How Artificial Food Dyes May Affect Your Child with Autism or ADHD – My Spectrum Heroes


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How Artificial Food Dyes May Affect Your Child with Autism or ADHD

In our colorful world, artificial food dyes are everywhere. In the aisles of our supermarkets, colorful foods catch our eyes and tempt our taste buds. But what might these vibrant additives mean for children with autism and ADHD? Recent studies suggest there might be more to these colors than meets the eye, potentially impacting the behavior and health of sensitive populations. Join us as we dive into the vibrant world of artificial food dyes and uncover their potential impact on our kids.

What Are Artificial Food Dyes?

Artificial food dyes are chemical substances made in laboratories and used to enhance the appearance of food by giving it a more vibrant, appealing color. Think of food coloring as cosmetics for your food. Today, most synthetic food dyes are derived from petroleum that can impact behavior problems, particularly in children with ASD or ADHD who are sensitive to the high levels of phenols in these substances. They can also be toxic to the central nervous system and exacerbate autistic behaviors.

The most common dyes include:

  • FD&C Red No. 40
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6
  • FD&C Blue No. 1
  • FD&C Blue No. 2
  • FD&C Green No. 3
  • FD&C Red No. 3

In particular, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, and Red No. 40 have been shown to exacerbate hyperactivity in some children.

Research on Food Dyes and Neurobehavioral Health

Several studies have highlighted potential links between artificial food dyes and increased symptoms in children with behavioral disorders:

  • A 2022 literature review showed that Blue No. 1 may affect hyperactivity symptoms in ADHDers, specifically children, but more research is needed. [1]
  • Another study performed in March 2022 found that a combination of artificial food colorings and sodium benzoate (a food preservative used in products like jams, fruit yogurt, and fruit pulp) may exacerbate hyperactivity symptoms in children as young as three. [2]
  • A 2020 pilot study on young adults suggests that artificial food colorings can affect brainwave activity in people with ADHD and increase ADHD symptoms, even marginally increasing inattentive-type symptoms. However, more studies are needed to confirm these findings. [3]
  • In February 2011, one study that restricted children's diet estimated that around 33% of the children experienced a decrease in their hyperactive symptoms, with as many as 8% resulting from limiting artificial food colorings. [4]

Potential Effects of Artificial Dyes

Increased Hyperactivity: Studies have found that artificial colors tend to increase hyperactivity among children with ADHD and potentially those on the autism spectrum.

Behavioral Changes: Parents and clinicians have reported changes in behavior, such as irritability and emotional reactivity, in children with ASD after consuming dye-containing foods.

Allergic Reactions: Although less common, some children may experience allergic reactions to certain dyes, manifesting as hives, itchiness, or respiratory issues.

How Do I Avoid Artificial Colors?

Food dye is in a ridiculous number of foods, and children are notoriously picky eaters. The first step is to find ways to cook at home. Buy cookbooks with healthy recipes that can be prepared in less than 30 minutes, so that preparing meals from scratch does not take up too much time. Switch out artificial food dyes with natural alternatives such as beet juice, beta-carotene, paprika, and turmeric. Foods with natural dyes can appear just as convincing and delicious. Children love simple meals, so keep it simple.

If you are considering removing artificial dyes from your pantry, here are some suggestions:

    • Read Labels Carefully: Start by checking food labels for artificial colors and dyes.
    • Choose Natural Alternatives: Look for foods colored with natural sources, like beet juice, turmeric, and spirulina.
    • Consult Healthcare Providers: Speak with a dietitian or your child’s doctor to discuss the best dietary approach for managing symptoms.


    While the research is still evolving, the potential impact of artificial food dyes on children with autism and ADHD cannot be ignored. By being vigilant about food choices and opting for natural alternatives, parents can help manage or potentially reduce the symptoms associated with these conditions.


    1 Cureus | A Review of the Association of Blue Food Coloring With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms in Children

    2 Nutrients | Sodium Benzoate—Harmfulness and Potential Use in Therapies for Disorders Related to the Nervous System: A Review

    3 Nutritional Neuroscience | Artificial food coloring affects EEG power and ADHD symptoms in college students with ADHD: a pilot study‍

    4 Child Adolesc Psychiatry | Meta-Analysis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms, Restriction Diet, and Synthetic Food Color Additives

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