Guest Blogger: Allergic to Yellow Dye #5

The first time I discovered I was allergic to Yellow #5 was when I was in school to become an aesthetician. Part of the reason I had decided this career path was because I had battled with my skin for years. Here I was in my early 20’s and always had breakouts on my chin. I should specify that this type of breakout was unusual. Sure it looked like acne but it itched terribly and was extremely painful. This should have tipped me off that this was a typical allergic reaction. I met several people in school who had this same problem and by word of mouth one of us had heard of Yellow Dye #5 allergies. One of the girls swore that once she removed it from her diet her chin cleared up immediately. I decided that night to try to take it out of my diet. I had no idea how daunting this task would be. IT WAS IN EVERYTHING! Sure, I expected colored candies, chips and sodas but I had no idea how many regular items it was in. I quickly learned that just because something wasn’t “yellow” didn’t mean this dye wasn’t in it. White cakes mixes, vanilla canned frosting, pancake mixes, refrigerated biscuits and croissants. It seems Yellow #5 is used to create that off white color.

As tough as it was, I soon found a lot of alternatives. Surprisingly name brand items tend to be more likely to have it then a store brand. Within a week or two, I noticed an immediate difference. I was clear skinned for a month until I started breaking out again. I thought the project was a bust until I discovered the sneaky dye had made its way into my new toothpaste. Most green toothpaste has this color additive. Crisis adverted. Ditched the toothpaste and clear skin came back. I was fascinated by this and started sharing this information with every person I met. I started really researching and was amazed at all the side effects listed for Yellow #5. Just check out the Wikipedia write up on it

Irritability, sleep disturbances, hyperactivity, anxiety, blurred vision, migraines…even possibilities of lower sperm count! It made me wonder if the reason my migraines finally went away was because I removed this from my diet. It might seem silly to think that something so small could cause all these problems. However, I urge you to read the back of your food items and see how many things have Yellow Dye. Yellow #5 is one of the most used dyes in food. The more research I have done the more I realize I want to remove all unnatural dyes from my diet. We are stuck using them because apparently if food doesn’t have color than it is less appetizing to us. It’s a natural desire to have colorful foods. However, I think this is wired in us because we should want to eat colorful fruits and vegetables. There are lots of alternatives to artificial dyes. Turmeric is wonderful fill in for yellow dye. This is what gives mustard its bright yellow color. It’s natural and imparts no flavor. I promise you won’t miss out on anything special by removing these items from your diet. You might just discover some added health benefits!   

Today’s guest blogger is Patience Wallace and is on twitter at @pwallacetn

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34 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Allergic to Yellow Dye #5

  1. I just finished reading Robin O'Neil's (hope I'm spelling her name right) The Unhealthy Truth and it's very much of the same vein. Her youngest child had an allergic reaction to an egg and from there it was just like pulling a loose thread on a sweater–the more she learned about allergies, the more she learned about the food we eat and discovered that a lot of what we eat isn't actually food and has lots of research to back up the fact that it's bad for us. Also interesting, many of the foods that are allowed here in the US (food additives) aren't allowed in Canada or overseas or aren't used because consumers don't want them. It was a real eye opener. I'm very particular about what our family eats but I hadn't really been paying attention to food dyes and chemical preservatives. Now I really do and, yes, yellow #5 is in everything. I cook most things from scratch but when I want to buy something processed I almost always buy organic and even then scrutinize the ingredient list.

  2. I'm sorry, but "turmeric imparts no flavor"? It sounds like Yellow #5 has destroyed your taste buds. It may not be strong, but it definitely has a flavor.

  3. Funny that you should say turmeric adds no flavor, when I add it to certain foods specifically *for* the flavor.

  4. Hooray for unprocessed foods!!! Eating simple homemade foods is best for your health and waistline! No PhD required.

  5. great post – thank you for sharing this story. I have heard lately about the harm of many artificial food dyes and will be on the look out for them from now on.

