Red Dye Linked to Behavior Issues???

Updated on February 23, 2011
A.S. asks from Sandusky, OH
17 answers

For years I've heard how bad the artificial ingredients in our food are for us (artificial colors, flavors, sweetners, etc). I've just recently heard (although it's not a new theory) that there may be a coorelation between red dye #40 and negative behavior in children. I'm sure that most of the problems I've been having with my toddler can simply be chalked up to "terrible twos" but I was thinking about trying to eliminate the red dye and see if that makes a difference. I figure it doesn't hurt to try. Have any of you mamas ever tried this?

I will confess that my entire family lives primarily on processed food, as it is so much easier when you work full time. My daughter is a picky eater to begin with and I'm worried about how difficult this is going to be. If it's not macaroni and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich, she's not going to eat it. :P If you've tried this or if you know someone who has, I would appreciate you sharing any tips, success stories, etc about the experience. Thank you ladies!

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answers from Sacramento on

Some kids are sensitive to red dye. People used to think it had to do with ADHD, but that's since been dismissed. Some kids are just more sensitive to this particular dye and it can cause similar symptoms to ADHD.

There's no harm in trying to eliminate it. Red dye isn't an essential nutrient, KWIM? :) Just don't be shocked if it doesn't change anything.

Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I had never heard this until a few years ago when my sister was seeking help with her 6 yr olds behavior issues. She eliminated Red dye #40 from their diet. It really didnt make difference but was constantly a headache for them to make changes to their diet. I didnt see enough benefits for them to warrant such a change an efforts for a change.


I had never heard this until a few years ago when my sister was seeking help with her 6 yr olds behavior issues. She eliminated Red dye #40 from their diet. It really didnt make difference but was constantly a headache for them to make changes to their diet. I didnt see enough benefits for them to warrant such a change an efforts for a change.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Los Angeles on

My son gets a crazed look in his eyes and acts unlike himself if he has red dye #40. I know this from tracking it. He doesn't have poor behaivor (that others can tell) - actually acts like most of the other boys - lol. But he isn't himself. That being said....

We don't eat processed food unless it is healthy (is that an oxymoron?) But seriously - as healthy as processed food can be. Otherwise, every meal has a lean protein, healthy fat and healthy carb. I'm not Martha Stewart - our meals are simple. A site I use often is this Mom works and feeds her whole family healthy. She has a cookbook you can pre-order at, but her site is free.

To know for sure what is causing your son's behaivor, you'd need to keep a food journal for a few weeks. It may be that dye or it may be a combination of things. Kids will eat what we give them. If they are used to processed foods and or in your daughters case, mac and cheese or grilled cheese only - than it will be hard at first to change things - but it's possible and it's easier now than a few years down the road.

Take baby steps... You can do this :-)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I've always been pretty careful about keeping foods with any additives out of my diet and my daughter's when she was little. But I have a few times eaten such foods as a guest in others' homes. I feel the effects almost instantly – my symptoms vary somewhat with the chemical, but can include tiredness, nervousness, confusion, loss of "words," fast pulse, anxiety, shortness of breath, headache, and a less-defined feeling of being unwell.

This study showed a clear link between certain food colors and a common preservative and behavior in children:,8599,###-###-##...

Another cause of behavioral mayhem can be toxic chemicals in the home environment. We live in a rather alarming toxic stew that contains many chemicals that didn't even exist commercially a few decades ago. I have developed severe chemical sensitivities, and get both physical and emotional symptoms to exposures to perfumed toiletries, home cleaning products, fabric softeners and air "fresheners."

In group testing situations, I have watched children go from contentedly coloring to bouncing off walls, screaming, crying, or being impossibly stubborn just minutes after having drops of some dilute solution squirted under their tongues.

It would be worth checking out. You can try sealing all suspicious products in plastic bags and using free and clear detergent, baking soda or vinegar for most cleaning for the next few weeks, and watch for any improvements. If reintroducing the products back into the home then results in worse behavior, you'll have a possible solution to work on.

I know this sounds like a lot of change, but it's really not that hard to try. Most of the household products and toiletries commonly used are really not needed, and they are expensive. We believe we need them because the advertising is so compelling. But I've used very little for cleaning in my home besides baking soda, white vinegar, borax, hydrogen peroxide, and scent-free detergent for over 20 years. My house always smells clean and pleasant – and visitors often remark that the atmosphere is "calming." I think their bodies are noticing the lack of toxins in the air.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Not to complicate things, but...yellow dye also can cause issues. A friend discovered in her 50s, after years of knowing she didn't feel well if she ate certain things, that she was allergic to certain yellow food dyes that were in tons of crackers and other processed foods, and when her daughter and toddler granddaughter were tested, they too were allergic to it. Maybe sensitive is the correct medical term, but anyway, all of them were negatively affected by it and cut it out of their diets. Dyes are in most all processed foods, so watch out. Ask your doctor if she or he can refer you to an allergist who can test your child for food dye sensitivities. It might be faster than doing an elimination diet.

Also, like another mama said, favorite foods can be healthier! Try Amy's or other frozen brands of pizza, mac and cheese etc. from the health section of your grocery store. Or make your own in big batches with whole wheat pasta and lower-fatl, all-natural (and dye-free!) cheeses. Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I have a neighbor who swears this is true. Her child was biting and hitting others in school / his siblings when he got upset. He would cry at the drop of the hat, and he was 5.
She pulled most red, blue and purple (artificially colored foods) from his diet and in a few weeks he was a different child.

