Monday, January 11, 2010

What's the Deal with Red Dye #40?

Those of you close to our family already know I don't allow Andy to have anything containing Red Dye #40. I had someone ask me recently why I had restricted it, so I figured it was a good time to talk about it on my blog.

Red Dye #40 is an FDA approved dye used to color foods and food products. It is derived from petroleum and provides no nutritional value to the foods that contain it. It is strictly there to change the appearance of a food. Unfortunately, it is not only used to make foods red. It is sometimes used to make orange foods, purple foods, brown foods, etc. It is even sometimes used in combination with yellow dye to make baked products more golden.

You would be shocked to discover how many foods actually contain this dye. Some of the foods aren't even red!! A few of the strange ones I've discovered are canned biscuits, crescent rolls, white cake mixes, Eggo Waffles, and even some brands of tortilla chips! I have to read the ingredients label on every single item I buy at the grocery store to make sure I don't accidentally purchase something that contains red40. There are many cereals that also contain red40. It is even in some medications...antibiotics, vitamins, tylenol, advil, etc!

So why is red40 bad? In 1970, Dr. Ben Feingold (an allergist) discovered the link between red40 and behavior problems. Red40 can cause aggression, impulsivity, hyperactivity, attention deficit, and tantrums in some children and adults. This is not an allergy per se, but more of a sensitivity to the dyes.

The problem is so widespread, and the research so damning, that the UK has begun a push to remove red40 from its foods. Several foods in the UK use natural dyes, such as those from plants and vegetables, while those same foods in the US are made with artificial dyes. For example, McDonald's has removed red40 from their strawberry shakes in the UK, but continues to use red40 in the US version.

The US has not taken a stance against these harmful dyes, and the FDA does not test the dyes for safety. The FDA does now require that foods containing artificial dyes list those dyes on the ingredients label, but the FDA states that they feel the dyes are safe for consumption.

I just wonder why, if there are natural options available, do manufacturers continue to use these potentially harmful artificial dyes in their foods?

We decided to put Andy on a red dye restriction after I repeatedly came across red dye warnings while doing research on SPD. We removed the dye from his diet on a Friday, and by Sunday we had seen a huge change in his overall mood. He was much more mellow and laid back. We were shocked by the dramatic change!

After sharing my story of success, two friends of mine decided to try removing red dye from their households. One had a child with ADHD, and one had a very spirited child who threw frequent tantrums. Both saw marked improvement in a matter of days.

So that's my story. If you are dealing with tantrums in your house, or any of the other side effects I mentioned, see if you can relate it to red dye 40. It is very possibly the hidden culprit.


  1. YOu have no idea how much I agree with this. I was not allowed red dye as a child either. It was ALWAYS accidentally slipping into the house!! You are right! The canned biscuits thing was so surprising to us! I was eating lots of them and we couldnt figure out what I was eating that had red dye in it and after about 2 weeks of eating them nonstop we figured it out! SO, wanna know what my reaction to red dye is? I have manic episodes! Literally!!

  2. We are cutting out artificial dyes to determine if we see an improvement in my 4yo daughter with SPD. o you know of any "hidden" names they go by? I don't want to miss anything.

  3. I'm not aware of any hidden names. The FDA requires it be labeled in ingredient lists, so you should see it listed as Red40, or Red40 Lake. Good luck!