  6. Some food dyes are linked with the symptoms of ADD and ADHD. I think this is thought of as a food sensitivity to the artificial colors, but I haven't researched that one. And of course, foods that are marketed to kids usually have way more of the artificial colors. It's another reason to avoid processed foods.

    On the topic of turmeric…we make our own playdough and use turmeric as one of the coloring agents. It makes a beautiful bright yellow color. And beet juice makes the prettiest bright pinky-red of all times ever.

  7. My youngest has a sensitivity to red#40, and like Yellow #5 it is in everything! Well everything red, pink, purple, orange, dark yellow, and some greens and blues.

    It causes increased erratic hyper-activity, restlessness and insomnia in her. We had to have one of her medications changed because the little blue capsule the first one came in contained Red #40.

    We've found a lot of alternatives for her in foods, and often Organic, Gluten Free, and kosher foods do not contain the dyes.

  8. I've been thinking about a ban on dyes in food… then we can see the crap for what it really is: grey, unappetizing-looking processed crap.

    If people could see what we were really eating, perhaps we would choose more healthy alternatives, like fresh fruits and veggies which look so appetizing. If processed macaroni and cheese were grey, would your kids want to eat it?

  9. What came first – the chicken or the egg? The food dye for aesthetic appeal or our expectation of what good, aesthetically appealing food should look like?

    The food industry recognizes many of it's failings – portion sizes; color dyes; excessive amounts of fat, sugar, and salt – but claims that if changes were to be made, sales would go down and people would be disappointed.

    I think they are dead wrong. And there is a large untapped market for wholesome foods for any ambitious entrepreneur to step in and grab their share!

  10. Dr. Ben Feingold was an allergist for Kaiser Permanente in the 70s and specifically invented the Feingold Diet (which eliminates salicylates as well as artificial food dyes) as a way to battle ADD type symptoms and other symptoms of allergies. The Feingold diet is often used for autism, I use to help my son who is dx with Bipolar and other learning disabilities.

    Feingold's book has tons of info about allergic response to these kinds of chemicals and how they manifest.

    Annatto is another natural dye that can take the place of yellow dyes.

    In Europe, yellow #5 (tartarizine) is banned. You know you can get Kraft Mac n Cheese sans yellow #5 there? M*Ms, etc. without the toxic dyes? It makes me mad that you can't buy those products in the US.

  11. I'll always remember making slice and bake cookies when I had a 7 yr old and a toddler…it was Autumn, I was Young & Tired, so slice and bake. There were Black witches hats in the middle of the off white cookie. So lets see…yellow no. 5 and lots of green, because black is really mostly green dye…the kids of course gladly ate those cookies, it kept the oldest entertained "helping" me bake them when her sister didn't get to help because she was too little.
    Well the next poopy diaper was teal in color and we Never made those cookies again.
    Ah to be so young and uninformed of what I was feeding my kids. I feel so stupid now. If only I could do it all over.
    The good news is, I've always cooked most of our meals from scratch, we haven't eaten tons of fast food and you live and you learn.

  12. i see a definite correlation between red 40 and the severity of my depression. to the point where i'm fairly comfortable saying red 40 makes me suicidal.

  13. I forgot to mention that those dyes are banned in Canada too. You can find the same US products there sans the color additives.

    As far as the Turmeric is concerned. I only said it was tasteless because that's what was brought up on the Science Channel about food making. I'm sure if you just tasted by itself it would seem to have a flavor. However, food makers use it because it doesn't alter the taste of the foods they make. I think they must used a very limited amount since it's a powerful color agent.

    1. Oh those dyes are alive and well in Canada and making us unwell too! They need to be banned in all its of North America. It is absurd how many products it is in.

  14. Same goes for HFCS in Canada–it just doesn't exist in our food. Yay Canada!

  15. Patience, thanks for raising this very important and scary topic.

    When I go to the beach, I'm amazed by the number of kids gulping down red or blue Gatorade. Those are the colors I see most frequently. This is one instance where I think kids consuming sugary drinks is probably OK because they are burning so many calories running around in the sand and water for hours on end. The Gatorade is probably also replacing salt and electrolytes being lost through perspiration which is a good thing.

