Friday, February 27, 2009

dye free eating gets easier

I found something really cool. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy IATP has a Brain food selector that shows you which foods have artificial dyes. You can type in a restaurant and type of food (or all their food) and check for a specific artificial coloring. You can also type in a brand like Kraft. When I used it I found out Wendy's Chili has Red #40. What a bummer. That was my healthier substitute for the fried stuff. Check it out.

what can be done about food dyes?

There are lots of things the average person can do to help with this problem
  1. Eliminate dyes from your family's diet. Use your consumer power to buy only dye free products. Don't bring dyed food into the house.

  2. Tell your friends/family/neighbors to try going dye free. Let families know they can do something to help their own children and that it really makes a difference.

  3. Contact food companies. Make a formal request to take food dyes out of their products. Call or email to do this. Consider calling or emailing Kraft, General Mills, Nestle, etc.

  4. Contact grocery chains such as Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, or whatever store you frequent. Let them know you would like to see naturally colored products and suggest your favorite items.

  5. Contact restaurant chains like McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King etc. and ask for natural drink choices for kids, pickles that are free of yellow dye, etc.

  6. Sign the Petition to ban food dyes

  7. Contact your state and federal representatives and tell them you would like to see legislation to remove food dyes from food.

  8. Report you child's response to dyes at CSPI's site.

  9. Request your school to provide dye free foods in the school lunches.

  10. Talk to people about food dyes. Explain why you avoid dyes. Let them you know they can do the same.
  11. Teach your children to avoid foods that contain food dyes. Make it a rule that colored foods are off limits unless proven safe, rather than assuming they are OK.

why should you eat dye-free?

I find myself explaining this to other people all the time. Despite the research on food dyes that show they can be harmful or even toxic to children, our food industry continues to add inexpensive chemicals to many foods, especially those targeted to children. It boils down to money. It's cheaper to add petroleum based chemicals (that's what red #40, yellow #5, and the other numbered dyes are). It costs more to use real fruit and natural colors. The sad result is neurotoxins for our children's brains.

The FDA has not acknowledged the research indicating a link between hyperactivity and food dyes. Why not? Think about it. Who stands to loose if the food dye problem becomes common knowledge and gets addressed? Well, our large food industry will not be happy to see their profits decrease if they are forced to use more expensive ingredients in foods. They will claim jobs will be at risk, and nobody wants anything to do with jobs being lost. But the drug industry also stands to loose big time. Pharmaceuticals treating ADHD behaviors have become a highly profitable business. If you take away one of the driving forces contributing to the need for those medications, you also risk profits and jobs. So there are 2 major industries that benefit from not getting the word out about the research. These industries have powerful lobbying power in our government. They don't want the American public to truly understand this problem.

However, the same research prompted the British Food Standards Agency to ban artificial dyes from foods in Britain. Because of the ban, companies such as McDonald's and Kraft Foods manufacture dye free versions of their products for Britain but keep the artificially colored products flowing here in the US.

So what happens when you eat foods with dyes? Research shows hyperactivity in normal children who are not otherwise hyperactive. Parents commenting on my blog have reported everything from migraines, worsening of asthma and breathing problems, aggression, defiance, mood swings, impulsivity, rashes, and sensory oversensitivity. In my own children I see a real variety of hyperactivity, anger, defiance, and impulsive behavior. The best way to sum it us is that my children seem to loose the ability to have good self control when food dyes are in their system. It is amazing that these same behaviors just go away when my children do not consume any food dyes. I have tested this repeated for 2 years. It is always the same. On the rare times that the behaviors flare up, I can always find a food trigger. The more careful we are about the diet, the less problems we have.

I also want to mention that food dyes stay in the system for up to 3 days. That's another part of the problem. Most parents never connect the red frosting on Saturday's cake with the difficulties on Monday. Since it is so difficult to avoid food dyes 100%, most parents never get to see how much better their children can behave off the dyes.