It is hard to get 100% (like ketchup, for example) but you can find so many cereals, candy, crackers, etc....and substitute healthy foods in those cases that even 75% out is going to make a big difference.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Topeka on

No, eliminating red dye will not make the terrible twos go away. hehe!

Actually I tried getting rid of red dye in our foods for a few months. It was hard work!! However, I did not see a difference in my kids behaviors and learning patterns.

I do think there may be something to it since the red dye talk has been going around for a long time now. However, there is no real evidence that it is true.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Bellingham on

It made a HUGE difference in my little sister. She was 6 I think when we figured it out. Once she stopped all red dye she was much better behaved. Her teachers at school/daycare even noticed a change. We could even tell when she got home if she had red dye at school or something, just due to her behavior. She would even tell us sometimes, "I don't like red dye, it makes me crazy!" LOL

**Oh, and I wanted to add...
You said that "if it's not mac n cheese or grilled cheese she won't eat it"...Well those things can be healthy! Whole grain organic pasta with low fat cheese sauce. (or cheese substitute!) Annies is a good brand for pasta. It's not hard really. Just go with whole grains and less refined sugar. I, too, was a processed food-aholic, but slowly you can change the way you and your family eats! : D

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answers from Dallas on

It could make a difference, but it depends. Some kids are extremely sensitive to red dye. My niece is one of those kids. A HUGE difference was seen when it was eliminated, but it doesn't work for other kids. Just to be honest, the processed food will harm her just as much, if not more. She's young and you could change her eating habits now. Even if she's picky. It just takes experimenting with what she likes already. She's being set up for a lifetime of poor eating habits. Her generation is the FIRST that won't outlive the parents, and what kids eat is hugely responsible for that. She's under your roof now and you make the food decisions. It's easier to change now, as opposed to when she's older and on her own...and only eating junk...because that's all she knows.

Sorry, I got off topic. Red dye is in a massive amounts of processed foods, so you might run into problems there. It couldn't hurt to try, but behavior problems stem for poor diet just as often.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

red dye allergies do exist but they are nto very common. i wouldnt omit it if not needed

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I witnessed years ago my friend's daughter after eating something with red in it. She could not sit still but 2 yr olds are very independent and want their way too. What we eat has a lot to do with our health. Fresh fruits and veggies at every meal, either two veggies or two fruits or one each but it is a must for children. Milk is important too. Picky eater or not if she does not get just want she wants she will have to eat evenually. I have a home day care and seems more boys to me are picky but processed food has way too much salt and sugars in them. To me it is much easier to cook and kids all seem to like speghetti and I sneak in veggies there. Cook to soften veggies and puree them in a blender then put them in the sauce of speghetti. Put fruit in yogurt. Mix in applesauce. Good Luck G. W

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answers from Dallas on


I use to be an Asst Dir of a daycare. About 4 years ago i was going through paperwork for a new familiy and i came across the allergy sheet for a little girl and it said Allergy: Red Dye 40. I was like huh? These parents are crazy!! I asked what happens if she has it and they said she gets hyper (the girl was already hyper so i just thought they were trying to find an "excuse" for her behavior)

Well a year later, my daughter who grew up going to the daycares i worked in started having some issues with me dropping her off at Kindergarten. She would just start to have anxiety attacks and freak out on the way to school and sometimes in the afternoon after getting home.

I just figured it was her and the new changes at school etc. Well it got to the point it was knock down drag out and she had been around school for years and we couldnt figure out the suddent change.

Well after a couple months we were at her dr for a checkup and i was talking to him and about the situation and he asked what was she eating. So i started to tell him well cereal, yogurt, poptarts, etc for breakfast and he said red dye red dye red dye.... i was like no couldnt be.... He said lets eliminate it and she how she does. I went home looked at everything... no lucky charms, no fruit loops, no yoplait yogurt, etc.... all of it has red dye. Even every color M&M has red dye!

So after eliminating the red dye after about 7 days she no longer was having anxiety attacks. He said he is actually an intollergance and referred me to the website It has a list of foods with red dye even drugs.

Hope this helps.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I never gave much credence to the idea that red dye or many of the other added substances in food had any affect on behavior. I'm not rethinking my position based on general observance of my two boys. Sure "boys will be boys", but when they are relatively calm when they come home and then bouncing off the walls after drinking a cherry slush and this pattern repeats regularly, you start to wonder if there might be something to this idea. So, still not 100% sure it's the red dye (too many variables to conduct a truly sceintific study of it in our house), but we're NOT letting them have any more cherry slushes and have advised their daycare not to give them anything red.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Augusta on

We did the whole red dye elimination diet and saw no difference in our kids.



answers from Dallas on

I did not know that eliminating it was making as big as a difference as it did. It was when I gave it to them again after they had not had it in a while that I noticed how out of control it make my girls. We make huge efforts to avoid all dyes.



answers from Oklahoma City on

A friend of mine took out red dye 40 and swears her child became a different child. I don't know. He seemed the same to me.

I do believe the old saying about you are what you eat but I do not go out of my way to buy non main stream foods. I cannot afford to buy specialty foods and cannot afford to cook home cooking every night. I would go broke on buying dish soap and paying the higher electric bill from all the hot water....LOL. I am all for quick and easy.

If you have the time and finances to cook home cooked meals with natural ingredients then do it for not only your son but also for your family in general.

There are many ideas for weekend cooking and having stuff already made up in the freezer so it can be quickly microwaved for an evening meal.



answers from Dallas on

Yes, all Dyes are bad. And all FD&Cs are carcinogens. But Yellow #6 in the one most linked to hyperactivity in children.

Be safe, avoid them all.

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