Why Natural Dyes Are So Much Better

Dyeing eggs with natural ingredients is a wonderful way to celebrate spring and make memories with your child. If you haven’t tried it before, you’ll be awed by the beautiful hues food-sourced dyes can create. Our directions follow, but first, we want to take this opportunity to let you know why it’s so important to avoid artificial food dyes every chance you get.

You may be surprised to know that artificial dyes are created by burning coal tar or come from petroleum byproducts such as tartrazine and erythrosine. There is no nutritional benefit to artificial food dyes. They are used to make food and personal products look and sell better and are a cheap alternative to real food. Betty Crocker’s Super Moist Carrot Cake Mix contains “carrot-flavored pieces” but really doesn’t have carrots. The pieces are made from ingredients such as corn syrup and corn cereal and the orange color comes from Yellow 6 and Red 40.

“The continued use of these unnecessary artificial dyes is the secret shame
of the food industry and the regulators who watch over it.”

Recent studies of foods and beverages have also revealed that the amounts of dyes being consumed by children are far higher than previously thought. For instance, it was found that one cup of Kool-Aid Burst Cherry contains 50 mg of dyes—that’s almost twice as much as the dose that caused behavioral reactions in some children in clinical trials.

Incredibly, food dyes are also in medications. In fact, two forms of the drug Ritalin, which is often used to treat children with ADHD, contain dyes as the first inactive ingredient. Pedialyte, widely used in hospitals for children who have become dehydrated, is also colored with artificial food dyes.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), “commonly used food dyes, such as Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, and Red 40, pose risks including hyperactivity in children. Some also pose a risk of cancer (like Red 3) and allergic reactions.” Executive director, Michael F. Jacobson notes, “The continued use of these unnecessary artificial dyes is the secret shame of the food industry and the regulators who watch over it.”

Since the first studies of the effects of dyes on children were conducted in the late 1970’s, evidence continues to mount that they alter the behavior of children and have a link to the rise in rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“The harm to children and the costs to society from dyes are needless and preventable.” 
Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2016, p. v.

Different Countries, Different Ingredients

Prompted by three landmark studies in 2004 and 2007 published from Stevenson & colleagues at Southampton University, the European Union took action asking manufacturers to voluntarily remove several artificial food colors (AFCs) from foods and beverages or list the following warning on the label: “[this AFC] may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” The UK issued public advisories and encouraged companies to avoid these additives in favor of natural food colors and flavors. These actions have been successful in eliminating food dyes in almost all products in these countries.

Meanwhile, in America, children are at higher risk because the same food companies who sell naturally colored or even dye-free versions in Europe, use artificial food dyes in the U.S. These are the ingredients in a McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae:

Ingredients in the US: Strawberries, Sugar, Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Natural Strawberry Flavor with other Natural Flavors (Fruit Source), Citric Acid, Pectin, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Carob Bean Gum, Red 40, Calcium Chloride.

Ingredients in the UK: Strawberries, Sugar, Glucose, Syrup, Water, Gelling Agent (Pectin), Acidlant (Citric Acid).

Testimonials From Parents

Many parents have observed dramatic behavioral changes in their children from food dyes. The CSPI published three pages of testimonials they’ve received from parents who want to inform other parents about the dangers of AFCs. Here are two excerpts:

My child has been out of control since he was 2 years old. We tried every ADHD medication available with little success. After changing his diet to dye-free foods, he’s been a completely different person. I want to cry knowing that all we had to do was avoid dyes. – Cynthia Ogea, Lake Charles, Louisiana

We spent years battling my middle son’s severe emotional and behavioral problems. He was non-verbal, violent to the point of hurting himself and others. He was utterly out of control and would require up to four adults to restrain him. We took him to several doctors who diagnosed ADHD and autism. One doctor wanted him hospitalized and others prescribed heavy dosages of medications such as Zoloft. He was 4 years old at the time, and we decided to log his diet and behavior before resorting to medications. We found that the common link between his behavioral episodes was consumption of Red No. 40. –  Erica Stewart, Chicago, Illinois.

