I have a renewed, deep distaste for the food processing industry.
I’ve been getting many, many comments from readers on previous posts about food dyes, and the more I learn, the more I get sick about what our country, big business, and the assenting families who purchase junk and don’t know any better are allowing to be packaged, sold and eaten as “food.”
It’s NOT FOOD.
I don’t even know who to be mad at. “The system?” I’m just mad.
Why are products made from petroleum, which is already a bit scarce (anyone notice gas is over $4 a gallon?), going into food?
There were some really interesting comments from folks who thought I was being too strict on this post, about our experiences trying to avoid artificial colors for the duration of Lent. They wanted me to loosen up and let grandparents spoil the grandkids a little, to not make food a stressful thing. I admit I probably get a little too stressed out about food, and it’s something I’m working on. However, there’s a time and a place to be vigilant.
They were quickly trounced on by other readers, who make excellent and poignantly true points, and I thank them:
If someone was going to abuse your child would you allow it just because they are “family” and want to “love” on them?
You have determined that food dye, gluten, dairy, corn, nuts, or whatever, is toxic to your child. Those items are causing your child harm.
WHY is it okay to allow Grandma, Auntie, or whomever to continue poisoning your child, even accidentally?
Mothers, poisoning your child isn’t love. Gently teach the grandparents and other family what they need to know. Offer to help Grandma research, ask her to find new recipes that she can prepare (after you review them first!) Give suggestions for changing the old family recipes to make it “safe”.
If she cannot or will not, your duty is to protect your child, even if that means limiting visits.
Teach your children that certain foods make them very sick. Teach them the willpower to say “no.” (Read the rest here)
And a first-time commenter who had to speak:
If someone were to offer my child a brownie laced with pot, which is probably safer than neurotoxins, I would refuse it as it would alter their brain. An extreme example I know but very comparable.
Probably the foremost authority on food dyes and physical/emotional reactions is the Feingold Association, which has been dedicated to helping people succeed with elimination diets to food additives for over three decades.
I have just started poking into the information at the website, and I downloaded the free eBook, but here’s what I’m seeing so far that helps contribute to my undies being in a bunch right now:
- Sensitivities to one additive, like food dyes, often also means a person will be sensitive to other additives, like BHA, BHT, and TBHQ – and man, those are added to TONS of things! In fact, just last night, as I was opening one of my TEN bags of Diamond brand crispy nuts out of them, I noticed that they add BHT to the nuts! Arg! I usually just buy Meijer brand or from Country Life Natural Foods, but they were on a really good sale. I never thought to check ingredients on walnuts – seriously?!?!? Now I wonder if Meijer walnuts have BHT too. I just emailed a contact there; I’ll let you know on Facebook if not on the blog! to make
- “There are well over 12,000 food additives in our food supply today, nearly 2/3 of them flavorings, but few have been tested for their effect on the nervous system or the immune system. Furthermore, many of those tested and found to have unfavorable effects are still in use. It is, therefore, not surprising that scientists working with the food industry have convinced the FDA to use the De Minimis principle (“a little bit can’t hurt”) so that new flavoring chemicals do not need to be tested for side effects before being accepted for use.”
- “Artificial color certified “FD&C” is permitted by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to be added to foods, drugs and cosmetics. “D&C” means the certified color may be used only in drugs and cosmetics. These colorings were originally manufactured from coal tar, but today they are made from petroleum.”
- “The FDA certification rules list the permissible amounts of contaminants and residues such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and certain carcinogens such
as benzidine. It is interesting to note that the D&C colors permitted only in cosmetics and in medications (and given to sick children) are often allowed to have twice the amount of lead contaminant as colorings
allowed in food.
- “In commercially available FD&C Yellow #5 and #6, benzidine (which causes cancer) has been found in amounts up to 200 times the officially allowed level of only 1 part per billion.2 FD&C colorings continue to be
listed as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) despite studies showing neurological effects, DNA damage, and elevated cholesterol.”
- “In 2006, almost 19 million pounds of color additives were certified by FDA inspectors. The FDA receives a “user fee” from the manufacturer for each pound of food dye certified. Note, that means each pound approved, not each pound examined.”
