California Proposes Ban On 7 Common Food Additives After Multiple Studies Show Links To Hyperactivity, IBS, Brain Damage & Even Cancer, Especially In Children

food additives

The state of California is taking a stand against some concerning substances commonly added to food. A new bill proposed in the California legislature would ban the use of four synthetic food additives that have been linked to health issues in multiple scientific studies.

The additives proposed for prohibition – tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), potassium bromate, and neotame – are all approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, research has associated them with problems like hyperactivity in children, irritable bowel syndrome, neurological damage, and cancer.

Additionally, the proposed law seeks to ban synthetic food dyes like Red 40 and Yellow 5 which have also been associated with health concerns. If passed, the California law would be the first state-level ban restricting these controversial compounds.

With the new proposal, California legislators want to protect their constituents, especially vulnerable groups like children, from potentially harmful food additives and dyes. Critics argue the additives are safe in low doses and the ban could negatively impact food manufacturing in the state.

But proponents say removing the additives is an important step in making food safer and reducing risks for certain health conditions. The proposed ban shines a spotlight on the debate surrounding food additive safety.

California is set to become the first state to ban synthetic food dyes following the release of multiple studies that reveal the additives can cause behavioral issues and brain damage in children. On Tuesday, October 17, 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill outlawing the use of artificial dyes like Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 1 in foods sold in the state.

The groundbreaking legislation comes after years of campaigning by parents’ groups and health advocates concerned about the impact these unnecessary and potentially harmful ingredients are having on kids’ health and development.

The ban targets the unnatural preservatives and rainbow assortment of synthetic colors that have become ubiquitous in processed foods marketed toward children, like candy, fruit snacks, cereals, and baked goods. Over the last decade, a growing body of research has connected these petroleum-based dyes to ADHD, hyperactivity, cognitive impairment, and other behavioral issues in children.

One recent study found that removing synthetic colors from kids’ diets for just 3 weeks resulted in significant reductions in hyperactive behavior.

With this legislation, California is putting children’s health and safety first by keeping these risky dyes out of the food supply. Major food companies will now be pressed to replace synthetic colors with safer, natural alternatives in their products sold in the state.

Public health experts applaud the bold move, pointing out the convenience of artificial colors is not worth the health risks posed to young, developing minds and bodies. The synthetic food dye ban promises to incite reform across the country, as more states now consider following California’s lead in banning the controversial additives.

The Shady Truth About Artificial Food Dye

For decades, the American food industry has used artificial food dyes to improve the visual appeal of foods. Synthetic food dyes add visual appeal by enhancing the appearance and color of foods.

While banned in most European countries for their possible links to hyperactivity, aggression, and cancer, these artificial petroleum-based food dyes have become a staple of Americans’ diets, especially children’s.

Synthetic food dyes are unnecessary additives with potentially harmful side effects. The Food and Drug Administration needs to take action and remove these unnecessary additives from our foods.

What Are Artificial Food Dyes?

According to the Center For Science In the Public Interest, synthetic food dyes are complex organic chemicals once derived from coal tar but now from petroleum. Petroleum, or crude oil, comprises ancient marine organisms extracted from the earth by giant drilling machines.

Petroleum is primarily known as the primary energy source to power vehicles and is used to heat buildings. Lesser known uses of petroleum include pharmaceuticals, plastics, pesticides, and food additives, like synthetic food dye.

Why Does The United States Allow Artificial Food Dyes?

Food dyes have been used in the United States since the 1880s and, at first, could be found in products like butter and cheese. Back then, food dyes were derived from coal tar.

The FDA article “Color Additives History” states, “By 1900, many foods, drugs, and cosmetics in the U.S. were artificially colored. However, not all coloring agents were harmless, and some were used to hide inferior or defective foods.

A careful assessment of the chemicals used for coloring foods at the time found many poisonous materials such as lead, arsenic, and mercury being added. In many cases, the toxicities of the starting materials for synthesizing coloring agents were well known and could be toxins, irritants, sensitizers, or carcinogens.”

Since then, the food industry has moved away from coal tar and used what they deemed a safer alternative, petroleum, to create food dyes in the 1950s.

Why are we still adding unnecessary petroleum-based food dyes to our food? The short answer is that it sells. The food industry will argue that Americans want artificial food dyes in their food and that we have become accustomed to foods looking a certain way.

For instance, when picking out an orange, consumers choose the most vibrant-looking orange. But, most consumers are missing essential information to make informed decisions, like the fact that the bright-looking orange is sprayed with food dyes to make it look bright and fresh.

The food industry is taking advantage of adding these cheap processed dyes to sell more food. Just walk down the cereal aisle, and you’ll notice how those brightly colored cereals at perfectly placed at eye level for grade school-aged children.

