Two artificial food colours – sunset yellow and carmoisine – have been banned by the Karnataka Government. Read on to know why

In its latest move towards supporting healthy food habits, the Karnataka government has banned artificial food colour from being used to coat kebabs, fish, chicken and even vegetarian dishes. Earlier, the state government had banned the use of these dyes for a beloved street food, Gobi Manchurian, and the evergreen sweet delight cotton candy as well. Two artificial food colours – sunset yellow and carmoisine – have been specifically banned, after 8 food items out of 39 food samples that were collected by the state health department were found to be toxic due to food dyes. Many of these had been coloured with the two artificial colours that have been banned now. Read on to know the harmful effects of artificial food colours, and why they must not be used.

What are artificial food colours?

Food dyes are substances used to impart colour to food and beverages. “They can be synthetic or natural, with synthetic dyes being chemically manufactured and natural dyes being derived from plant, animal, or mineral sources,” says dietitian Kejal Shah. Artificial food colours are added to candies, drinks, salad dressings, baked goods, and just about anything.

A study published in the Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, states that the use of food dyes has increased by 500 per cent in the last 50 years.

How are artificial food colours harmful?

The use of artificial food dyes can harm us in many ways.

1. Allergic reactions

Some synthetic dyes, such as tartrazine (Yellow No. 5), can cause allergic reactions, especially in individuals with aspirin sensitivity or asthma. A study published in the American Family Physician, states that tartrazine can cause skin reactions called Urticaria as well as Asthma. It also states that many cases of tartrazine sensitivity were reported in the 1970s.

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2. Hyperactivity in children

Artificial food dyes are used in edible products for children such as candies. It is believed that these can increase hyperactivity and behavioural issues in children. A study, published in Neurotherapeutics, analysed the behavioural effect of artificial food colours. A significant increase in hyperactivity in kids was observed.

3. Potential carcinogens

Certain dyes, such as Red 40 and Yellow 6, have been found to contain contaminants that are potential carcinogens. They may contain cancer-causing agents such as Benzidine, 4-aminobiphenyl and 4-aminoazobenzene, states this study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.

4. Hypersensitivity reactions

Artificial food dyes can lead to hypersensitivity reactions, including skin rashes and headaches. This study, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, lists four dyes, namely Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 that can cause hypersensitivity reactions. The study adds that these dyes must be banned as they don’t increase nutritional content in food in any way.

Beetroot is a safer option than artificial colour
Beetroot juice can add a pink colour to your food and is a good alternative to artificial food colours. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What to keep in mind while using artificial food colours?

While some artificial food colours are allowed in some countries, there are some do’s and don’ts that must be followed while using these dyes.

  • Use the smallest amount necessary to achieve the desired colour.
  • Read ingredient labels to avoid harmful synthetic dyes.
  • Consider natural sources of colour when possible.
  • Follow guidelines and regulations for food dye usage in your country.
  • Watch for reactions and monitor for any adverse reactions in individuals consuming coloured foods.

What is a safe quantity to consume when it comes to artificial food colours?

The acceptable daily intake (ADI) of food colours varies by dye and is established by regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration and The European Food Safety Authority. “For example, the ADI for Red 40 is 3.2 mg/kg body weight per day. It’s essential to adhere to these guidelines and use food colours within the recommended limits,” explains Shah.

Natural ways to add colour to food

While some artificial food colours are allowed, there are many natural ways to make your food look vibrant and colourful. Here are some of these:

  • Turmeric: Adding turmeric can provide a yellow colour. It is also very healthy and has many nutritional properties, besides being an antiseptic as well.
  • Beet Juice or Powder: Beetroot adds a red or pink hue to the food. This can also improve blood flow, and blood pressure and increase stamina.
  • Spinach or Matcha Powder: Adding a bit of spinach puree or even matcha powder can give a green colour to the dish. Spinach is great for our immunity and digestion, while matcha makes us more alert, and keeps stress at bay.
  • Paprika or red pepper powder: This offers a reddish-orange shade, and it does not make the food very spicy. It also has antioxidants and improves heart health.
  • Blueberries or blue spirulina: This produces blue or purple colours. Blueberries have antioxidants and antibacterial properties, while blue spirulina strengthens immunity.
Turmeric powder on a plate
Turmeric is a good alternate to artificial food colour as it can provide a yellowish hue to the dish Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
  • Carrot Juice or powder: This can add an orange tint. Carrots are great for your eyesight, and immunity and promote heart health.
  • Saffron: Saffron imparts a golden yellow colour. Only a pinch needs to be added. Saffron is a mood booster and has a strong fragrance as well.
  • Red Cabbage: This can be used to create various shades, depending on the pH. Red cabbage is great for our bone development.


The use of artificial food colours has come under the scanner once again with the Karnataka government banning two specific shades. Various studies indicate that food dyes may contain cancer-causing agents, besides potentially causing rashes and headaches. Using natural food colours not only enhances the visual appeal of food but also can add nutritional benefits.

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