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).

Related Links:

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.

Next Up

Artificial Food Coloring: Good or Bad?

Sure, artificial food coloring makes food look more appealing, but they also contain plenty of chemicals. Are they safe? Learn more about what these food additives are made of and where to find (and avoid) them.

Sugar-Free Foods: Good or Bad?

They’re marketed as healthy and low-calorie alternatives to your favorite sugary treats, but are sugar-free foods actually better for you?

Low-Fat Foods: Good or Bad?

Low fat is out and healthy fat is in. Does that mean the era of low fat cookies is over? Not necessarily. Find out which fats are now recommended and how low fat foods can fit into a healthy diet.

Bagels: Good or Bad?

Who doesn’t love a bagel for breakfast -- but are they a wise choice? People are always surprised (and a little freaked out) to hear how many slices of bread they’d have to eat to match the calories in one bagel. Here’s the good and the bad.

Pasta: Good or Bad?

Trying to find healthy and delicious recipes? Food Network makes that easy with their collection of low fat, low calorie and low carb recipes.

Milk: Good or Bad?

We're talking about cows' milk, that is. Many folks view milk as wholesome and healthy. Others, meanwhile, warn us away and say it's full of hormones or might make you phlegmy. So what’s the deal with milk: does it do your body good or not?

Cream: Good or Bad?

With boatloads of calories and artery clogging saturated fat, can cream be part of a healthy diet?

Kombucha: Good or Bad?

Find out if the popular fermented kombucha tea is worth the hype.

Mayo: Good or Bad?

It’s the quintessential “bad” food laden with artery clogging saturated fat. For years, we’ve been told to “hold the mayo,” but is it really as bad as they say?