I plan to follow up with a post about what you can do about this problem.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ugh, there's Red #40 in the Yoplait Light

I regularly buy Yoplait yogurt and have checked for Red #40 and the other culprit dyes repeatedly. I was always happy that it was dyed with beet juice or other natural ingredients. So I was really surprised when I pulled out the Yoplait Light to notice that the red raspberry, blueberry and blackberry flavors all had red #40. I usually get the "original" but Ed did the shopping last time and picked up a bunch of "light" flavors. I'm probably going to take them in to work and give them away. I don't even want them in my refrigerator. I think I'll write to the company later today. At least I spotted it before feeding it to my children.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Rules for staying dye-free

While we're all enjoying the good times, I thought I'd post our rules for avoiding food dyes. We avoid all numbered dyes: Red#40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6, Blue #1, Red #3

1. Always read the ingredients, even if the product looks white, it may still contain dye. Examples of white products containing dye: breads from refrigerated tubes, marshmallows, vanilla frosting, cakes, popcorn.
2. Even if it says there is no dye and it looks white, if it is manufactured with colored products, it probably still has traces of dye. I have found my kids still react to white candies (white nerds, clear Dum Dums, etc.) because they go through the same equipment as the ones with red 40 and probably pick up traces along the way.
3. Ask about ingredients in restaurants. Take the extra time to ask what is in the sauce, how does the rice get it's color, is there red 40 in your cranberry juice, etc. I've had to get over my discomfort with making the wait staff do this extra step. Luckily my husband has no shame and is never afraid to ask. It has saved us many times, but we still miss out on key ingredients sometimes (Watch restaurant food for hidden dyes in vanilla ice cream, mustard dipping sauces, salad dressings, pickles, lemonade, breads, etc.)
4. Provide your own treats and snacks for school or daycare. Get on the sign up list early so you can be the one to make the holiday treats. Then your child eats the same as everyone else and nobody gets the petrochemical overload.
5. Pack your child's lunch. You never know when an item that is normally safe will be traded for a colorful one. The chocolate chip cookies were traded for red and green rice crispy treats at Christmas. The nacho cheese sauce often has yellow 5 or 6. The fruit is often fruit cocktail with red 40 in the cherries.
6. If packing is not practical for daycare meals that you have to pay for, check the menu ahead and substitute as needed. My 3 year old goes to preschool/day care 2 days a week. Her meals are included, but they have a few items with food dyes. It took a while for everyone to get a system in place. I have spent time in the kitchen with the cook and the director. I have read the ingredient labels myself and we worked out which items I will provide. They have a copy of the menu with all items highlighted that Lindsey needs substituted. I send items ahead and they leave an empty box in her cubbie when I need to bring more. I send my own cheese crackers for daily snack (theirs have yellow), fruit cups to replace fruit cocktail, pudding cups since theirs have red#40, and organic cereal bars to replace blueberry bread (red 40) and strawberry newton cookies. It sounds complicated, but it really only affects a couple things a week. She still eats about 80% of what they serve.
7. When you see a reaction, track it down. I've often gotten online to look up restaurant ingredients to figure out what caused the chaos in my kids' behavior. Once you start sharing this information with friends about the hidden dyes and where they are, it's easier to steer clear of them.
I also ask my kids repeatedly if I think they indulged at school and assure them I will be more proud of truthful answers than I will be angry about mistakes. Ben often denies eating dyed foods, but his face gives him away. I tell him I suspect he had something and encourage him to tell me when he is ready. I never punish them for eating the wrong thing.
8. Reward your child for not eating dyed foods. Stock up on organic candy and good treats. If someone (like a bus driver, teacher, etc) gives my child a piece of candy, they get 2 better ones if they bring it home and give it to me (so I can throw it away). I try to keep safe candy in my purse for any time a bank, hairdresser, etc offers something. The expense is well worth the peace I keep by avoiding even small amounts of dyes.
9. Talk to your kids about how they react to dyes. When they are calm, explain that they have a choice to not feel hyper, angry, upset, out of control, etc. They need to connect their choice of food to the problems that happen later so they can be encouraged to choose wisely. I say things like, "I think that treat you ate yesterday is affecting you. Do you want that treat to have that kind of power over you? You need to be in charge of what you eat so this doesn't happen next time. I also really empathize with them a lot. I'll say, "I know it seems unfair. I'm working to change things and ask food companies to make better products. I'm sad that so much food has this stuff in it. But I also remind them about all the good things they still get.
10. Don't forget mouth and body products (gum, toothpaste, fluoride rinse, lip balm and lotion) can also contain dyes that make kids react. Anyone else notice that Wrigley's gum used to be white/grayish but now it is florescent green or yellow? We've been sticking to white toothpaste. I originally paid about 4 dollars a tube at the health food store. I recently found the same natural products in Kroger's healthy food section on sale with 1$ off coupon.
11. Make the house completely dye free so that baby sitters, family members, or others don't feed your kids the wrong thing. It also means DH can't have his secret stash of Doritos and red licorice. The only way to reap the rewards of staying dye free is to take an "all or nothing" approach. Even one pink jelly bean can mess things up. If you decide to be diligent, you may be surprised at how much better your kids can be.
12. Take dye free products with you when you go places. If you have your own drinks and snacks, you are less likely to resort to other products.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ahhh, the peace of dye free living

