More and more families are opting for dye-free snacks and foods, and for good reason. Synthetic dyes contain a number of ingredients you might not want to eat if you knew they were in your food — unless you happen to prefer bugs in your cranberry juice and petroleum in your breakfast cereal. It’s the price we pay for bright red food.
Although the FDA says approved synthetic color additives are safe, choosing dye-free snacks saves your family the worry over any potential health risks. Research suggests synthetic color additives may carry health risks: A 2021 report about food dyes by the State of California suggests that “synthetic food dyes can cause or exacerbate adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in some children.” Using a different process for determining food safety than the FDA, the EU requires dyes like Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6 and Red No. 40 to come with a warning label that reads, “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
Whether you’re worried about your kids’ exposure to synthetic coloring or you’re simply looking to make healthier choices, choosing dye-free snacks when possible is a great place to start.
Where to Find Dye-Free Snacks
Once you start looking, you’ll find synthetic color additives just about everywhere, including gelatin, soda, pastries, and even foods you might not think would need synthetic coloring, like frozen vegetables. That’s because artificial dyes make so much of the food we eat more colorful and appealing — consider, for example, that hot dogs would be gray without synthetic dyes.
The good news: dye-free snacks that kids actually enjoy are not difficult to find once you know where and how to look.
Kid-Friendly Dye-Free Snack Favorites Include:
- Annie’s Fruit Snacks
- HEB’s Macaroni & Cheese
- Black Forest fruit snacks
- Honey Nut Cheerios
- Capri Suns Roarin’ Waters
How to Find Dye-Free Snacks
If you want to cut or limit synthetic dyes from your family’s diet, follow these rules of thumb:
Stick to Natural Unprocessed Foods When Possible
The best advice for eating the healthiest food is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and to steer clear of processed food, which tends to contain synthetic dyes and preservatives.
Choose Snacks With the USDA Certified Organic Label
Without cutting processed food altogether, you can still ensure you’re buying dye-free by checking for the green and white USDA certified organic label on the packaging. This label means that the food contains no synthetic dyes. Keep in mind, however, that items labeled “made with organic ingredients” may still contain synthetic dyes.
Read the Ingredients
It might seem like you need a degree in chemistry to keep up with the synthetic dye nomenclature alone. Red 40, for example, can also be found listed as:
- Red 40 Lake
- FD&C Red No. 40
- FD&C Red No. 40 Aluminum Lake
- Allura Red AC
- CI Food Red 17
- INS No. 129
Luckily, you don’t need to remember the full list every time you go shopping: just keep an eye out for ingredients listed as a color and a number, particularly Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Citrus Red 2.
Keep in mind that synthetic dyes must be listed by name in the ingredients list, whereas ingredients derived from natural sources used as dyes do not. Confusingly, this means that finding “artificial color,” “artificial color added,” or “color added” on food packaging means that natural sources of color were used.
To learn more about safety risks and various food additives, check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s list of “chemical cuisine ratings.”
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