Consumers Are Driving Change

Consumers have the power to influence the industry and get these dyes out of products.

Kraft bowed to pressure from consumers to remove AFCs from their Mac ‘n Cheese.
Nestle has removed artificial flavors from over 250 chocolate products.
General Mills made a commitment in 2015 to phase out artificial flavors and colors from their cereals.

Most recent is Dunkin’ Donuts who announced in March 2017 that they would remove synthetic colorings from the U.S. menu by the end of 2018. Ahead of schedule, they announced in January 2018 that their donuts no longer contain artificial dyes. The company did clarify where synthetic colorings may still be found: ” … [in] select supplier-branded ingredients produced by other companies that are used as toppings or decorative elements.”

You can take action by writing to food manufacturers and/or signing petitions like these to tell the FDA to ban food dyes and, in the meantime, to require a warning label on dye-containing foods and beverages.

Easter Egg Decorating Kit Ingredients

If you check the ingredients on the egg dyeing kits, you’ll see the artificial dyes. This popular kit has 6 different dyes: yellow 5, blue 2, yellow 6, red 40, blue 1, and red 3.

Do these dyes penetrate into the egg?  Yes. If you’ve ever dyed eggs, you’ll recall seeing the dye on the egg white.

Now, Let’s Dye Eggs Naturally!

1. Purchasing Eggs

Eggs from pastured chickens are the healthiest. The results of an egg testing project by Mother Earth News found that compared to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:

  • 2⁄3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene

Another test shows that pastured eggs have anywhere between 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs. A brand we like is Vital Farms which is Certified Humane and raises their hens on pasture. Look for the carton that notes the eggs are non-GMO and USDA organic.

2. Making Hard Boiled Eggs

Place eggs in a large pot. Add cool water until the eggs have about an inch of water above them and turn on medium heat. When water is just about to boil, cover, remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes.

Run cool water over the eggs to stop them from cooking. Pour out the warm water and rinse a few times with the cold water.  A faster way to do this is to put the eggs in a colander and run cold water over them.

The eggs are ready to eat if you need a quick snack before moving on to dyeing the eggs. To easily peel the egg, tap it lightly all over to create small cracks. Then, roll it in your hands to loosen the shell. Peel from the large end first.


3. Making Natural Dyes

What You’ll Need:

  • White Eggs
  • Brown Eggs (these will give you variations on the color brown – golden brown, brick red brown, chocolate brown and taupe)
  • Dye Sources (turmeric, red cabbage, etc.)
  • Filtered Water
  • Jars such as Mason Jars
  • White Distilled Vinegar – this helps create deeper colors
  • Strainer

4. Dyeing Your Eggs

Our 8 oz. mason jars fit one egg, 6 ounces of dye and 4 tablespoons of white distilled vinegar.

To prepare each dye, put 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Add each ingredient in the amount below and boil until the desired color is reached.

Strain the dye into a bowl, then add 6 ounces of dye to two jars (one for a white egg, one for a brown egg) and let cool.

Tip the jar slightly to slide the egg into the dye. Let the egg sit until the desired color is reached, then remove with a spoon and place it in the egg carton to dry.

  • Chopped Red Onions and Onion Skins – 4 onions
  • Chopped Beets – 1 cup
  • Ground Turmeric – 6 tablespoons
  • Orange Peels – 8 orange peels
  • Chopped Red Cabbage – ½ head

Special Qualities of Red Cabbage

When you are cooking red cabbage, it may turn blue if your water is alkaline. A magic trick is to add vinegar which will turn it red right before your eyes. If it’s already red, adding baking soda will turn it blue.


Pastels: If you want pastel colors, skip adding vinegar and/or shorten the dye time.
Deeper Colors: Refrigerate eggs in the dye overnight.


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