In fact, in the article “43% Of Products Marketed To Kids Are Artificial Dyes, Study Finds” from The Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Candies marketed to kids had the highest proportion of products with artificial dyes (96 percent) followed by fruit-flavored snacks (95 percent), drink mixes and powders (90 percent), and frozen breakfast foods (86 percent).”

Targeting bright-colored foods coupled with cartoon characters or superheroes to promote the latest in cheap processed food to our children.

Have Food Dyes Always Been A Health Concern?

Over the years, many once FDA-approved synthetic food dyes have become banned, and regulations keep changing. For example, in the 1960s, children became ill after eating specific Halloween candy that contained orange food coloring.

During the same period, the government held hearings regarding the possible carcinogenicity of pesticide residues and food additives. These two events triggered the creation of the Color Additive Amendments of 1960.

Defined by the FDA as “The Color Additive Amendments of 1960 defined “color additive” and required that only color additives (except coal-tar hair dyes) listed as “suitable and safe” for a given use could be used in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices.”

How Prevalent Are Food Dyes In Our Diets?

Fast forward to the present, and synthetic food dyes can be found in many food products. Currently, food dyes are not only found in those bright-colored candies or drinks found at grocery store checkouts.

Synthetic food dyes also lurk in unsuspecting places in the most common foods we eat daily, for example, marshmallows, cereals, yogurts, cheese, fish, meats, barbeque sauces, jelly, and frozen foods. Food dyes can even be found in white frosting, which makes the white frosting look more opaque.

What Health Issues Are Related To Consuming Artificial Food Dyes?

Synthetic food dyes are linked to several health issues. Multiple studies have concluded that synthetic food dyes are linked to severe health effects, including hyperactivity, aggression, and cancer.

A recently published study, “Artificial Food Colors and Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Symptoms: Conclusions To Dye For,” found in the National Library For Public Medicine, states, “Recent data suggest a small but significant deleterious effect of AFCs (artificial food dyes) on children’s behavior that is not confined to those with diagnosable ADHD.

AFCs appear to be more of a public health problem than an ADHD problem. AFCs are not a major cause of ADHD per se, but seem to affect children regardless of whether or not they have ADHD, and they may have an aggregated effect on classroom climate if most children in the class suffer a small behavioral decrement with additive or synergistic effects.”

One side effect that parents are particularly interested in is hyperactivity, especially in children. One mom’s journey to help her son, who was diagnosed with ADHD, led her to examine her child’s diet.

She discovered that food dyes affected her child’s ability to concentrate. Her son would even describe his symptoms to her as “brain buzzing.” The diligent mom started recording and tracking everything her child ate and developed patterns of aggression when yellow dyes were consumed and hyperactivity linked to Red Dye 40.

It’s not just children who are affected by food dyes. Adults can also suffer side effects, including aggression.

Why are synthetic food dyes banned in most European countries but safe in the United States? European countries believe that artificial dyes are genotoxic and can damage our DNA. Yet the same food companies sell the same products in European countries using natural food dyes and sell the same product in the United States with synthetic food dyes to save a few pennies in production costs.

How To Avoid Consuming Synthetic Food Dyes

The best way to avoid food dyes is to read ingredient labels. Synthetic food dyes will be listed towards the bottom of the list of ingredients in packaged foods and can have several names.

Some of the most common synthetic food dyes are Red 40, Yellow 5, and caramel coloring. Choosing USDA organic foods, which do not allow food dyes, is another safer option. If you’re looking for ways to color food naturally, use beets, paprika, blueberries, and turmeric to achieve rich, colorful, healthy foods.

In conclusion, food dyes are unnecessary additives with potentially harmful side effects and should be banned in the United States. The food industry can easily replace these toxic food dyes with healthy natural food dyes, as they have already been demonstrated in several European countries.

While using natural colors may require a shift in consumers’ take on what foods should look like, the health benefits of such a shift are well worth the effort. By banning food dyes, we can ensure the safety of consumers and send a message that we value the health and well-being of our citizens.

What is TBHQ?

TBHQ is a food additive that removes the oxygen content from the fat and oil molecules and thus keeps the foods containing them fresh for a long time. TBHQ is not harmful if consumed in the amounts allowable by the FDA. This common food additive has been used for decades to preserve the safety and nutritional quality of various everyday food products.

It’s an artificial compound made by adding a butyl group to the molecular structure of hydroquinone (an agent used for lightening skin and developing photographs). It has a whitish-tan color, crystalline texture, and a very subtle odor.

Generally, t-butylhydroquinone is preferred by manufacturers for its:

  • Low cost
  • Solubility in oils and water
  • Chemically stability
  • Reliably high effectiveness
  • General lack of effect on the color, flavor, or odor of food products
  • While going through the food labels, you may often find TBHQ together with another chemical called butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

Where can you find TBHQ?

