food color allergies

How To Cope With Food Color Allergies

I want to give a really big “high five” to my amazing family, my awesome friends, and my spectacular partner in understanding and dealing with my food color allergy. It’s definitely not an easy life to live in having to read EVERY…SINGLE…INGREDIENT on food & product labels, but I want you to know how much I appreciate everything that you all do, and have put up with from me.

Yes. I am one of those annoying people that has a “food” allergy. The only difference is that I’m not allergic to food per sei, but I am allergic to food coloring (food dyes) that are put into every day products that people take for granted (including colognes, deodorant, toothpaste, detergent, body wash, mouth wash and even medicine). For example, when I go out to eat and I want a salad (instead of my normal bacon cheeseburger), I have to ask if the salad dressing was made in house or store bought. If it’s store bought, I normally don’t go for it because I already know that there is food color in it as the main “pretty” ingredient. In fact, I even had to be afraid of even eating red meat because so many stores & vendors actually used red food coloring to keep that meat looking “fresh” in the meat display. Thank goodness that most of those days are gone that stores do this, but some still do.

Now you must be wondering, “What culprits are you allergic to?” Well, I’m so glad you asked! I’m allergic to FD&C Yellow #5 and Red #10. FD&C stands for: Food, Drug & Cosmetic. In essence, Congress approved part of our federal government to approve or disapprove the safety and health issues brought to our food, drug and cosmetic market. I am hypersensitive to these two food colors. I’m not sure what happens to most people, but with me I tend to get: dizzy, light headed, faint, sleep for hours (like a small coma), hot flashes (like I’m going through the change in life), my skin would get bright red as if I was cut with a knife and someone rubbed my skin with sandpaper, and I would get nauseas and vomit (like you really wanted to know that part, but I think it’s important to know in case you have a family member or friend that exhibits these signs).

You’re also probably wondering how on earth did I ever figured out that I was allergic to those two specific food colors. Well…I’ll tell you…it wasn’t easy at all. I have severe sinus allergies. I tend to have polyps grow in my sinus cavity. Polyps are these little tumor-like sacs that fill with liquid and create cranial pressure. I’ve had two sinus surgeries to help correct this issue, but it’s something that I can never get rid of and I’ll have to live with polyp breakouts for the rest of my life. Oh the joy of being me! Ha! At any rate, I was already seeing an amazing ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) specialist to help me with my sinus issues. He couldn’t figure out what was going with me since all of the polyps were removed out of my sinus cavity. After some blood work and skin tests, he handed me and mom 10 pages of products and ingredients that I couldn’t have until we could slowly put things in and leave out. I was basically brushing my teeth with baking soda, washing my body with just plain water, and eating bread. Man…I felt like I was screwed for life! Anyhow, after months of testing and observations, my doctor was able to narrow it down to FD&C Yellow #5 and Red #10 (a small attribution to aspirin, which I’m only slightly allergic to). Eureka! I almost did a little dance, until he gave me 10 additional pages of products that I could never use and what to watch out for on labels of products. Also note, if you have a sensitivity or allergy to aspirin, you might be highly susceptible to this food color allergy.

I really felt bad for my mom. We didn’t coupon back then, and the products that I could use were SUPER expensive. I felt like I was the biggest burden. At the same time, it also lifted a veil from our eyes of how food colors directly effect our bodies. I have become a small advocate – not a big one standing on a soap box preaching on a corner – but a small one in educating people and what harmful chemicals people are putting into (and on) their bodies…and they don’t even know it. I do think it’s imperative that you know what these chemicals do to your body. Think about this:  were there really any food allergies (like we have today) 25 to 35 years ago? No. Was there ADD or ADHD 25 to 35 years ago? No. “Food for thought!”