It was a wonderful weekend. The kids all got along. They even spent a while all running around playing wizards together, which seemed better than expected to have a 3 1/2 yr old able to run with the 7 and 9 year old--and everyone stayed happy. Alex even spent time spontaneously cleaning. He vacuumed the steps and cleaned off the top of the trash can and the floor under the can. (highly gross job done well!) Life is good when we avoid dyes. We get to enjoy each other more and argue/yell a lot less. I think I'm happier too. Isn't any family happier when the mom's not all moody?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

dye induced ugliness--I had almost forgotten what it was like

It came out of no where. Ben sat down to do his homework and immediately started whining, complaining, getting frustrated, saying he didn't want to do it. He is normally my good student who always does his homework and rarely complains. I figured it was dye induced and asked him to just be honest with me. The guilty look on his face gave him away but he wouldn't admit to anything at first. He finally told me that he had a birthday treat at school yesterday. He said he tried to scrape off the sprinkles but might not have gotten them all. It may have been the vanilla frosting since most brands have yellow and red 40 in them.

Now he is crying about piano practice but is too moody/whiny/irritable/non compliant to accept help with it. The cry turned into a repetitive sob about "it's tooooooo haaaaaaard!" He might have even hit himself. I held him and comforted him for a while. I forgot how much of my time and energy all the dye induced behavior used to take up. I worked with him on telling himself good things like he can do it and he is smart. He finally got back on track. Whew. I can't imagine if he were like this all the time again. I don't know how we would get any of the basics done. I'm sure I would have made him quit piano a long time ago. Wouldn't that be a shame. It's normally something that brings us all joy. I think that's the big part for me, dyed foods cause behaviors that rob my family of joy. I refuse to live that way. I wish other families knew they had a choice.

Sometimes I just get so frustrated

I've been writing and blogging about trying to keep my family free of artificial dyes for about 6 months now. I talk to people all the time about the effects dyes can have on behavior. Every single family I know that has tried going dye free has seen a big difference. I've saved countless links and research articles on the topic. But sometimes I still wonder what else can be done.

I find it appalling that the chemicals in food contribute to problems not just in my kids but in the whole population of children out there. Why can't they get more conclusive research done to show people what a big deal this is?! Why won't the FDA even acknowledge the research that has been done on the topic? How did our country turn into a place where corporate profits are more important than the health and well being of our children?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

picture of what NOT to buy

I've been looking for an update on the Maryland food dye bill and finally found another CSPI article. Check out the nice picture of all the products I no longer buy since they contain food dyes that make my kids crazy. I wish more people would take this issue seriously. We do fine avoiding dyes most of the time, but I know lots of other families simply do not have the perseverance or the supportive family, daycare, teachers, etc. that help us be successful. It helps me more than anything that my husband is devoted to the cause. He understands how much the dyes affect the kids and works hard to make sure they stay off them. Valentines Day gave me a good opportunity to appreciate the good man I'm married to.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Urge Congress to ban artificial food dyes

I just found this. You can sign a petition to encourage banning food dyes. It was sponsored by CPSI Please encourage all your friends and family to do the same.