- (quotes from the “Bluebook” free download from the Feingold Association – you should really grab it, even if it’s just for the story on p. 9 about the amazing success one school found by serving actual healthy lunches to their students.)
Is your heart rate going through the roof? I hope so. Let’s get mad about this, parents, grandparents, and other human beings who eat food!!
You know, when people ask me what I do for a living, I never know what to say. Blogger? Food writer? Entrepreneur? Today, I feel like calling myself a “collector of stories.” Here are just a few that can’t help but give you pause and make you think about food dyes in a sinister light:
From a friend in real life:
A good thing, is the last time she was in the hospital (she got encephalopathy from H1N1), the neurologist said the brain does heal! Her brain has healed from her last EEG. She has until she is 16. We are hoping it completely heals, and she will have no life long limiting condition.
and a response from another reader, very scary:
And yet another reader:
How did I know? Well, he always had the green poop issue, actually more like diarrhea. Then, one time, he had a massive quantity of blue frosting on a cupcake (the frosting was bigger than the cake part). That night (in a hotel, of course) he woke up vomiting with a high fever. Everything was blue!
Anyway, the next time he had a blue lollypop a few weeks later, he broke out in hives. After a few more episodes like this, I had nailed it. Eat blue food dye, get miserable hives. We avoided the blue.
His behavior when he has hives is horrible, and he’s a really good kid. I’m going to be much more mindful of colored foods and hope it makes a difference!
Being Totally Out of Touch: Leah’s Story
In Leah’s lifetime, there have been a few incidences where she’s completely lost it and we can’t get through to her. I have no idea if those times have anything to do with food, or just lack of sleep, but because they seem truly neurotic, to the point where we worry and wonder if we should tell a doctor, I thought of them when researching neurotoxins that I allow my kids to eat all the time.
Last year, we vacationed in Florida, and although we could have sent Leah, then just over 2-and-a-half, home for an early bedtime with my parents, we decided that she had been doing so well that we would let her stay late for the fireworks.
When that show was over at maybe 10:00 p.m., my husband was carrying her down the busy Disney street to the exit when she starting throwing a fit and telling him over and over (and over) to, “Stand up, Daddy! I want you to stand UP!”
Since he was and had been standing, this was clearly a bit scary to us. We tried everything to break her out of what was almost like a trance, like she wasn’t even quite with us, and finally going into a store to buy a souvenir (not to appease the fit but because we had already planned on it) did the trick.
Clearly, on that day, she was extremely overtired and VERY low on the sleep she needed for a number of days. Such is the nature of vacations and being out of your routine.
She also would have had plenty of artificial colors and food additives, since even though we truly made about 75% of our own food the entire week, we were still reliant upon restaurants and processed food quite a bit.
In the year since then, there have been a few (maybe 3-5?) night wakings that are a little too reminiscent of that incident for my comfort. I’m sure all kids have times in the middle of the night when they’re not fully awake and are very out of it, but it gives us pause when a person does seem fully awake and yet (a) completely not in control of themselves and (b) seeming to not know what is going on around them.
Could these be related to colors or additives? Believe me, I’ll be paying closer attention and documenting it from now on.
One More Trip to Grandma’s
After the terrible awful fits Leah threw in the early days of last week, after spending a night at Grandma and Grandpa’s and probably having a little cheat on the food dye elimination (which I documented here), I was bound and determined not to let her go there until Lent was over. This was not a punishment, but just so we could complete the project and not nullify all the hard work and sacrifice our kids had done.
They were invited over the very next Saturday because the grands were taking them to Disney on Ice, and after a conversation with my husband, we decided that it would be okay, but NO eating out, no food purchased at the show, and I would bring leftovers for dinner (recipe here) just so I knew for sure what they were eating.
I tactfully explained the “not nullifying all the hard work they’ve done” and how we just don’t know what’s in things when you can’t actually read the label, and asked Grandma if I could bring dinner. “If it’s too much trouble and a pain, we can just postpone the sleepover until after Lent,” I said. “I don’t want to make more work for you, but we have to be careful because there are only 3 weeks left.”
They welcomed the kids with open arms (and we even sent some naturally colored lollipops and gummies for the grandparents to spoil them with).