FD&C Yellow #5

FD&C Yellow #5 is also know as Tartrazine. A variety of immunologic responses have been attributed to tartrazine exposure, including: anxiety, asthma, migraines, clinical depression, blurred vision, itching, general weakness, heat waves, hyperactivity (mimicking ADD), ADHD, feeling of suffocation, lupus, purple skin patches, sleep disturbance, throat cancer, and more. From my personal experience, I can tell you that I have experience over HALF of these symptoms. The sad part? I never put 2 and 2 together. Tartrazine (yellow #5) is found in JUST about everything! Turn your box of Kraft Mac & Cheese around, look at your box of cake mix, your toothpaste, deodorant, your MEDICATION (that pretty color that your pill is), your laundry detergent, your house cleaners…it’s everywhere. Funny thing, they actually used to use Tartrazine in gasoline as an additive. They have since stopped using it because it was too flammable and highly dangerous. Still want to eat that re-bound Twinkie? Need more information? Check out this MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) pull sheet: CLICK HERE TO READ and scroll down to where it states: Animals (Oral toxicity) Humans: Not Available!! Here is another interesting read: Prolonged Usage of Yellow #5 Tartrazine

synaptic nerve cells communication picture
(Thank you to nature.com for photo usage!) With my allergy, as depicted above, my neural transmitters stop communicating with each other.

In essence, it’s a neural inhibitor. Which means it stops brain cells from properly communicating with each other. This is where my hypersensitivity comes in to play. My brain cells are so hypersensitive that it that it increases the rate of reaction in my biochemistry. Now imagine this process happening in your child. Go ahead and test it. Give your child some gummy worms. You think they really get energetic from just the processed sugar alone? That’s only part of it. Your child’s brain is literally out of control and can’t think. They become reactionary thinkers to stimuli in their environment, instead of logical thinking. They’ve been taught the pot is hot, but watch how many times they’ll want to run around the hot pot with boiling water with the gummy worms versus them without the gummy worms. In addition, all information available out there states that it creates asthmatic type conditions, if not full blow asthma. I have had asthma my whole life, between diet and exercise, I’ve learned to control it…and have I might one breakout a year or every other year.

FD&C Red #10

This is another sneaky little monster. This food color is also known as Carmoisine (and there are different variations of carmoisine). Carmoisine is known to cause hyperactivity in children. May also cause symptoms of general allergic reaction (skin swelling, breathing difficulties, hives). Carmoisine may also cause cancer and tumors based on animal studies. You will mostly find it in soda, marzipan products, jams, preserves, jelly, boxed cake mixes, and certain personal hygiene products. I couldn’t believe it when I grabbed box of chocolate cake mix and found Red #10! They use it to increase the “browness” coloration factor of the product. In chocolate products? Really? They really wanted me to die for sure! (insert sarcasm).  I was in such disbelief. They had taken away my chocolate cake, too! lol.

Here’s a side note from a Medical Journal study done on rats. I tried finding MSDS sheets on this product, but I kept coming to other Red colors. The biggest thing to be careful of is skin irritant. So, be sure to wash your hands and clothes thoroughly if you if you come in direct contact with the solid – powder form….and also, wear a mask. you don’t want to inhale this stuff into your lungs. There isn’t much discussion about this food color, as much as there is about FD&C Red #40. That’s just a horrible little monster to watch out for! It has amazingly bad effects on the human body.

I apologize if I was long winded in this post, but I just wanted to bring to you a level of awareness of the effect that the food has on your body…mostly food colors. Over the years, I’ve learned how to deal with it and live with it. My decision making process of what I buy to eat and the products out there to purchase  have become amazingly abundant with choices. To be honest, I do not live a total dye free life. For the most part, I don’t eat processed food out of a box or can…like I said, for the most part. Living a dye free life is becoming easier and easier for everyone. Even the multi-million dollar companies have switched over to using beta-carotene and beet juice extract for food coloring. I get so excited because Whole Foods & Trader Joes are my biggest stores that I can find my favorite sweet treats from…even your local bakeries are switching over to using food color alternatives in their baking! It’s amazing! My life is opening up more and more. Now I’m just waiting for Jell-o to come up with a product line! (HINT HINT JELL-O!! lol).

My advice for your children: the next time you want to take your child to a doctor because they think they have ADD or ADHD (Or EVEN YOU), try living without a few food colors in your life. You’re going to see a DRASTIC change! Your/their levels of concentration and comfort level of sleep is going to increase greatly. I promise you. On another note, without going on a whole other tirade of information, BUT did you know that ADD and ADHD aren’t even classified as real diseases? You should do some reading up on this subject. You’re in for an eye opening experience.

If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to ask me. I’m NOT a professional, but I do have a degree in Biology with a Chemistry minor. I DO have food color allergies, so I can discuss this matter from both an educational standpoint and from someone who suffers with this. I’m including a few links of some blogs that I think you would LOVE in getting amazing recipes and ideas from! So many special thanks to them for finding and writing recipes that everyone can use in trying to live a dye free life.

