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Red Dye 40: A Pediatrician’s Perspective

In recent years, concerns about the effects of food additives, particularly Red Dye 40, have prompted many parents to scrutinize labels more closely. Red Dye 40, a synthetic color additive found in numerous food and beverage products, has been the subject of much debate regarding its potential impact on children’s behavior, mental well-being, cognitive functions, and emotions. While scientific research offers insights into these concerns, opinions vary widely, making it challenging for parents to navigate through the information. Let’s examine some recent findings to get a better understanding of this common and controversial ingredient.

What is Red Dye 40?

Red dye 40, also known as Allura Red AC, is a synthetic red dye often used in food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. It is one of the most commonly used food dyes, imparting a red color to various products such as beverages, candies, desserts, and snacks. Red dye 40 is water-soluble, making it easy to incorporate into a wide range of products.

Common products that may contain Red dye 40 include:

Red Dye 40 Research

While it’s approved for use in many countries, some studies have raised concerns about its safety. Some research suggests that red dye 40 may cause allergic reactions in some individuals and could potentially exacerbate symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children, although the findings are not definitive.

Regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) continually evaluate the safety of food additives like red dye 40 based on new scientific research and evidence. In October of 2023, California passed a law banning all synthetic food coloring, putting pressure on the FDA to consider similar restrictions on a federal level.

This Pediatrician’s (And Parent’s) Perspective

Our kids’ health is incredibly important to us, and it’s natural for us to worry about all the stuff they consume. Informed caution is a crucial part of parenting, and every parent has a right to decide what they do or don’t serve for dinner.

That said, looking solely at the scientific evidence about the potential danger of red dye 40 and other artificial colorings, there is no definitive proof that it’s harmful. Association does not equal causation, and much more research is needed to explain the true effects of red dye. That being said, it certainly will not be harmful for a child with known ADHD to avoid it.

A balanced diet is key to healthy growth and development of a positive relationship with food. Most food is fine to give children in moderation, even if it’s considered somewhat unhealthy. In fact, placing heavy restrictions on their diet may backfire, causing kids to crave and sneak the foods they are forbidden to eat. As a result, parents lose control of their kids’ diet, and kids internalize negative ideas about food.

At the end of the day, moderation, education, and communication are important pieces of the healthy nutrition puzzle:


Allow kids to try different foods and help them practice eating a little bit of everything. Discuss the importance of a balanced diet, trying new things, and “eating the rainbow” (choosing fruits, veggies, and foods that are naturally colorful and nutritious.)

Example: “Let’s make a plate with some chicken, sweet potato, corn, and broccoli! Then you can have a piece of candy for dessert.”


Read food labels together with kids, modeling ingredient understanding and curiosity. If you are concerned about a specific food, look it up together or reach out to a medical professional for advice.

Example: “I wonder what ingredients are in this muffin we bought at the store… Hm, I don’t know what this one means; let’s look it up and find out!”


Discuss your concerns about nutrition and specific ingredients with kids. As they get older, involve them in diet decisions, teaching them to consider the pros and cons of different ingredients.

Example: “I’ve noticed that you have been really enjoying soda lately. I am worried about you drinking too much of it because I don’t want you to develop unhealthy habits. Going forward we’re going to all stick to a plan of water only, with just an occasional soda “treat.” I’ll do it with you!

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About the Expert

headshot of Dr. Christina Johns

Dr. Christina Johns is a nationally recognized pediatric emergency physician and Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care. An official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is board-certified in both pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. With extensive media experience, the proud mom of two teenagers shares over 20 years of pediatric expertise with patients and families everywhere. Follow Dr. Johns for more insights on children’s health!