Is It Really That Bad?

Artificial food dyes like red dye 40 are commonly used to enhance appearance. Despite its widespread use, this substance is trapped in health controversies, most of which stem from older research. Discover what red dye 40 is and the negative connotations associated with it.

What Is Red Dye 40?

Red dye 40 is a petroleum-derived synthetic food dye. It’s a product of a chemical reaction involving sulphonic acids. The FDA requires all products containing this ingredient to list it on the label. It may come in various names:

  • Red 40
  • Red 40 lake
  • FD&C red No. 40 aluminum lake
  • FD&C red No. 40
  • Allura red AC
  • CI food red 17
  • Artificial color added
  • Color added
  • Artificial colors

Like other synthetic dyes, its purpose is to create uniform and eye-catching colors in processed foods. The more vibrant it is, the more coloring it contains. It’s found in a wide variety of products, such as:

  • Chips
  • Jell-O
  • Cereals
  • Candy
  • Cakes
  • Flavored dairy products
  • Sports drinks
  • Soda
  • Energy drinks

What Are The Risks Of Red Dye 40?

Red 40 is generally safe, but its safety is a long-debated topic due to issues about hyperactivity. It can also be confusing because there are differing policies across various countries. For instance, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approve the safety of synthetic food dyes.

However, while the FDA has ruled red dye 40 safe for public consumption, EFSA bans using this due to issues regarding decreased concentration and increased hyperactivity among children. Past studies also revealed that this synthetic food dye contains p-credine and benzidine, which are linked to cancers.

Some question the safety of this synthetic food dye, as consuming it is associated with several side effects, such as migraines and allergies. Red dye 40 is one of the four food dyes that can cause allergic reactions, but instances are rare and mild.

What Are Alternatives To Red Dye 40?

Using a synthetic dye isn’t the only way to bring life to your food. You can use natural pigments that can provide health benefits. Here are nutritious replacements for red dye 40:

Beet Juice

Whether baking a red velvet cake or making ice cream, this all-natural dye offers a rich ruby-red hue that adds instant visual appeal. It has a hint of flavor but doesn’t meddle with the sweetness of a dessert.

Beet juice can be your best alternative if you want to avoid the controversial health impacts of red dye 40. It comes with antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress and vitamins that help improve cognitive function.


Dried hibiscus flowers make great tea and pigment. They contain anthocyanin, a natural food colorant with health-promoting benefits, such as helping regulate liver abnormalities, diarrhea and the common cold.


This accessible ingredient makes excellent food dye. Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that can provide sun protection and nourish your skin from within. You can use tomato sauce or paste when adding a red shade to sauces and soups.


Strawberries have added sweetness, making them an ideal natural food colorant for desserts. They create a brilliant red color when used as a food coloring or dye for fabric. Like hibiscus, strawberries contain anthocyanin compounds. They also contain malic acid, which has bleaching properties that can remove teeth stains.

Consume Red Dye 40 In Moderation

The use of red 40 is highly controversial. While the FDA agrees it doesn’t pose significant health risks, some research says otherwise. Most studies pointing out this dye’s adverse effects were performed decades ago. More research is needed to rule out evidence pointing to specific health risks. For now, you can substitute natural alternatives to get the same effect.

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