Imagine my disappointment when I wrote down the following:
- Monday: SO cranky and mini-fits all morning. Took 1.5 hour nap.
- Tuesday: cranky in a.m., runny nose and sneezing. No nap.
- Tuesday night: John cried and woke Leah up at 4 a.m., but she got out of bed about 5 times over the next hour.
- Wednesday: better behavior in a.m.; no nap; SO tired by 8 p.m. that she was complaining about how tired she was! (What 3yo admits to it?) She woke up at 11:00 p.m. “feeling sick” and again called to me at 11:40.
- She played with fluorescent playdough at 7 p.m. that night (at Grandma’s, while I watched). I knew that it had colors but hoped they wouldn’t impact her through the skin. I should know better – now after reading this comment, I’m wondering again.
After Tuesday’s night waking, I announced to the family: “The good news is that colors don’t seem to be the problem. However, going to Grandma’s does.”
Then I found out that the kids had turkey ham for lunch on Sunday, and because it had been frozen without its packaging, we don’t know if it had colors in it or not.
I’m kind of hoping it did.
The End Game
I let both kids have a jelly bean – before supper! – as we gathered at my in-laws’ for Easter dinner on Saturday. Leah was just excited to have a candy, period, because she always is and loves her sweets. Paul understood the full weight of the treat: “But they have artificial colors, don’t they, Mom?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“Yes, they do. Would you like one?”
He was geeked.
Results: No night waking or terrible, out of the ordinary fits Saturday or Sunday night and through Monday. The late night Saturday (bedtime after 9:30; our norm is 8/8:30) definitely affected Leah on Sunday/Monday, but nothing beyond usual 3yo girl tiredness.
Read all the posts from the “My Food is Not a Number!” series HERE.
The Easter Bunny brought only approved sweets and treats:
- Surf Sweets sent me some samples of their naturally colored, no HFCS gummies, jelly beans (new!), and sour bears to fill the kids’ eggs. I might have sampled some (don’t tell). They’re really good. You’d never know they were “healthier” candy.
- You can find Surf Sweets at a number of online retailers, including here at Amazon.
- Yummy Earth Organics suckers, available at our local health foods store (but pricey, of course).
- Larabars, which I usually make homemade, but since they were on sale for $1 each at Meijer a few weeks back, I couldn’t help but grab a few. When presented as treats, the kids are so excited to have them, and I love having a healthy, no-sugar snack available in the car.
- A few eggs were also full of chocolate chips.
- Garden clippers and seeds (from the dollar store). The Easter Bunny seemed to know that the kids are always trying to help trim old flowers, thus rendering Mom not able to work because they have her clippers. Now everyone has clippers! E.B. also picked out meaningful seeds for the kids, who were, no kidding, incredibly excited and wanted to run right out to the garden to plant!
- Their own tape (another thing E.B. noticed they were always taking from mom’s desk).
- And for Jonathan, some freeze-dried fruit , which he got to try and thinks is pretty interesting. (This is our only dry finger food so far, since we’re sticking to no grains until he’s one! More on how we’re feeding (and not feeding) the third Kimball babe.)
What I think is great about this is that neither kid even knows the difference between the Easter Bunny’s contributions this year and regular junky candy. I’m pretty sure they don’t even know they got “good” candy in their eggs.
Grandma and Grandpa supplied plenty of junk candy to tempt us all, but I’m fairly certain that on Easter itself, the colors weren’t consumed.
But on Monday night…
Both kids joyously embraced their bags of separated candy full of “artificials” as Leah calls them. Quite literally. There was honest-to-goodness jumping up and down, and I think I may have seen one of them hug the bag.
Leah chose a Now and Later as her first treat back to food coloring and Paul had a fun sized Skittles. He had an achy foot (“growing pains”) about an hour later, which he hasn’t struggled with for quite a while. Coincidence? Wouldn’t that be interesting?
For us, I really don’t think the colors are making a difference, but it was an interesting experiment. We definitely haven’t proven that artificial colors cause any behavioral problems in our family. The night waking I mentioned in my last post continued to happen a few times near the end of the next week, when Leah would have been completely off food colorings for two weeks (although she didn’t stay up for an hour this time, thank goodness).
Many questions have been raised in my head about these colors, and I know they’re nasty, but I’m not going to avoid them whole hog right now.
I even just used the regular egg colors that I had in my stash, although I considered trying the natural egg dyes with chlorophyll, turmeric, and beet powder. It just wasn’t meant to be when it came time to dye eggs, and I was totally comfortable with the compromise. Plus, I saved the nasty colored water to re-test the Berkey filters like this next time we clean it. I know that natural colors aren’t all that hard, but since we only used 1/3 of a box of junk colors, it cost only about $0.3o to color a dozen. The natural way, including 2 cups of blueberries and red cabbage, would have cost over $3. Plus, I had an audience of family visiting to color eggs with the kids and wanted to focus on joy and fun, not trying something new. It’s just not something I’m doing while I still have egg dye kits in the house.
There are so many other issues possible in Leah’s behavior post-grandparents’ visits: TV, general excitement, lack of sleep, different SAD food in general…or just that she’s a feisty, stubborn, 3-year-old girl with immature emotions, who, like many preschoolers do after school, lets loose once she gets home because she’s used up all her effort trying to be so “good” at Grandma’s house.
What Will We do Now?
Moving forward, I’m going to work to avoid artificial colors more than I did before, which was zero. I’m not going to get worked up about them, but I’ll choose the non-colored option when there is one and be continuously taking mental notes on behavior, night wakings, and food coloring.
I cannot emphasize enough, however, because Kitchen Stewardship® is devoted to finding the balance, with budget as one of the four pillars, that buying pricey candy without artificial colors is dead last on my priorities. I would only do it if my kids actually demonstrated a problem with colors, and then only for special occasions. Like I always say about sweeteners like sucanat or coconut sugar, better to skip the candy altogether than stretch a budget to buy sweets that are only marginally better than the conventional and certainly not actually healthy.
In the end, I’m really glad we did the experiment, if nothing else because these posts inspired at least a few of you to try it in your own home – and some discovered a new child you didn’t know you had, one who had been hiding under the influence of chemicals affecting their brains. I’m so honored to have been a part of your stories, and thank you for sharing them in the comments here at KS and by email.
Why Get Rid of Food Dyes? The Cliff’s Notes
Thanks to Jen’s guest post on artificial colors, I’ve learned a lot.
- They’re a neurotoxin. That’s just what it sounds like. Whether you feel it or not, they’re affecting your BRAINS.
- They’re made of petroleum.
- Petroleum increases cancer risk. (source)
- They have allowable levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic.
- They cause clear reactions in some children and adults. (I know, I know…so does peanut butter, but only if you’re allergic to it. Still, that these numbers are rising, both on peanuts and artificial dyes, directs us to ask: “What are we doing wrong with these foods?”)
- Many countries in Europe mandate a warning label about kids’ behavior, and you know what? American food companies simply changed their formulas to use safer additives so as not to scare their customers, but they continue to use the scary, toxic stuff here in the U.S.!
- Since most kids don’t show a reaction, even though some clearly do, the FDA decided not to mandate specific labels on foods containing dyes. Now that just makes me mad! (source)
- The bottom line? THEY’RE NOT FOOD. Food dyes have zero nutritional value and only add aesthetic appeal to our food.
We live in a culture literally marred by fake foods colored with fake coloring. I visited Paul’s first grade classroom this week to listen to kids read out loud, and an interesting incident underscores my point:
Leah pulled out a dried strawberry fruit leather that I made homemade. As she was enjoying it – that’s a “treat” in our family – one of the girls asked, “Whoa, what’s THAT?” with a bit of disdain in her voice.
I said, “It’s a dried strawberry fruit roll…from strawberries we picked last summer.”
“Ewwwwwww!” was the immediate reaction. “Old, dried up fruit? Yuck!”
My words, “No, it’s just like fruit roll-up…” died on my lips as I looked at the brownish red food in my daughter’s hand. She can’t understand a strawberry that’s not perfectly red, I thought.
Thanks goodness my own kids still appreciate the taste of summer when they experience it (and don’t mind how it looks).Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.