TBHQ has many uses. It has been found to be very effective as an antioxidant in animal fats and vegetable oils. You can most often find it in food products that need to be preserved while being transported to refrigerators and freezers or displayed in stores for a long time. Some of those products include:

  • Edible oils
  • Soft drinks
  • Cereals
  • Packaged dinners
  • Most processed foods (noodles, crackers, microwave popcorn, chicken nuggets)
  • Non-organic, frozen fish products
  • Dairy products (cheese and milk)
  • Certain soy milk brands

The uses of t-butylhydroquinone are not just limited to food products, though. It’s also used as an antioxidant in other items that have the risk of going bad over time. For example, you can find TBHQ in:

  • Skincare products
  • Pharmaceutical products
  • Certain pet food varieties
  • Paints, varnishes, lacquers, and resinsCosmetics (hair dyes, eye shadows, blushers, lipsticks)

Is it safe to use products with TBHQ?

T-butylhydroquinone has been approved and given Generally Recognized as Safe (“GRAS”) status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But if you know anything about the FDA, you may know they regularly approve products for our consumption that have been scientifically proven to be dangerous to our health and the environment.

What are the potential risks of TBHQ?

Research has found several health problems associated with food preservatives like TBHQ and BHA. When taken for a long time or in high doses, t-butylhydroquinone can cause chronic and nutritional disorders.

Studies also show that TBHQ could have genotoxic, cytotoxic, and immuno-inhibiting effects on your body. There’s scientific evidence that TBHQ:

  • Increases risk of cancer
  • Increasing risk of tumors
  • Cells can become more resistant to chemotherapy treatment
  • Promotes food allergies
  • Immune-damaging effects on your body
  • Produces neurological symptoms including vision disturbances, paralysis, and convulsions

How can you control your intake of TBHQ?

Since t-butylhydroquinone is partially water-soluble, it doesn’t accumulate over long periods in your body. As soon as you stop taking it, you will stop experiencing the health problems associated with it.

To control your TBHQ intake, it’s best to avoid foods that contain this additive. One way to do so is by checking the labels of food products before buying them. Avoid taking a food item if any of these names feature in its ingredients list:

  • TBHQ
  • T-butylhydroquinone
  • Tert-butylhydroquinone
  • Tertiary butylhydroquinone
  • Butylated hydroxyanisole

Unfortunately, due to a loophole in labeling laws, some food brands get away without listing TBHQ as an ingredient despite adding it. To deal with this problem, try to avoid any foods that contain unhealthy fats and vegetable oils like processed and fast foods.

Issues With BHA

  • BHA can induce allergic reactions in the skin – The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies BHA as a possible human carcinogen(Yet FDA allows it in our food). The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has also listed BHA as a Category 1 priority substance, based on evidence that it interferes with hormone function.
  • Long-term exposure to high doses of BHA can cause liver, thyroid and kidney problems and affecting lung function and blood coagulation.
  • BHT can act as a tumour promoter in certain situations.
  • Evidence suggests that high doses of BHT may mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, which can prevent expression of male sex hormones, resulting in adverse reproductive affects.

Under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, BHA is listed as a chemical of potential concern, noting its toxicity to aquatic organisms and potential to bioaccumulate. Likewise, a United Nations Environment Program assessment noted that BHT had a moderate to high potential for bioaccumulation in aquatic species.

Potassium Bromate

Potassium Bromate is considered a known carcinogen in humans since it has been shown to cause kidney, thyroid, and gastrointestinal cancer in animals. Many scientists believe there is no safe level of exposure to a carcinogen. Such substances may also have the potential for causing reproductive damage in humans.


Neotame is an artificial sweetener that is 10,000 times sweeter than sugar. Safety studies found that long-term neotame consumption is associated with low body weight and low body weight gain in pregnancy and fetal birth.  In summary, the potential adverse effects of neotame on the gut microbiome are worth noting and should be avoided.

In Conclusion:

The implications of California’s groundbreaking ban on synthetic food dyes are far-reaching. Not only is the nation’s most populous state paving the way to pull these controversial additives out of processed foods, but momentum is also building to get rid of other concerning preservatives as well. Currently on the radar are 4 preservatives that may join synthetic dyes in being prohibited: brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, azodicarbonamide, and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).

Like artificial dyes, these additives have come under scrutiny for potentially posing health risks to consumers. Brominated vegetable oil, for example, contains bromine which studies have linked to nerve and organ damage. Potassium bromate is a known carcinogen still found in some bread and pastry dough. Azodicarbonamide has been connected to asthma and is already banned across Europe and Australia. And BHT is an antioxidant preservative that may disrupt hormones and genetic material.

By taking action against food additives associated with health problems, California is leading the charge in protecting consumer safety. The ripple effects of the landmark synthetic dye ban will likely pressure the food industry to clean up processed foods far beyond just removing rainbow dyes. The days of dangerous additives long-questioned by health advocates appear to be numbered.


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