21, 2013 at 4:08 am

I read your post on a regular basis. Your posting style is witty, keep up the good work!

37 Jane Hersey March 30, 2013 at 6:07 am

Melissa — My husband’s horrible migraines are the reason we cut out the dyes and other synthetic crud from our food. This was in 1975 and he hasn’t had a migraine since! So, be assured that there is an endless supply of food that your whole family will enjoy. To make it easier for people to locate the good food, parents established the Feingold Association in 1976. We publish books listing tens of thousands of acceptable brand name foods. Check out

38 heather boudreaux June 12, 2013 at 5:08 am

SOOO grateful when I see others who have come to same conclusion! Dyes are bad, bad, bad and have no nutritional value, so why even put them in our kids foods? To look pretty. Really? :(
heather boudreaux is the cool author of..Confessions of a cupcake queenMy Profile

39 Brittanie Stewart July 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Thank you for posting this!! We have cut out red dye for about a year for my 5 year old daughter. We could pinpoint when she had red dye at preschool. She would become very aggressive and impulsive. But with me furthering research, I think we will cut out all dyes because not only the health risks but also she is starting to have side effects. She is typically a very sweet living girl but lately she has not been herself. Wonder if since she isn’t getting the red dye, if the other colors are effecting her in some way?

40 Katy October 29, 2013 at 7:52 pm

My 4 yro can also be very sweet, but at times he has extreme temper tantrums. Also, he is wild and careless at times. He will punch or headbutt an adult in the stomach out of the blue, or during rest time at school, he gets restless and finds it funny to roll over & let his arm hit the child next to him. He will hit, kick, scratch, or bite his teachers when they tell him or try to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do. (i.e. he was told to come in from recess outside, & he wouldn’t. Then teacher took his hand and led him to the classroom. On the way he turned & kicked teacher.)

I wanted to try to alter his diet to curb the bad behaviors, but lots of things seem to have either food coloring, high sodium content (I am trying to cut reduce sodium for weight loss), or could not be easily made on work nights (I get home at 6-630 pm). Does anybody have suggestions for meals, or meal ideas? If necessary, I can fix a salad for myself. My son will eat it salad, & most any food, but my husband eats like the typical 4yr old. Lol

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: