As humans, we've always been attracted to eating colorful food. Growing up, we were told to "taste the rainbow" by famous thirty-second commercials on television advertising Skittles. M&M's were always the latest trend in candy. And let's not forget about Froot Loops, the cereal that made our eyes sparkle with awe every time it changed the color of our milk.

Tulsa Williams

There's plenty more of these multicolored food examples, but I won't sit here going over that list. What I will say, however, is that all of these foods, while they may look pleasing, might not be so pleasing to our health. Of course, everything in moderation, right? But, it doesn't hurt to look at the science behind what is making some of our favorite foods so vibrant and dashingly pigmented, and their safety and effects on our health. 

What Are Food Dyes?

Food dyes are artificial colors that are usually derived from petroleum. Do names like Yellow #5, Red #40, or Blue #2 ring a bell? These, and six other artificial colors, are currently approved for use by the FDA and are used by many food manufacturers to provide color to their products, for aesthetic reasons, and to give consumers a falsified perception of taste (red tastes like a cherry, orange tastes like an orange, etc.).

corn, sweet, cereal, candy
Kristine Mahan

Food dyes have been continuously researched for their effects on human health. They have been linked to cancer, ADHD in children, allergies, and more, and some of these dyes have been banned in Europe due to these findings. Although nothing is set in stone, we are better off avoiding these artificial food dyes in our food when we can and sticking to natural ingredients that will aid in not only coloring our food, but providing health benefits as well.

What ingredients can you use at home to naturally color your food? You'd be surprised!

1. Red/Pink Foods

beet, sweet, beet salad, candy, vegetable, beet root
Jamie Medina

If you are ever on the hunt for a natural way to make a delicious batch of red velvet cupcakes, or want to make a vibrant pink hummus to surprise your dinner guests, beets are the way to go! This beautiful vegetable and its juice will not only give your dish a gorgeous velvety hue and leave your heart beeting (I had to), but it'll also make your meal rich in iron, manganese, B-vitamins, and antioxidants. Turn up the beet! (I'll excuse myself out now.)

Pro tip: Try roasting beets in aluminum foil before incorporating them into your dish. This will bring out the flavor and make them to die for. You can also juice them to make the color easier to incorporate, say into frosting, for example. 

2. Orange Foods

pumpkin, sweet, sweet potato, potato
Alyssa Robertson

There are very few things I love more than a delicious, roasted sweet potato, especially when it comes out all sticky and caramelized...mmmm. Drool. Thankfully, this root veggie also works perfectly to turn any food the perfect shade of orange! Puree your sweet potatoes, and add them to anything, from a smoothie, to muffins, pancakes, or even butter or hummus! Plus, it adds fiber and tons of Vitamin A. Yep, time to sprinkle this on everything, friends.

3. Yellow Foods

ginger, tea
Aarti Vyas

I can't be the only person obsessed with the gorgeous golden color turmeric adds to food; just think of a turmeric latte, and the beauty it manifests, and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Adding just a dash of turmeric to your food (frosting, hummus, waffles, anything!) will not just add anti-inflammatory power -- it will turn it into the prettiest shade of sunshine and sunflowers, and is sure to make any kid excited to eat. Plus, it adds a super mild, kind of earthy-goodness taste that most people will love!

Pro tip: Make yellow pancakes for your kids and make them look like the sun!

4. Green Foods

tea, herb, green tea, matcha
Sam Jesner

I know St. Paddy's Day was only a week ago, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy green foods all year long! Those matcha packets aren't just for the lattes, and those spinach leaves are not just for trendy salads; they actually can turn any food into the color of freshly cut grass in about half a second (sans the grass...#winning). I love using it to make green frosting, green pancakes (perfect for kids!), muffins, icing, or any St. Paddy's Day recipe (which usually relies heavily on the green dye). No one will notice the extra antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals! Matcha made in heaven.

5. Blue Foods

cabbage, radicchio, red cabbage, vegetable
Nadia Doris

Red cabbage might be called red, and it might look purple, but when you mix this undergoing-identity-crisis vegetable with baking soda, the colors react to form a blue hue that makes you double blink...because fun fact, there are no naturally blue foods! (Another fun fact: If you remember doing pH tests with Litmus papers back in High School science classes, this is essentially the same thing. The cabbage acts as the litmus, and when it comes in contact with basic baking soda, it turns blue to indicate basicity!) Use this liquid in anything, from frostings to smoothies. 

Blue majik, which is a substance derived from the blue-green microalgae spirulina, is a nutrient powerhouse and also works beautifully as natural blue food coloring. Take a look at this awesome blue smoothie bowl! You can even make a blue latte and blue pancakes using this superfood for breakfast. 

6. Purple Foods

blueberries, blueberry, berry, sweet, Healthy, Fruit
Tess Tarantino

Here's another little mind game. The ever-so-wonderful blueberries, which have the word BLUE in their name, actually create a beautiful purple color when juiced/blended/mashed. Just another day in the life of fruits and veggies going through identity crises, but who I am to judge? These berries are my favorite -- low in sugar, high in antioxidants, and super cheap when you buy them frozen! Mix some blueberry juice to make some wonderful purple food coloring that can again, be used to make frosting, icing, cookies, waffles, pancakes, grape-flavored candy, etc. 

But we're not done here, folks. There's one more vegetable that serves as a purple crayon, and it's one you might have never heard about. The purple sweet potato, or purple yam, has a natural lavender color that adds the prettiest touch of purple to anything. Many food companies who have started going natural have even started using it as coloring themselves (look for PSPC -- purple sweet potato coloring). Try a delicious purple sweet potato smoothie and thrive from its antioxidant benefits! Kids will be going crazy to try this.

7. Brown Foods

coffee, espresso, cappuccino, mocha, cereal, relish, decaffeinated coffee

Everyone's favorite bean works as a natural brown food dye! Yay, yet another reason to be obsessed with coffee. Besides it being rich in many nutrients, adding a splash of brewed coffee to frosting, icing, cookies, smoothies, or anything, will make for a brew-tiful (I'm laughing by myself at this point) brown color. It works great to make "soil" or "dirt" using frosting for a garden cake, without the food dyes. Don't have coffee? Cocoa powder works great too. 

Although I'm a firm believer in the idea that all foods fit, even Red #40, in a healthy, balanced diet, keeping up to date with the science and current findings on these substances will allow us to make more informed food decisions to benefit our health, our children's health, and in turn, the health of everyone around us. Now it's time to use all of this newfound info and make a delicious, natural rainbow cake that will surprise all of your friends and family; they'll never realize there's no petroleum-based colorings in there!