Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eliminating Artificial Food Coloring From Kids Diets-- Why Do It and Is It Worth It?



I had loosened up on my kids diets once they were around 4 and 3; mostly out of trying to keep myself sane when we were in the process of moving to Syracuse and needed to live in a hotel for 2 months, then a one-bedroom apartment, then in a new house stacked with boxes. While I didn't give up entirely on nutrition, I did allow a weekly or so candy (Skittles were a favorite), we went out for fast food a lot since boxes were stacked around and we didn’t get a stove in our new house for 4 weeks. It was a bit of a shame, we had been exclusively organic before moving and I had even pureed all of my kids’ baby foods and froze them in ice cube trays. So while we weren't junk food junkies, we had strayed from where we were. I had friends who ran the gamete on nutrition beliefs: those who ate only organic, those who let their kids eat anything, and those like me that ran the middle-of-the road. I'd hide the Skittles from my organic friends and get McDonalds with my no limitation friends. Things were ok. Until...

Someone had planted a little bug in my head that artificial food colors were linked to behavioral issues in kids. It sounded ridiculous so I researched it. The things I read scared me and changed my ways-forever. I stared reading correlations between artificial food coloring (AFC) and hyperactive / problematic behavior. I was also told that Artifical Food Coloring was made from (hang on to your hats) coal tar residue / petroleum. Yikes! I write this here to educate and bring light to a hidden issue not to be an alarmist; but if it helps someone the way it helped us then I feel good about this post.


Michael gets overwhelmed easy. When he gets overwhelmed he essentially explodes. It makes me sad because this sometimes defines him but it really isn’t who he is.I thought it was worth trying and decided to give it a go and eliminate AFC. This resulted in chucking a whole bunch of food from my pantry and re-buying after reading ingredients. I found that AFC is in almost everything-- even where you don't expect it.

Dr Feingold was the leader of this movement. Back in the 1970s, he strongly advocated the link between diet and behavior which culminated in his dietary guidelines for children suffering from a variety of behavioral issues. Southampton University did a study that linked artificial food coloring and sodium benzoate and hyperactive behavior. Read the study information here.

The Center for Science In the Public Interest urges the FDA to eliminate artificial food coloring. In a quote from the article "The science shows that kids' behavior improves when these artificial colorings are removed from their diets and worsens when they’re added to the their diets," said Dr. David Schab, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center, who conducted the 2004 meta-analysis with his colleague Dr. Nhi-Ha T. Trinh. "While not all children seem to be sensitive to these chemicals, it's hard to justify their continued use in foods—especially those foods heavily marketed to young children."

JM Swanson and M Kinsbourne found in their research that food dyes impaired children’s' ability on a learning test.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has not acknowledged the link, however in the February 2008 AAP publication "AAP Grand Rounds", the article states that after reviewing the evidence and studies, the AAP concluded that "parents and providers understandably seek safe and effective interventions [for ADHD] that require no prescription ... a trial of a preservative-free, food coloring-free diet is a reasonable intervention" My opinion is of course it is reasonable-- why wouldn't they advocate for trying something natural like this before medicating kids with Ritalin and other medications? I wonder what took them so long to encourage people to at least try something before going directly to pharmaceuticals.

In my own experiment in our house I have found dramatic results. First of all, Meagan has no sensitivity to food dyes. She can have them which I have allowed occasionally and demonstrates absolutely no reaction to them.



Michael on the other hand is a very dramatic case. I can usually time his behavioral outbursts almost to the minute after having artificial food dyes. Having been off the artificial food dyes for three months now the change is dramatic: he is more even tempered, more rational when upset, episodic meltdowns have dramatically decreased, his focus is much clearer, and he is more easy-going. In my findings I do believe that there are children that have "sensitivities" to these artificial food additives and that they can be helped with dietary changes.


I encourage all parents to look into this issue, get all of the facts, and make a determination based on your unique situation for your family.

10 comments:

Joanna J. on May 13, 2009 at 8:01 AM said...

Thanks for this post. I have heard talk of this, and you have encouraged me to read more about it.

Mom4Change on May 13, 2009 at 12:14 PM said...

Great post! I created a blog after a revelation with artificial dyes. After eliminating them in my children's diet a new way peaceful way of living emerged. I welcome you to check it out - www.reddyefree.blogspot.com
I included links to petitions, videos, and whatever else that might help make a change in eliminating artificial dyes from our foods. Great blog! Thanks for all of your effort!!!

Mindy May on May 13, 2009 at 12:22 PM said...

You are an answer to my prayers today! Thank you so much for this information. My son, Jacob, sounds like Michael. (Although, I have not tried to eliminated AFD from his food.) Jacob has meltdowns all the time and his teacher said it is extremely difficult to get him to pay attention. What websites have you looked on to get this information? How do I know which foods contains AFD?

Cage Free Monkeys on May 13, 2009 at 12:26 PM said...

Mindy-
The websites are linked within my blog but you can also googel food dye and kids to get other results. You'll want to read the ingredients on all foods look for "Red 40" etc. Any 'color' plus a number is an artificial food dye.

Maria said...

I'm glad your son is doing better! My son is autistic (very high functioning) and has ADHD. We discovered last year that he has sensitivities to certain preservatives and food coloring, which you are right-they are everywhere! Try buying pickles without yellow food coloring. Even marshmallows have blue food dye! Anyways, he is doing so much better, but when he has AFC and the like his behavior definitely changes. Thanks for posting this and for your links!

Liza on May 14, 2009 at 6:46 AM said...

Excellently researched and written, Jen. The one thing that has always troubled me about our school district is that we have a "wellness" policy that encourages kids to be active and educates them about nutrition. However, when you go into the cafeteria, it's full of things like Powerade, Cheetos and assorted ice pops that practically glow blue or green.

I saw a bit of a news report on a school for behaviorally troubled teens which switched over to an all organic diet. They saw massive behavioral gains by their most troubled students. Amazingly, once the behavior was mastered, they could learn.

Making choices for your family that fly in the face of our convenience based society are never easy, however, you've done a nice job of explaining how you've achieved it. Bravo! :-)

Mom4Change on May 14, 2009 at 9:25 AM said...

I want to share some information that you all might like to see. In my previous comment I have my blog address about artificial dyes - that includes a School Challenge, links to share with your schools and slide shows that might help the schools make better food choices. I also have a petition in the links section that would be great if more people would sign! I find that many people get embarrassed when they say that they do not eat foods with artificial dyes, but to me it is a life-style choice. It is like saying you are a vegetarian and just because it was offered you still wouldn't eat it, right?

Jenny on May 14, 2009 at 6:27 PM said...

Hi. I was just surfing around some blogs, and I came across yours. It’s pretty nifty and I’m really enjoying my stay here. I’ve bookmarked your site for daily visits, and I hope you’ll visit me. I’d love to have you. :) Have a great day and I’ll see you around the blogosphere. :)

themagiconions on May 15, 2009 at 9:59 PM said...

Excellent, informative post... thank you very much.

Ninette111 on October 17, 2009 at 9:55 AM said...

Great Post Jen. I totally get the gut-behavior correlation. It makes total sense. Anyone who doesn't believe that, test the theory out in a bar. Take a shot of whiskey then see how your behavior changes!! My son has PDD-NOS and Meg is borderline ADD. I have seen with my own eyes how certain foods react. Put it this way- no more gluten filled pancakes on the mornings we have TaeKwonDO!!!

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