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The Red Dye Diet: The Concept

I have been wanting to write this book for some time, and since I don’t want to make time I thought what better thing than to explore it in this blog.

Diet books are all the craze, and while I don’t know much about red dye, research has suggested it can magnify ADHD symptoms and is hard to avoid.  So I thought I would do a mini-series on red dye, looking at what it is, how it affects the brain, what food it is in, and how we can avoid it with diet.  In this post, I am simply going to explore the ‘what’ of red dye.

Red dye is a food additive, an red pigment added to food and cosmetics that comes in both natural and artificial forms.  All artificial dyes have to be approved by the FDA, and currently there are seven dyes.  Seven were approved and then banned by the FDA for possible carcinogenic additives, and Canada and Europe ban some of our current dyes including Red #40.

Cochineal, Carmine, and Charminic acid are types of red dye made from naturally crushed carcasses of ground bugs called Dactilopius from South and Central America.  Kosher foods don’t contain this type of colorant, as Jewish dietary laws prohibit the use of bugs and their body parts in foods.   This dye has been known to cause allergic reactions, some severe, as a primary health complaint

FD&C Red #40 (Allura Red) is an artificial dye used widely in the food coloring process and is often referred to as the coal or tar dye.  When developed over 100 years ago, the dye started with coal tar as the synthetic chemical that served as a precursor to the dye.  However, the dye is so refined you will not find actual petroleum in the chemical.  The chemical name for Red40 is 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonic acid.  The dye also comes in a ‘Lake’ formula, meaning it has an Aluminum Hydroxide additive that makes it not water-soluble.

Kids’ brains absorb about 50% of what they eat, so while we may not directly link food to the brain, we must because food fuels not only the body, it fuels the mind.  So if we have red dye in the foods we eat, it makes sense that it gets absorbed in the brain.  This can affect the immune system, neurotransmitter function and also directly affect the brain in ways we have not yet discovered.

We are learning more every day about how, but a number of studies have suggested that the additive of this artificial red dye negatively affects brain functioning and increases ADHD symptoms.

In the next post we will explore the various research on red dye, and try understand more about the debate of the health risks.

Do any of you have experience with red dye?  Have you tried to eliminate it?  Anybody interested in trying a red dye diet?

Creative Commons License photo credit: austins_irish_pirateI

The Red Dye Diet: The Concept

Kathryn Goetzke

I own a company called the Mood-factory (, a company that creates products based on how sensory experiences effect moods. I also run a nonprofit for depressio, iFred (, we are working to change the brand of depression. And yes, I have ADHD, along with PTSD, major depressive disorder, and a host of other challenges, opportunities, and gifts.

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APA Reference
Goetzke, K. (2010). The Red Dye Diet: The Concept. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Sep 2010
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