Integrative Nutrition Blog

Red 40 Side Effects

September 2, 2016

Image via Shutterstock

What do pickles, BBQ sauce and Hawaiian Punch have in common? Yes, they all belong at a summer BBQ, but there is something else. These common foods frequently contain an ingredient called Red 40, also known as Allura Red. This ingredient can be found in almost anything ranging from dairy products, to baked goods, to popular candies and fruity drinks. In fact, it’s one of the most common food dyes in the US, and has been a topic of controversy in the food world for over 30 years.

What is Red 40 Anyway?
Red 40 is a chemical compound that comes from coal tars. Dyes made from coal tars are created by mixing various fragrant smelling hydrocarbons like benzyne and toluene. Back in the day (think: ancient Egyptians) dye was made from things found in nature, like flowers, leaves, roots, etc. Over time however, scientists have learned how to create these colors in the lab - this is where dyes like Red 40 made their debut. 

What Are The Side Effects?
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, some people who have come in contact with products containing Red 40 have had allergic reactions, such as swelling around the mouth. Research has also shown a link between Red 40 and hyperactivity in kids. Most studies of Red 40 have been done on mice, and Red 40 did quite a number on the little guys. The rats had lower reproductive success, a reduced weight of both parents and their offspring, decreased brain weight, and a lower chance of survival for newborn rats.

Concerns about Red 40 and its side effects are not new, as studies have been focused on the possible dangers of the food dyes for over 30 years. Today, there are only seven artificial food dyes left on the FDA’s approved list, and Red 40 is one of them. Almost every 10 years, a new dye is taken off of the list because of its negative side effects. Orange #1 was removed from the approved list in the 50’s, in the 70’s Red #2 was shown to cause cancerous tumors in rats, and just recently Yellow #5 has been investigated for causing migraines, anxiety, and even cancer. Will Red 40 be the next food dye removed from the list?

The Southampton Six
There are conflicting studies about the side effects of Red 40. Groups like The Center for Science in the Public Interest have been pushing the FDA to remove what they call the “Southampton Six” from the FDA’s approved list of safe ingredients. The Southampton Six include Red 40, Ponceau 4R (E124), Tartrazine (Yellow 5) (E102), Sunset Yellow FCF/Orange Yellow S (Yellow6) (E110), Quinoline Yellow (E104), and Carmoisine (E102). 

Coca-Cola and General Mills are members of the Grocer’s Manufacturing Association; a group that, not surprisingly, doesn’t seem to think food dyes are a huge problem and questions the validity of the studies. According to Forbes.com, “the FDA does not reject the proposition that the remaining approved artificial colors may carry adverse health effects, its representatives generally agree, stating that further evidence is needed before another ban is enacted.”

The FDA mandates that food with Red 40 must be labeled appropriately, but the labels do not have to disclose how much Red 40 is in each specific food product. A common misconception is that as long as you stay away from red and orange colored foods, you should be in the clear when it comes to avoiding Red 40. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Red 40 can be found in pickles, some salad dressings and various cheeses. 

How To Avoid Red 40
The best chance in avoiding Red 40 is to avoid foods that have artificial coloring or dyes. Reading food labels is always a smart and proactive way to make sure you know exactly what is going into your body, and the bodies of your family members. Red 40 can also be referred to as:

  • Red 40
  • Red No. 40
  • FD & C Red No. 40
  • FD and C Red No. 40
  • Allura Red
  • Allura Red AC
  • C. I. 16035
  • C.I. Food Red 17

There are other easy ways to avoid Red 40 as well. You can buy fresh, unprocessed food that doesn’t come in a box or bag! Or  If something has to be colored, be sure to look for natural colors that come from ingredients like beets, turmeric, and purple sweet potatoes.

Remember not to limit your label reading to just food. Many cosmetics, mouthwashes and other beauty products contain artificial dyes as well.

The Bottom Line: To Red 40 or Not?
The FDA stands firm that although food dyes may not be the best ingredient on the planet, they believe there’s nothing concrete enough to prove that Red 40 is inherently harmful to the general population. However, the research presented by the CSPI is worrisome. Ultimately, it’s up to you, the consumer, to decide.

Do you avoid artificial coloring or dyes when shopping? Share with us why or why not in the comments below!

Kaleyea Curriculum Guide Blog

Get The Document

GET OUR CURRICULUM GUIDE

Please select your country code by the flag dropdown.

By clicking 'Get The Guide', I consent to Integrative Nutrition and its affiliates contacting me by email at the address provided and/or by telephone at the number provided (by live, automated, or prerecorded phone calls or text messages) about its courses. I understand that my consent is not required for enrollment and may be withdrawn.