    I just can't get past those neon colors, though. Those dyes are there solely to increase sales of Gatorade. When will parents wake from their stupor and demand that food companies cease this type marketing practice? There needs to be more and better nutrition education in our country and it shouldn't just be aimed at kids. Adults, particularly parents, need more and better nutrition education, too.

  16. Really, no HFCS in Canada? No dyes either? Cool.

    More Salt in your canned foods though…not that there isn't a lot of salt in all processed food here in the USA.

    Turmeric can be used to dye wool just add some vinegar to the water.
    Of course, so can Koolaid. In fact with Koolaid you don't need anything but unsweetened Koolaid and water the acid is already in the packet.
    Guess what I Never let my kids drink after the cookie dye incident? 😉

  17. Viki, the same thing happened to me as your little one. Back in May I was at a gathering at a friend's house, who had just made a red, white and blue cake for Memorial Day. She gave us the cake scraps and leftover homemade frosting; I love cake and adore frosting (I'm the type who will "accidentally" make too much frosting and be forced – FORCED! – to eat the leftovers out of the bowl) so I ate quite a lot of blue frosting that night. My poop was green for three days. My normal diet is all raw veggies and fruits, oats and lentils, so I wasn't too worried about it, just mildly disconcerted. The human body can't "use" stuff like dyes, so it gets flushed out with the rest of the waste.

  18. My family and I just starting paying attention to all the dyes that are in foods. What's interesting is that the UK uses healthy alternatives to coloring their foods such as using parika to redden a food. The US is the only country to use food dyes. It's terrible.

  19. I grew up in a household that had a garden — a huge vegetable garden every Summer. Every Spring my father went to a farm (a co-worker who also raised cattle and hogs) and chose a calf and a piglet to be raised for our use (and we had EVERY part . . . my grandparents took the parts that we didn't want(tongue, intestines (used for sausage casing — my grandfather made homemade sausage), etc. My mother cooked from scratch every meal, every day . . . and when she did make cakes, pies, or cookies . . . it was all from scratch . . . even the frosting she made (when she made a frosting . . . often cakes were served with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar). We never had processed foods . . . no canned ravioli (my Mom made AWESOME ravioli–from scratch–dough and fillings and these things were the size of pillows!!!), no canned soup, no Kool-Aid . . . none of that stuff. Dinners out at restaurants were a rarity — a special treat . . . and we dressed up for the evening out (my how things have changed)!!

    When I left the house and was on my own, I "treated" myself to some of those items that seemed to be forbidden when growing up . . . Chef Boyardee ravioli, Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup . . . and Kool-Aid — GRAPE Kool-Aid!!! The only time prior to that I had enjoyed Kool-Aid was when visiting at friends' homes. And here I was, adult–on my own, shopping for myself–I can have whatever I want. So into the shopping cart went the Grape Kool-Aid, and some ravioli, and chicken noodle soup, and french bread pizzas, . . . and as was mentioned by others . . . the "waste" in the commode was green, not just green, but neon GREEN!!!! WHAT????? How could that be????

    Well, I chalked up the experience to live and learn . . . and coming to the realization that Mom and Dad did know best!! Today I concentrate on more fresh food, homemade–from scratch–meals and occasional indulgences.

  20. There IS high fructose corn syrup here in Canada. It is under a different name on the food label, 'glucose-fructose'. I never knew it was the same thing until recently when I cut out a lot of bad foods in my diet.

  21. Turmeric contains sulfur. Sulfur is a more common allergy than Yellow #5, so it's highly doubtful turmeric would be a good substitute. I am posting this for one because I'm highly allergic to Sulfur – it's already hard enough to find products that contain no traces of sulfur in them.

