Myth or Fact? Artificially-Colored Foods Are Bad for You

Find out if orange cheese and more artificially-colored foods are unhealthy.


Photo by: bhofack2 ©bhofack2

bhofack2, bhofack2

Ever wonder how some of your favorite foods are made? And if they’re supposed to be that color? We’re cracking the code on some infamous colored foods to find out if they naturally occur that way or if they had some help.

Color Me Unhealthy?

Many beloved foods we eat everyday are doctored with colorings to improve visual appeal. In some cases these colorful enhancements are food based and therefore safe, but others have potentially harmful chemical infusions.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, eating these synthetic dyes may pose harm and cause behavioral problems, especially in children.

Highly processed foods like soda, commercial baked goods, candy, frozen treats, salty snacks (think cheese doodles) and kids’ breakfast cereals are some of the worst and most obvious offenders. Potentially dangerous yellow 5, red 40 and red 3 dyes are found in numerous foods, and have been linked to behavioral problems and allergic reactions.

Europe has imposed strict bans on the use of these coloring agents, but in the United States progress has been much slower. Some U.S. chains and manufacturers including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Panera, General Mills and Nestle don’t sell products with dyes and/or are beginning to remove them from some of their products.

Here are 4 foods that might raise a colorful flag.

Orange Cheese

Cheese is made from milk, and milk is white. So how did we end up with day-glow orange versions of favorites like cheddar and American? It turns out many cheeses are colored with a red pigment from the plant-based annatto seed or the addition of a few pinches of paprika.

This practice of coloring cheese dates back centuries to smaller cheese making operations in Europe. Cow’s diets were very different back, then and the large amount of beta-carotene in their diets gave their milk an orange hue. Coloring was added to make these cheeses appear uniform.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

What would mint-flavored ice cream case be without that bright green mint hue? As it turns out, true mint ice cream is stark white! Yellow 5 and blue 1 are typical additives in the adulterated version of this cool and creamy treat.


Photo by: McHenry ©McHenry

McHenry, McHenry

Red Velvet

This beloved pastry variety is really just the product of a hefty amount of red 40 food coloring. The FDA has set the acceptable intake as 111mg, but as little as 13.8mg has been found to elicit a negative reaction.

As an alternative, try beet juice or natural plant-based food colorings like Colors From Nature from McCormick.


You’re probably not aware, but there’s a good chance your favorite spears are spiked with yellow 5. Processing techniques for some pickles add coloring agents for the finished product to appear green instead of a washed-out shade of gray.

Instead of settling for faux green pickles, seek out a brand that’s coloring free, or…better yet, make your own (it’s easier than you might think).

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Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

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