Green Food Dye: Is It Safe?

St. Patrick's Day celebrates the patron saint of Ireland. The day is filled with food, drinking, parades, and dancing. Everything is bright shamrock green: painted faces and even beer contains green dye. However, some media outlets claim that eating green dye can negatively affect your health. Are these statements fact or fiction?

In this article, we investigate whether there are any side effects of ingesting green food coloring that are proved by science.

Food coloring – what it is made of?


Food dyes are chemically engineered compounds that enhance color and brightness in food. Artificially enhancing the color of foods and beverages can make them more appealing to consumers. These pigments are added to baked goods, candies, and even brightly colored beverages, such as juices or sports drinks.

In the past, food dyes were created with harmful ingredients, which have now been removed from the products. Today, artificial dyes are made with raw ingredients synthesized from petroleum. The current food coloring agents available on the market are all FDA-approved; the FDA maintains the scientific opinion that ingesting food dyes poses little to no health threat.

Natural food coloring agents are made with minerals from fruits, vegetables, and other organic materials. Dried spices can also be used to add pigment, such as the bright yellow in turmeric and the red color from paprika. These products are also considered safe to ingest.

You can make your own green dye at home by boiling spinach or mint leaves. The leftover water will act as a natural green dye.

How do they make green dye?

A green dye is premixed using yellow and blue dye. On St. Patrick's Day, green dye is added to beer, pancakes, ice cubes, desserts, and anything else you can think of. Here are the FDA-approved shades which are used to create different types of green dye:

FD&C Act numberColor nameApplicability in products & industries
Blue No. 1Brilliant BlueA green-blue dye used in candies, chewing gum, frozen treats, and beverages.
Blue No. 2Indigo CarmineA royal-blue dye used in candies, ice cream, and baked goods. It is also used for medical diagnostic purposes and injected intravenously.
Yellow No. 5TartrazineA lemon-colored dye used in candies, baked goods, frozen dairy products.
Yellow No. 6Sunset YellowAn orange-colored dye used in beverages, sweets, crackers, and sauces.

Side effects of eating food dye:


There are several concerns about the safety of consumer products that contain food dye. In the 1800s, toxic materials were used to create artificial pigments. These products may have caused adverse health effects in the past, leading them to be banned from modern food dyes.

Understandably, older generations might continue to fear these products because they were dangerous in their time. Cautionary tales get passed on to the next generation, and the fear of food dyes continues. Fortunately, science has advanced, and stricter regulations have been added for consumer protection.

Hyperactivity in children

Children may regularly consume products that contain food dye on St. Patrick's Day and beyond. Cookies, baked treats, and other foods marketed to children contain many colored dyes, which some suspect can lead to hyperactivity levels.

Ongoing research has not confirmed a link between food dyes and all children. Children with diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be susceptible to red food dye, but it is not true for everyone. If you suspect a food dye might be affecting your child’s health, consult a dietitian and ask if an elimination diet would be appropriate.


Modern food dyes have low toxicity levels and have not been linked to causing cancer.

Most chemically engineered food products and additives risk exposure to harmful contaminants during processing. Red food dyes, and some yellow ones, might be exposed to low-level carcinogenic contaminants. However, the overall toxicity remains low, and no proven links indicate that food dye consumption causes cancer.

Allergies and asthma

Food dye allergies are rare, but can exist. People who have asthma may experience exacerbated symptoms after eating a diet rich in food products with a dye of yellow No. 5. It is suspected that people who are sensitive to hives and respiratory changes will be more likely to react to a dye of yellow No. 5, which can be used in artificially green-colored products.


Should you worry about green food dye?

Unless you have a known sensitivity to food dyes, you can safely enjoy green products on St. Patrick's Day. Be mindful of your total energy intake throughout the day; overeating can be a normal part of a healthy lifestyle, but only when these behaviors are moderated.

Alcohol is more harmful than green dye

The new alcoholic guidelines in America recommend tighter restrictions comparing with the past years. Alcohol is a known carcinogen and can also worsen heart, kidney, and liver health. Men should aim for two drinks or fewer per day, and women should only have one drink or less.

If you struggle with managing your alcohol intake, you may want to discuss your drinking habits with your doctor. A proactive approach to managing your health can help your long-term well-being.

People all over the world will respectfully celebrate St. Patrick on March 17th. Enjoy the festivities and the green novelty foods, but make sure you and your loved ones celebrate safely. Drink water throughout the day, eat regular snacks, and if you drink alcohol you should monitor your intake.

Key takeaways:


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