  22. Anonymous 6:51–those sneaky cheaters! What a dirty trick! Thank you so much!

  23. My now five year old son has a sensitivity to food dye. We avoid it. He came to us as a foster child at 13 months. The hives were explained as stress. I kept a food diary. Rainbow colored gold fish, popsicles, mac & cheese and more all brought on hives. We eliminated these from his diet, and no more hives. Interestingly enough, he really calmed down too.
    It's hard to keep to a food dye free diet, but it is worth it!

  24. Ahem, beta carotene. That's the natural yellow food dye you want. Oh wait, that's not added by humans, that's what NATURE "adds" to things to make them yellow or orange, not tumeric.

    I agree that the reason humans like colorful foods is because we're hardwired to want colorful fruits and vegetables. Beta carotene and lycopene (which makes tomatoes and watermelon red) are both healthful nutrients, so we are attracted to foods that color.

    That's actually why biologists think fruits are bright colors. They want to get animals' attention, so they'll eat them and spread the seeds. Convergent evolution. It's also why fruits are sweet, and we crave sweet food. Blame our frugivorous primate ancestors.

    But now that we can artificially make foods much more sweet and colorful than any natural foods would be, it makes the natural colors and flavors seem bland in comparison, and we can also make unhealthy foods much more attractive this way. It's pretty nasty how millions of years of evolution can be manipulated by the food companies this way.

  25. Thanks so much for your input. very enlightening. It sounds like Canada still has a ways to go too. These big food companies are taking us for idiots…

  26. After five years of struggling to get healthy after the birth of my son (long story very short), and of trying EVERYTHING healthy to lose weight, I have eliminated gluten from my diet and the weight is finally going, without changing much else (I eat pretty healthy in general). So. Yes. Gluten and other not-often-known-about food sensitivities can create a whole range of issues. I am happy to share more of my experience if you like.

  27. I am convinced…absolutely convinced…that many (not all) behavior problems and learning disabilities are caused by allergies to sugar, food dyes, artificial additives and eating too much junk food! If we would all try to eat more WHOLE foods and feed kids only WHOLE foods as much as possible, we would see a big change – a GOOD change.

  28. I am nearly fifty years old. When I was five, I almost died (anaphylactic shock) from an artificial red food coloring allergy. It is in almost everything! I even avoid frozen strawberries that do not have it listed as an ingredient. Apparently, the GROWER can add it to make his crops more appealing. The supplier does not have to list it, if he ever knew it was in there at all.

    I was not the only one. This was a problem in the sixties. Still nothing has been dome about it.

  29. I am allergic to Yellow #5… I have horrible migrains when I eat anything containing it. And yes, it’s in everything from Mac&cheese, m&M’s, fruit mentos lucky charms, some orange juices, crackers, chips,lip gloss…etc. I’ve known of my allergy for approximately 15 years and have checked nearly all the labels of the food I eat….. nothing is worth eating if it results is a horrible migraine. I do have to say that more and more foods are beginning to use turmeric, carrot juice, and other natuaral dye sources as well as state Yellow#5 in the allergen section of their labels which I am entirely grateful for.

    However, I cannot wait for the day when only natural colors, such as turmeric & vegetable juices are used to add color.

    1. I can’t tell you how strangely people look at me when I scrape icing off cake at a birthday party so my daughter can have some without green, orange or yellow icing on it. Yellow dye triggers eczema, tummy aches and wild behavior in my sweet girl. I have no friends whose kids have this problem with dye so it’s good to know other parents out there are fighting this battle with the foods put in front of our kids every day. I will contribute to your site if I can!

  30. I have battled with severe and crippling arthritis/inflammation in different joints for the last 15 years (I am only 36). I have been to a rheumatolgist who has said I have either Lupus or Rheumatoid. Nine months ago I read an article about Aspartame and started checking all foods thinking I might have an Aspartame allergy. But by trial and error discovered my arthritis and severe tendonitis was coming from yellow dye #5. Now if I have a reaction such as my entire finger swelling up like a sausage I think about what I ate the previous day and always find yellow dye.

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