Artificial Food Colors and Dyes May Have Adverse Health Effects


Have you been fascinated by the plethora of colors that adorn those trays of sweets at the neighborhood baker’s? Or those colored dishes at the buffet, like the bright red colored tandoori chicken? What about colored soft drinks, ice creams and candies? Most of them have one thing in common – artificial chemical colors and dyes.

Why Are Artificial Food Colors Used?

There are traditional and natural food coloring agents such as turmeric, beets, saffron and Kashmiri chili powder. But a many bakers, restaurants and processed food manufacturers choose not to use them and use artificial colors instead. Artificial colors have many advantages over natural colors: they are cheap, give the product a deep color and make it visually appealing, last longer, are more stable and are not dependent on crop cycles. But it has potential downsides to the consumer – they may cause adverse conditions such as brain gliomas, tumors of urinary bladder and kidneys, thyroid cancer and hypersensitivity.

Where do Artificial Food Colors Come From?

Artificial food colors are chemicals synthesized from petroleum (yes, the same petroleum from which we get petrol, diesel and kerosene). Sometimes they are not even pure chemicals – they may be contaminated with impurities such as 4-aminobiphenyl, 4-aminoazobenzene and benzidine which are carcinogenic. In addition to the adverse effects of coloring chemicals, the contaminants in the colors may cause harm to the human body.

What Are The Artificial Food Colors Permitted in India?

The following are the synthetic food colors permitted in India. All of them may be associated with one or more side effects and are banned in many western countries.

Name Color Other Names
1 Tartrazine Yellow Yellow #5, E102 Linked to Hyper activity in children, can cause skin rashes, hay fever, depression, breathing problems, and damage unborn babies. Carcinogenic in rats.Banned in Norway, Austria and Germany
2 Sunset
Yellow Yellow #6, E110 May be linked to adrenal tumors in animals.Banned in Norway
3 Carmosine Red  E122 Causes hyperactivity in children. May cause skin swelling, breathing difficulties and hives. May also cause cancer and tumors, based on animal studies.Banned in the United States, Canada, Japan, Norway, Austria and Sweden.
4 Ponceau
– 4R
Red  E124 May cause allergic and/or intolerance reactions, carcinogenic in animals, hyperactive disorders in children.Banned in Norway and United States
5 Erithrosine Red Red #3, E127 Previously recognized as carcinogen by FDA, but are permitted in ingested drugs and foods, linked to thyroid tumors in rats.Banned in Norway
6 Brilliant
Blue Blue #1, E133 Possible cause of kidney tumors in mice and effects on nerve cells.Banned in Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Norway
7 Indigo
Blue Blue #2, E132 May cause nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, skin rashes, breathing problems and other allergic reactions. Significant incidence of tumors in male ratsBanned in Norway
8 Fast
Green Green #3, E143 Causes significant increases in bladder and testes tumors in male rats. Linked to testicular and bladder cancers and tumors in lab animals and causes irritation of the gastrointestinal. Toxic to rodents and caused tumors, but are permitted only for coloring orange skinBanned in European Union. In the United States, permitted only for coloring orange skin
Where are the Artificial Food Colors Used For?

According to the Hindu, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA) permits the use of artificial food colors only in the following seven categories of food:

  1. “Ice creams, milk lollies, frozen desserts, flavoured milk, yoghurt, ice cream mix powder.
  2. Biscuits including wafers, pastries, cakes, confectionery, thread candies, sweets, savouries (dal moth, mongia, phul gulab, sago papad, dal biji only).
  3. Peas, strawberries and cherries in hermetically sealed containers, preserved or processed papaya, canned tomato juice, fruit syrup, fruit squash, fruit cordial, jellies, jam, marmalade, candied, crystallized or glazed fruits.
  4. Non-alcoholic carbonated or non-carbonated synthetic beverages including synthetic syrups, sherbets, fruit-beverages, fruit grains and synthetic soft drink concentrates.
  5. Custard powder
  6. Jelly crystal and ice candy
  7. Flavour emulsion and flavour paste for use in carbonated or non-carbonated beverage only under label declaration as specified in the Act.

But in reality, artificial food colors seem to be liberally used in many other food preparations as well. Just look up at the recipes of food items such as Jalebi, Gobi Manchurian and
Tandoori Chicken – you can expect to find food colors as an ingredient. They are even used in spices, to enhance their natural colors. This is illegal and it took foreign agencies to discover this. UK health-officials have found that many spices (such as chili and turmeric powder) exported from India are adulterated with banned coloring chemicals such as Sudan 1 and Para Red.

What Could You Do?

Avoid exposure to artificial coloring agents and dyes. Consider the following:

  1. Read the labels. If any artificial colors are listed as ingredient, stay away from that product
  2. At the bakery or restaurant, suspect all the food items that look unnaturally colorful. If in doubt, avoid. Or ask, and hope that they are honest.
  3. Avoid colored soft drinks, candies and colored pastries
  4. Avoid all cosmetics. Many of them have colors and dyes in them (in addition to several other carcinogenic chemicals and unnatural ingredients).
  5. Restaurants use coloring chemicals very liberally. In the UK, a sampling of 102 Indian restaurants showed that 58 of them were using colors above the legal limits. In India, this could be much higher, even though it might be illegal in the country
  6. Remember, powdered spices such as turmeric and chili have been found to be adulterated with artificial colors.
  7. A sure shot way to avoid all the artificial colors and dyes is to cook everything at home from scratch. So the best bet is to make the spices at home from whole ingredients
  8. Be extremely wary of what your children eat, their bodies are very sensitive to many chemicals – beware of those colorful candies

The biggest irony of it all is that artificial colors and dyes offer absolutely no health benefits to the consumer nor does it add any taste. It only benefits the seller/manufacturer by giving food a visual appeal that helps them sell more. But the fact is that this visual appeal exists only to an uninformed consumer. If people are aware of the grave health risks posed by artificial coloring agents and dyes, the visual appeal quickly erases itself and the market for these dangerous chemical would practically be reduced to nil.


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  2. Warner, M. (March 31, 2011). FDA Hears From Critics on Artificial Food Dyes. Next Step: Ignore Them. CBS News. Retrieved from
  3. Kobylewski, S., Jacobson, M. (June 2010). Food Dyes A Rainbow of Risks. Center for Science in Public Interest. Retrieved from
  4. Poulter, S. (May 04, 2005). Cancer checks on spices after new food dyes alert. Daily Mail. Retrieved from
  5. ‘Dangerous dye levels’ found in tikka. (23 March 2004). The Guardian. Retrieved from
  6. Rao, S., Rao G. (Jul 23, 2006). All the colours of food. The Hindu. Retrieved from
  7. Tartrazine – 30 Years Of Poisoning By The Most Common Food Additive. Natural Health for You. Retrieved from
  8. The 11 Most Controversial Food Additives. Men’s Health. Retrieved from
  9. Carmoisine. Be Food Smart. Retrieved from
  10. E124. The UK Food Guide. Retrieved from
  11. Food Colouring E100-E181. Food Reactions. Retrieved from

  • umesh H V

    Govt shouldn’t give permission to sell artificial coloring added food items in various marketing areas ,as its very fatal to health should avoid.