8 Ways to Avoid Harmful Artificial Colors in Food Targeted at Your Kids

January 23, 2023

We all know neon blue food isn’t nutritious. That’s common sense. Beyond lacking any nutritional value, mounting evidence suggests that synthetic food dyes are actually unsafe for children. Specifically of concern is a class of colors called FD&C (this stands for food, drug, and cosmetics). They have been linked to hyperactivity and other behavioral issues. The science is convincing enough that the European Union requires warning labels on foods containing certain dyes, but no such luck stateside. In fact, companies from Kraft to McDonald’s have changed their European formulas to include natural colorings, even though they still use synthetic ones in products sold in America. You can’t make this stuff up! Also of concern are carcinogenic contaminants in other artificial colorings.

Thankfully there are many ways to avoid artificial colors without moving to Europe. Here’s how.

  1. Eat whole foods. This does not mean a store, it means food as it was grown—think chicken, not chicken “fingers.” There are no artificial dyes in an apple.
  2. Choose organic. Artificial dyes are not allowed in USDA certified organic foods. If your organic yogurt is blue, it’s because it contains something naturally blue, like blueberries.
  3. Skip packaged foods marketed at kids. Leave anything brightly colored or unnatural looking on store shelves.
  4. Read labels carefully when shopping; food dye can pop up in unexpected places. Even items that are not brightly dyed like dried fruit snacks can contain it. Look out for specific FD&C dyes as well as the word “artificial color,” which designates other colors that fall under different regulations. Avoid both.
  5. Share this information with kids old enough to understand it in an effort to help them learn to make good choices. If they watch television and see food advertisements, talk to them about not being swayed by commercials. Health first!
  6. If you’re hosting or going to a birthday party and want to indulge, by all means. You can use natural food dyes when baking. At other people’s parties, try to avoid anything brightly colored.
  7. Speak up. A number of online petitions started by parents who want to avoid food dyes have put pressure on everyone from Kellogg to Mars to remove artificial dyes from foods marketed directly to children—with varying degrees of success. Manufacturers listen to consumer pressure even when there are no federal bans. Don’t like what’s on offer? Make some noise.
  8. For times when you want a little added visual zing, there are plenty of natural food colorings.

Looking for more information? Check out EWGs Dirty Dozen Guide