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Foods Containing Yellow Dye 5 or 6 (Tartrazine, Sunset Yellow)

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The chemical structure of yellow dye #5 (tartrazine).

The chemical structure of yellow dye #5 (tartrazine).

Foods That Can Cause Harm

I am failing as a parent. Plain and simple. As much as I try to feed my son healthy foods, it seems like no matter where I turn, I find that one food or another may be causing him harm.

My family loves Kraft macaroni and cheese. It is a delicious, easy-to-prepare meal that I grew up with. I always kept a few boxes in the pantry for those nights when I just didn't feel like cooking. I even thought I was doing a good job by packing it in his lunch for school.

But after reading a blog post lambasting the dangers of the dyes present in Kraft's mac and cheese, I decided to do my own research on the health concerns of yellow dye #5 (tartrazine) and #6. The information I found was shocking!

What's the Big Deal?

There are numerous conflicting studies available to read. Please look at the reference material provided in this article and draw your own conclusions.

I read several articles concluding that yellow dyes #5 and #6 cause (or exacerbate) various medical conditions. I am not a doctor or a researcher, but there are several studies completed and numerous anecdotal testaments regarding the following:

  1. Hyperactivity: This correlation was especially present in children. The blogosphere has numerous cases of kids whose behavior changed dramatically when these dyes were removed from their diet.
  2. Rashes and hives: This appears to be fairly uncommon but well documented.
  3. Depression: I saw accusations that these colorings cause depression and anxiety, but I did not find anything official; however, it doesn't take much imagination to see that if these dyes change children's behavior, then they may also change adults'.
  4. Cancer: It isn't clear to me if these dyes are carcinogens or not. Some of the literature states that other carcinogenic chemicals are created when making these colorings.
  5. Asthma: Some people claim that removing these food colorings from their diets improves their asthma.

Regardless of how many of these turn out to be proven or not, I am not sure how eating a product that was made from industrial coal tar can be good for you. At best, there is no nutritional value. At worst, it may be causing a whole host of problems.

Important Warnings

Everything in Moderation

Do you ever use the saying "Everything in moderation?" I do! I use it in the context of eating well-balanced meals comprising a mix of fruits, vegetables, dairy, bread, etc. I use it to stop my son from eating an entire half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting. (Yes! He has tried!)

So, my initial inclination in this research was that a few yellow dyes, #5 and #6, probably weren't too bad for you. I thought that if you drank a gallon of the stuff, you would have problems, but who would do that? Again, I was wrong!

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the acceptable daily intake for yellow dye #5 is 5 mg/kg/day. For a 30 kg child, that is 150 mg/day. Is that a lot? A little? I have no idea! In fact, it has been almost impossible to find out how much tartrazine is included in products. There appears to be no requirement to report the quantity of this chemical in the food you feed your family.

What about yellow dye #6 (sunset yellow)? In 2011, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health voted to reduce the allowable level of sunset yellow to 20 mg/liter of soda. That was after the European Food Safety Authority found that exposure to this chemical was too high, especially in children.

So, how much is your family eating and drinking? Do you know? The next section will list some of the surprising foods and drinks that contain these chemicals.

Foods Containing Tartrazine

The full listing is absolutely scary, but I will give a representative listing of some of the more commonly used foods that may have these colorings present.

  • Cubed or powdered chicken broth
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Jello
  • Kool-Aid
  • Pasta
  • Pancake mix
  • Frosting
  • Pickles
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Creamy orange cheeses
  • Yogurt
  • Butter and margarine
  • Ice cream
  • Popsicles
  • Many sodas
  • Alcohol mixers and some beers
  • Boxed dinners (such as cheese-flavored rice or pasta)
  • Flavored milk
  • Orange-colored chips

I was absolutely stunned as I walked around my kitchen, looking at the ingredients of the foods I use most often. Not surprisingly, it is found more frequently in processed foods such as boxed dinners. It is not found as often in the fruit, vegetable, or meat sections of the grocery store, but be careful and check the ingredients.

Foods in My House With Yellow Dye

Yellow #5Yellow #6

Froot Loops

Keebler Crackers (3 varieties)



Lemon Jello

Lemon Jello





Knorr Chicken Bouillon

Knorr Chicken Bouillon

Where Is Yellow #5 Banned?

Norway, Germany, and Austria banned tartrazine until the European Union overturned the decision.

In the UK, public outcry forced several manufacturers to remove the coloring from their products.

What About Restaurants?

Subway prides itself on being clean and healthy. It very well may be, but their ingredient list is easily accessible online—their M&M and raspberry cheesecake cookies both contain yellow dyes.

You would think that as long as you stayed with fresh fruits and vegetables, you would not be exposed to these chemicals. You would be wrong.

In fact, both banana peppers and pickles contain yellow #5.

You certainly aren't going to know every single piece of food that has this coloring in it, but you can ask the restaurant for its ingredient list. Many people are allergic to things, and they should provide the information for you.

Even Vitamins?

This is one that flat-out makes me mad. After reading about the various products that contain these chemicals, I walked around the house looking at medicine bottles. We were in the clear until I reached my son's bathroom. He has a bottle of chewable vitamins. Uh-oh, they contained yellow dye #6!

This is very upsetting. If there is no nutritional value to this coloring, then why on earth put it in a multivitamin targeting children? Isn't this the part of the population that may be sensitive to this dye?

If the entire purpose of the coloring is to make the product look better, then why put it in something like chewable vitamins for kids? What child has ever said, "that bright yellow vitamin looks so good that I think I will have one today?" It doesn't happen that way. It takes nagging and complaining before the child finally gives up and takes the vitamin. Little did I know that what I was forcing him to take might be harming him instead.

Did you know that hand soaps, shampoos, creams, and other personal hygiene products may contain this coloring?

Did you know that hand soaps, shampoos, creams, and other personal hygiene products may contain this coloring?

Personal Care Products Too?

I thought I could limit my food dye concerns to, well, foods! Unfortunately, that isn't the case. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, yellow #5 and #6 may cause cancer when applied topically as well. Gross! It turns out that the process of making these colors includes petroleum products and even heavy metals.

Products That May Contain This Coloring

Hand Soap




Body Wash


Shaving Cream



For a Complete Listing

For a more complete listing, please look at the National Institute of Health's listing of personal care products for yellow dyes #6 and #5.

Several colorings are processed from coal.

Several colorings are processed from coal.

What Is Yellow #5 Made From?

Coal Tar. Yes, that's right. Good old-fashioned coal tar. The FDA has a long list of other dyes that are derived from coal tar.

It really makes you want to feed or wash your child in this, right? I just find it hard to believe that this produces a color that is edible and healthy for you!


My son isn't hyperactive and does not have ADHD. We don't break out in hives or rashes. We don't have any of the other ailments. But, I am left with the puzzling question of why we eat foods with these dyes in them. Frankly, it makes no sense.

These ingredients offer no nutritional benefits and won't improve shelf life. Several countries have banned them outright, and others are in the process of reducing the allowable quantities. So why should we keep feeding them to our families? The dyes' sole purpose is to make foods look more colorful.

It just isn't worth the risk to me. I highly doubt we can completely remove these from our diets, but with a little bit of effort, we can choose alternative foods that do not have potentially harmful chemicals.

I have no idea the quantity of these chemicals in the foods we eat, but I do know that it was found in several of the meals that frequented my table. Add up the portion sizes in the various products, and I suspect that we were eating a lot more than we should have.

The good news is that it is easy to fix. The only bad news is that it might take me a little more time in the grocery store, but that is a cost I am happy to incur!