B In Real Life (Living a Dye Free Life)

Bye Bye Food Dye

Frugal G33K

Red Dye Free

Living A Special Kind Of Life

Kid Friendly Organic Life

Get My FREE Instant Pot Recipes eBook!
Enter your email address and click on the Get Instant Access button.
We respect your privacy

32 COMMENTS

  1. I can feel your pain, somewhat. My daughter developed an allergy to red dye #40 when she was around 3 years old. She’s 16 and we still avoid it out of fear! It didn’t matter what time of day she consumed it, she threw up around 2:00 am in the morning. Even more alarming is the things that you’ll find red dye #40 in. It can be even found in white cake frosting! They say it “brightens” the white. It’s also added to chocolate puddings and ice creams to perk up their colors as well. Red Dye #40 is commonly found in any and all types of food and drinks that may be white, orange, red, purple, and pink. This includes 99% of kids medications. Imagine trying to find an anti-nausea medication for a kid who is allergic to red dye #40. Hard to do when they all have it! Years ago, Emetrol was available in a yellow lemon variety, but no more. 🙁

    • Yeah…I can definitely feel your pain on that one! It’s crazy to look and see “food” items has red dyes in them, and they’re not red or the obvious color you would think of in having food color in! Yeah, I definitely threw up a lot. I thought yogurt would be a definite safe bet, not alas…no! At least, not until recent when they started using alternative coloring sources.

  2. This is such valuable information. My son has ADHD and we have been trying to avoid red dye. I will definitely be reading your other articles on this.

    • I swear, it was so difficult at first. I couldn’t even eat pickles because of the Yellow dye in them! Crazy! Thank goodness that a lot of companies are going away from using dye, and starting to use beta-carotene in the pickling portion for colors.

  3. wow.. this is something I didn’t pay much attention to.. thank you for bringing out the facts so I can make more informed decisions by reading the labels 🙂

  4. Wow- it would be very difficult to keep track of food colorings- they are in so many of the foods we eat every day. My allergy to pollen no longer seems so bad.

  5. Great article on food dyes – our girls are not diagnosed allergic to them – but there is a definite difference in them when they eat something with food dyes. We are also label readers – between allergies and GMO issues – I am on high alert!

  6. I am sitting here absolutely floored by your post. I never even thought of anyone having allergies to food dye. This coming from someone who worked closely with the FDA in a meat processing plant and I know all about the dye added to read meats. My 16 year old son has been diagnosed with everything you can think of, but yet they have no solid diagnoses for him. The only one that most doctors agree on are that he must have ADHD {IMO overly diagnosed these days}.

    Anyway, since I have been dealing with this for over 10 years with him. I have tried to think of more unconventional ways to help him. As of late, I have been trying to cut out certain foods in his diet-I have seen some improvements with him. I know there is no key to any one thing- but I have to THANK YOU for giving me something else to consider.

    KUDOS to your doctor for taking the steps they did. I am hopeful now that there are doctors that still want to try and figure out the problem without just throwing a bunch of drugs at it {especially drugs that clearly state “do not take if under the age of 18”}

    I am now excited to see where all the links you provided head too. Maybe this is part of the answer I have been seeking. Thank you so much again!

  7. That’s got to be so difficult. My two year old daughter is allergic to dairy so it’s difficult but we get through it. She used to be allergic to nuts and eggs but she got over those. I couldn’t imagine how tough it must be being allergic to food dyes.

  8. My nephew also does not consume certain dyes. Feeding him is tricky because he is a vegetarian, allergic to gluten, and reads the ingredients for certain dyes.

  9. Thanks for this article! Maybe you know this already, but you can make Jello yourself with plain fruit juice and natural gelatin. You can add sugar or honey if you like it sweeter. Lots of recipes online.

  10. I forgot to say that I am pretty sure my son also has allergies to yellow and red, but I did not understand WHY the body cause the reaction it does until I read your explanation on how it makes the neuron-thingies stop communicating together. Makes a lot of sense! Hyper-activity, total sudden lack of sense, reckless behavior, mood swings, sometimes aggressive, etc. Bingo! We figured it out around Easter time, and it makes a lot of sense when we look back on particular difficult times of his life and remember, “Oh! He was eating a lot of strawberry yogurt at that time” or whatever. And we’ve been experimenting a little bit since Easter. It seems to be an accurate “diagnosis” even if not from a doctor. Even if it’s not–we are all better off having that stuff out of our family! It’s hard to explain to a 4 year old boy why he can’t have candy even though his friends do, but we are also finding alternatives (Ikea gummy candy, homemade jello, etc).

