Take a walk down the candy aisle the next time you’re in a grocery store. While you’re there, make sure you take note of how many different vibrant colors you see. Have you ever thought about what exactly makes these candies these colors?

Have you ever thought they were naturally dyed? How many neon colored fruits and vegetables do you see in the produce section? With a few exceptions (I’m looking at you dragon fruit), the colors of fresh produce are not as bright as the colors of many popular candies.

Many people don’t know what to look out for when reading the list of ingredients on packaged foods. Many people don’t even look at the list of ingredients. If you do, you’ll notice strange ingredients on the back of vibrantly colored snack foods – such as green 3 or blue 2. If you start to pay attention to ingredients in many different foods you’ll notice a pattern: most foods that contain these artificial dyes are unhealthy snacks and sugary cereals. A coincidence? I don’t think so.

There has been a lot of debate over artificial colors and dyes in children’s food, because recent (as well as not so recent) studies have shown that there is a link between artificial colors and hyperactivity in children. Parents who have cut out foods with artificial dyes have noticed a drastic change in their children’s behavior, and much less symptoms of ADHD. The most common culprits of these hyperactive symptoms are yellow 5 and yellow 6.

To make things worse, the food industry artificially dyes foods to make them more appealing to children. This makes it especially difficult for parents who are trying to feed their kids healthy foods, since children in the supermarket are naturally drawn to brighter colors.

These artificial colors are not only found in the candy aisle, they are also found in many popular breakfast cereals, yogurts, and fruit juices. If the ingredient list on “fruit” juice lists artificial colors, chances are it is mostly sugary water with little nutritional value.

So what can you use to naturally dye foods?

It’s important to feed children healthy snacks while making sure they are just as appealing as the unhealthier versions. It’s hard to convince children to eat a bland colored snack when they are surrounded by fun, brightly colored snacks. You can of course find natural color dyes in natural food stores or online, but know that the juices, powders or extracts of different fruits, vegetables and spices can be used to naturally dye foods without any harmful ingredients.

Here’s a few examples:

  • Red: beets, pomegranates, dried strawberries
  • Orange: carrots, paprika
  • Yellow: yellow carrots, turmeric powder, saffron flowers
  • Green: spinach, matcha powder, spirulina powder, parsley, wheatgrass
  • Blue: blueberries, red cabbage (boiled, then add a small amount of baking soda to the water)
  • Purple: red cabbage, purple grapes
  • Pink: raspberries, beets, cranberries
  • Brown: coffee, black tea, cocoa powder, cinnamon