Nice pile of red candy

Well, the parties seem to have gone well and the kids all loved their cupcakes. Now I've got a big pile of candy they brought home. Ben was pretty disappointed that he couldn't have any of it. He got over it when I pulled out the candy I keep at home and let him have his choice of several things after dinner. I used to eat some of the contraband dye myself, but I learned my lesson the last time I ate the red licorice (VERY GRUMPY RESULTS) Sometimes I just throw it out and don't think twice. Today I think I'll have Ed take it to work and let his co-workers have whatever they want.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to see if there is any news about the food dye bill being discussed in Maryland. While looking for that, I came across the site for The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. It has a lot of information about the food dye issue as well as the mercury found in the HFCS and the specific amounts.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bring on the red, we're all set

We are ready for 3 different dye-free Valentine's Day Parties. I baked cup cakes for 2 of my kids' parties. Since Alex needs to stay off wheat, I baked his cupcakes too and froze a bunch for later. I'll just send in his own cupcake and the rest of the class can have whatever overload of color some other parent sends in. I still remember his kindergarten party with the florescent pink and dark red inches of frosting on the cup cakes. It stained everything from their teeth to their fingernails and every item of clothing in between. It was pretty gross.
Here is what I used to make my cupcakes.

So far Alex loved the wheat free cupcake from the Pamela's mix. I cup up the red licorice and put it on top for decoration. It does have wheat, so it's still not ideal for the gluten free crowd. But it gave the cup cakes a nice bit of strawberry flavor. I'm thinking of sending in extra candy in their lunch boxes so they won't be as tempted to eat the candy hearts. Does anyone actually like those anyway?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sometimes dye free is a hassle

It seems so often that little things come up that should be easy but somehow seem harder when you try to stay dye-free. This week it was that party at day care. I really do have to say I am blessed by the wonderful daycare for my kids. My kids only go 2 days a week since I work part time. And luckily my kids can go year round for summer camp, and for preschool and after school too. That way I only have one place to train the staff about keeping all 3 of my kids dye free. Well, school is another story.

But this week it was the party for my boys who played piano and cello in the day care talent show. The director let me know last Thursday that they would be having ice cream sundaes for a special snack today. I was appreciative of the notice. That let me pack rice ice cream for my GFCF boy. I also supplied dye free sprinkles (look for the clown bottle, I think it's called Mr. Sprinkles). I obsessively checked the ice cream and chocolate sauce myself to make sure there there were no dyes in either product. So it was extra planning and stress to make sure I remembered the extra items early this morning. I had to spend a few minutes looking over the ingredient labels in the day care kitchen. But all in all it worked out great. My boys had a treat like everyone else, but one that meets our family's food requirements. I'm sharing this so you can get ideas on how communicating with others helps you keep things normal for the kids, but without the draw-backs of dye induced behavior.

Tomorrow I'll embark on another dye-free baking frenzy to get ready for Valentine's Day parties.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

more articles on food dye legislation

I'm interested to see what happens in Maryland this Wednesday, Feb 11 when they begin to discuss proposed bills to put warning labels on products with food dyes and to ban them from schools and day cares by 2012. How come it's not at all surprising that the giants of the food industry are against further food labeling and that it sounds like they're in the pockets of the politicians? Here are some links I found:

Maryland considers ban on food dyes
Foes of food labeling
Food dye is worry for 1 in 3

I started a new group on

I just started a new discussion group called avoiding artificial food dyes on My blog automatically posts to the journal entries, there was some recent discussion about food dyes and so it seemed like a good way to get the word out. Babycenter and Parentcenter users can get more information about food dyes and the problems they cause at my blog.

Friday, February 6, 2009

great news

I hadn't been to CPSI's site for a while and just happened to check it out today. I was excited to see a new article just out today indicating that Maryland may ban food dyes. check it out here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

wondering about pimentos

I'm curious about how pimentos get their color. I found one mention of pimentos being dyed at this link. There is no mention of dye on the label. But I've found other foods sometimes fail to reveal their true ingredients as well. I started wondering because Lindsey is suddenly a mess again. Lots of yelling, trying to hit, and spit. It's all the usual stuff she does when dye exposed. I was pretty grumpy and worn out with it last night. Then it dawned on me. I made olive bites for the Superbowl and Lindsey munched on at least a dozen olives Sunday. She wanted more Monday. If there is dye in there it would sure explain a lot. So I'm wondering if anyone knows where pimentos get their color.