    • I will say this, there are still great candies that are out there for when he gets a sweet tooth! The industry is making a small turn around and taking notice too that a lot of families are going for a dye free life. It’s so hard and complicated at first, until you’re able to find great alternatives to them. Yes, those are all classic signs of the food allergies! My sister has an adopted child, and she couldn’t figure out why a cup of coffee helped with calm down. It had a reverse reaction with him, but he was also on a ton of meds and such for his “ADD and ADHD.” You really do start noticing all of the small changes that happen when you take away the food color aspect out of the equation. I’m so glad that you were able to figure things out, though! Kudos to you mom! There a lot of parents out there that will do this, and then others will continue to either ignore…or not get educated about it. I’m so glad this was able to help! 🙂

  11. Thanks for the info and sharing your story!! I’ve found that one medication I take (Naproxen) comes in a variety of colors depending on the manufacturer. It’s an NSAID that I use to treat arthritis. I’ve found that only the white pill works for me (and there have been more than one type of white pills over the years… but still only the white one helps). If I use the pink/salmon color or orange, doesn’t help at all (and I’m in a ton of pain)–so I’ve come to assume that the dye impacts my body’s ability to metabolize the pill in a way that’s helpful.

    When I was calling around yesterday to fill my new script, found out that it now also comes in yellow (and I won’t be trying that one out). Not sure if any of the fillers added to the other Naproxen pills also impact my body’s ability to metabolize the pill.

    • That is so me with medicines, too! I’m so glad that this info is help for you! It’s just a shame that food colors is in so many things that people need. I wish they made things dye free for me and medicines because my life would be so much easier. I will let you now that I’ve heard great reports back from a lot of parents who decided to take red & yellow food dyes out their children’s lifestyle, and they no longer have strong bouts of ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity, and all that other fun stuff. Again, I’m so super glad I could help!

  12. Just curious, what kind of testing did your doctor do? You mentioned blood and skin tests. Did they put a drop of food coloring on your arm and do a scratch test? Was it IgG or IgE based blood testing for dyes?

    • Hi There! I honestly do not remember the type of blood testing that was done, as it was way too many years ago for me to remember (well over 20 years ago). I’m sure that there are much more advanced blood testings that can be done more accurately and simpler. I know it was like looking for a needle in haystack back then, but he knew he was looking for particular things. For example, he originally thought that I had an aspirin allergy…so that was on my long list of things that I couldn’t have. if I remember correctly, he did perform multiple scratch tests (inclusive of chemical based food colors). I’m also one of those people that are highly allergic to Oak.

  13. David!!!
    Thank you so much for this wonderful article.

    My oldest son was diagnosed with a severe synthetic food dye allergy earlier this year (so severe that although we are not positive about all the colors we are avoiding all of them. We have pinpointed: Red 40, Yellow 5 & Yellow 6). I am constantly reading and researching.

    I wanted to let you know too, Aldi’s (a grocery store chain) store brands are dye free. This includes many staples INCLUDING KNOCKOFF JELLO, canned cherry pie filling, Marshmallows, yellow cake, knock off fruit loops, knock off lucky charms, etc. Be vigilant though because they also sell products that contain dyes. Everything we’ve had tastes great!

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your post and your struggle. I am allergic to all artificial and natural food colorants including beta-carotene (and I am diabetic and have a thyroid disorder). Anyway, I am sorry that you deal with this lovely issue but it is nice to know that I am not alone. Trying to find information about what is safe and what correlates with the beta-carotene continues to be a struggle but with your blog at least I will be able to keep up on some of the other “monsters” that I’m allergic to. Thanks again.

  15. I strongly recommend looking at http://feingold.org/ . Generally they are known for their diet for hyperactive children, but it is really much broader than that. The eliminate all artificial food dyes from the diet, as well as many foods that have salicylates (mostly naturally occurring) and also some preservatives and other additives. Folks in my family (ages 15 – 90+) have sensitivity to many of the foods they restrict. They are very reasonable about starting with an elimination diet and adding back foods since there is a wide variation in sensitivity. They also publish an extensive list of safe foods by brand name to assist with shopping.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here