Connect with us


Red Dye in Foods: Uses and Health Risks

Learn about the different types of red food dye, where they are commonly found and how to make informed choices about your diet.

This article is based on reporting that features expert sources.

U.S. News & World Report
Red Dye in Foods

The Food and Drug Administration regulates food dyes. But does this mean that they’re safe to eat? Not exactly, according to researchers.

Recently under scrutiny has been red dye 40, a (you guessed it) red-colored food additive found in common pantry staples – some of which aren’t red in color – that has been suspected to increase risks for bladder cancer and ADHD.

READ: The 2023 Best Diet Rankings
What Is Red Dye 40?
Red dye 40 is a synthetic preservative used to color food products red. It’s also known as Allura Red AC, or C18H14N2Na2O8S2, if you go by molecular formulas.

Like most food dyes, red dye 40 was originally synthesized from coal tar and is now made from petroleum. It’s made up of chemical bonds that can be toxic when heated to decomposition, a process in which chemicals can change form.

Some studies have also revealed that red dye 40 also contains carcinogens like p-credine, which is linked to cancers in animals, and benzidine, which the National Cancer Institute links to bladder cancer.

Food With Red Dye 40
You can check if a product contains red dye 40 by looking at its ingredient list. Dyes tend to be listed toward the end. Red dye 40 may be listed as a couple of names, including Red 40, Allura Red, Red 40 Lake, INS No. 129 and E129. It can also be found in some cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.

Common foods containing red dye 40 include:

Cereals, including Fruit Loops.
Sodas, including Pepsi.
Red Jell-O
Chocolate pudding.
Dairy products.
Baked goods.
Candies, including Skittles.
Sports drinks, including red Gatorade.
Not all products that contain red dye 40 are red in color, but those that are tend to have a vibrant hue – bright enough to leave a stain on your tongue or lips after you eat it.
There is a reason that red dye 40 can stain the mouth, whereas a natural colored red food like a strawberry is less likely to do so. This is due to a chemical reaction between the dye and proteins within the human body.

“The dye actually binds to proteins on your skin, on your tongue, and your body has to physically metabolize that,” explains Dr. Jennifer Linehan, a urologic oncologist at Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica. “With a strawberry, the tissue of the fruit is red and (any stains) fade away relatively quickly.”

Unfortunately, while a lollipop may seem like a fun alternative to Mom’s lipstick (at least, for a child playing pretend), these lip stains aren’t just fun and games. That’s because when your body breaks down the dye, it releases more than just the color, explains Linehan. It releases those carcinogenic ingredients, like benzidine.

Continue Reading