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.

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