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How Food Dyes Almost Ruined Our Lives

My story on how food dyes almost ruined our lives and how I fixed the problem. Plus, how to make natural food dyes.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about how I felt like I was failing as a mother. Although these days were the norm in our house. I was tired, worn out and emotionally a mess. So was my daughter.

You see for a good part of her 4 years on this planet, she didn’t sleep. If she was sleeping, she was attached to me in our bed. It was never a peaceful sleep. It included kicking, flailing, screaming, night terrors, hallucinations and more. It was scary.

Our pediatrician recommended her to a sleep clinic to do a sleep study twice. Our insurance did not cover the costs. Deep inside I knew there was nothing medically wrong with her.

But what WAS wrong?

On top of not sleeping, we spent most of the day bouncing off of the walls. I would tell her to calm down. She would tell me she just couldn’t.

How could she not?!

The hyperactivity, followed by the extreme emotional fall out was mind blowing.

Someone recommended I look at my daughter’s diet and what was in the food she was eating. Thinking back, our roughest time at that moment came after a birthday party that included a Tie-Dye themed cake with rainbow frosting.

rainbow cupcake

Ingredients in the cake included:

FD & C Blue No. 1 & 2
FD & C Red No. 40,
FD & C Yellow No. 5 & 6

In short, FOOD DYE.

Made sense. Being how these ingredients are banned in different the majority of the world, except the United States there had to be some validation.

In case you didn’t know, food coloring is basically chemicals that have been added to your food to add or enhance color.

The most common food dyes are Red 40, Blue 1 and Yellow 5. They are used in a wide variety of foods, including soft drinks, sports drinks, Kool-Aid, Jell-O, cake mixes, icings, yogurt, cereal and candy.

What Are Red Dye 40 Side Effects?

Red dye 40 is a common food dye that is known to cause a number of side effects, including asthma, hives, and hypersensitivity. While it is approved by the FDA for use in food, there are some concerns about its safety. Critics say that red dye 40 can be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and that it may also trigger behavioral problems in children.

Food Dye Detox

Day 1, was full of tantrums over getting used to not being able to have the lollipops we used as rewards, the cotton candy flavored ice cream she liked, the Eggo waffles she ate for breakfast. 

That night, she said “good night mommy” and was fast asleep in her own bed. Read that again. HER. OWN. BED.

Day 2 was calmer. It wasn’t like living with the Tasmanian devil.

People have asked me, how long did it take for you to notice a difference. Immediately. It was noticeable by everyone, friends and family immediately.

My husband wasn’t a believer at first. Until he filled our grocery cart with food dye filled foods my daughter loved that she conned him into buying. Within 10 minutes she was completely hyperactive and he understood.

After a few days the whole family was on board, including my daughter who at just 4 years old declared she felt so good and her belly no longer hurt. You could imagine how that hit me when I realized that 1) She could NOT control the behavior and 2) That she had been living with a stomach ache this whole time.

I do my best not give her Food Dyes. But unfortunately, it’s very difficult. It isn’t just candy and sweets. Food dyes can be found in things like bread, frozen waffles, an assortment of baked goods and cake mixes, sauces, fruit cups, cold cuts, canned vegetables, soups, chewing gum, condiments like relish, mustard and ketchup, even in fish like salmon. Even in things like the over-the-counter fever medicines your doctor prescribes, vitamins, cold & flu tablets, Metamucil and cosmetics.

It’s hard when we are in situations like birthday parties, road trips, and honestly, times when I just forget. It’s the moments when I forget that are the hardest. I am unprepared for the fallout. The times I have to think back to what my daughter ate that caused the hyperactivity, followed by the emotional fallout.

The only way to usually remedy these situations are by sleeping it off.

How Long Does it Take for Food Dye to Leave Your System?

There’s no definitive answer to this question since it depends on a number of factors, including the type of food dye used, the amount consumed, and an individual’s own metabolism. In general, however, it is believed that food dyes are typically excreted from the body within 24-48 hours.

It’s amazing to think our children’s doctors, the ones who should have their best interests in mind, never even think to bring this up to parents like myself who are at their wits end. Instead, ADHD medicines are shoved down their throats.

Food dyes are known to be carcinogens, they cause chromosome damage, tumors, allergies, asthma, and hives. In children, they cause behavior disorders, ADHD, hyperactivity and learning issues.

macarons on a plate

If you are looking for ideas for natural food dyes, be sure to read my natural food dye guide here where I share a ton of natural food dyes and recipes!

Share your experiences with Food Dye in the comments! I’d love to connect with you! 

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Tuesday 7th of February 2023

My son and one of my daughter have the same issue. For my son, it went away at around 6-7 years-old, but for my daughter (who is 9), it continues. So I have dealt with night terrors for about 14 years :(. We figured out the food coloring was a problem when my son was around 3. My second daughter was fine, but it's the worst for my third. At the worst parts, her night terrors come back every hour. And yes you guessed it, it's when she eats coloring, especially red. She was ok for a while, and at Christmas, she had a red cool-aid. It started again then and hasn't stopped since. We monitor everything pretty closely and have found alternatives for treats and candies, but it is hard because coloring is everywhere, even Ginger Ale that she likes so much. Needless to say that we are exhausted and the night terrors are still scary to me. I find that melatonin helps, but it could be in my head.

Heather H

Sunday 6th of November 2022

Red dye 40 is destroying our life. I’ve been able to control it but now that she is in school and plays with friends, she is sneaking it. I’m a single Mom and can’t homeschool right now. I’ve told teachers, parents, doctors and no one takes it seriously. The meltdowns are so bad now that she destroys the house and hurts me and herself. She is only 6 year old. She seeks out red dye like an addict. She even ate red play dough. I welcome an advice on how to control this. Do I keep her locked up at home and not play with the other kids? Have you had any luck finding a doctor that takes this seriously? The allergist says that can’t test for a red dye allergy which I think is odd.

momma lew

Monday 7th of November 2022

The pediatrician never really took me seriously TBH. My daughter is 11 now and seems to know better now. She has for a long time. As soon as she realized it was making her feel awful.


Wednesday 5th of October 2022

My Dad and I suffered for 2 years with severe hives. My skin would be on fire. We both cut red dye out of diets and our hives have stopped. I never had issues until later in life. It has now been a few years that we are dye free and it does get easier. A lot of companies are starting to use natural dyes. Before we knew what was causing our hives, we were taking Benadryl for the itching and guess what...Benadryl had red dye in it! We now use dye-free Benadryl.

Cindy Valentine

Wednesday 28th of September 2022


My son also would not sleep. One night after a week of sleep deprivation I started looking at what he’d need eating. He had conned my husband into a very large box of popsicles all contained red dye 40. We withheld them and we were amazed at the change. And good night sleep. One source of due that we don’t always think about is medications. My son is now 21 and on a thyroid medication. He was reacting badly. (Lack of sleep outbursts of anger). I finally tracked down the inactive ingredients on his meds. Red dye. Not listed which one but I don’t have to guess. My problem is his doctor says it is such a small amount it really isn’t what is causing it. 😵‍💫. She actually said that these are things that cause problems with children not adults What’s the difference if he was sensitive to them as a child he will still be sensitive as an adult. Do you know of any studies done on the effects of dye on adults? Thanks, Cindy

momma lew

Friday 30th of September 2022

I actually don't, but I don't doubt it one bit that food dyes would effect adults!


Monday 26th of September 2022

I am highly allergic to red dye. My entire body will swell to the point I can’t breathe. I’m so glad that people are starting to realize it’s a problem and have started coming up with alternatives! My favorite thing in the world to do is to bake and make fancy cakes but my allergy has prevented me for a long time.