Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Letter to the Food Service Director

I wrote last week about sending an email to the food service director for my school district. I got on the district web site and looked up her email. If you are interested in sending something similar, here is what I sent:

I am writing as a parent who is very concerned about nutrition and how foods affect children's behavior. I would like to request that (school district) consider reducing or eliminating artificial food coloring and preservatives from the school lunch menu. I realize this is a large undertaking, but I feel the benefits, both financial and health related, could far outweigh the difficulties. I have been gathering research, parent testimonies and sharing my own experiences on my blog: Please check it out for further information about the effects of food dyes on behavior.

I have also included a link to a slide show about the benefits of healthier school lunches that I received from the Feingold Association click here to access it: I would like to encourage you to consider the information on both links as I feel it could hugely benefit children in the entire district. I would welcome a chance to talk to you more about this. Please feel free to call me. Thank you for your time.

You are welcome to cut and paste the text and send it to any school you want. You may want to undue the italics. The links may not copy over (I had to re-do them to get this on the blog). I think it is wise to make it as easy as possible to click right on the information and get folks there easily. Feel free to comment if you send it on to someone else.

Does a little petroleum help test scores?

My kids' school seems to think so. Our school has been doing achievement testing this week. So my son came home a little down that he was the only one who didn't get a mint during the tests. You know, the nice RED and white ones. Seriously, they gave each kid red #40 on purpose to help them on their tests.

Now I know there is research out there about oral stimulation, such as gum, to help with focus, concentration, and test scores. I found a link about it here. But come on folks, red 40?! We still have sooooo far to go with this thing.

On the bright side, my son did not take a mint, as he knows how it would affect him. The hyperactivity or irritability has often shown itself within 20-30 minutes of consumption in my children. So, while I'm disappointed with my school's lack of knowledge on the matter, I'm so very proud of how often my son is able to do what is right for himself, even when the whole rest of the class does something different. He does so well, even under peer pressure. That's pretty good for 9 years old!

busy week so far

I've barely had time to get on the computer the last few days. Baseball season is always crazy for us. As I commented on another post, I also think we had some "dye exposure" issues. My son was an irritable mess all weekend. It times out back to the "take your son to work" day. The chocolate Tootisie Roll pop is my likely culprit. The label doesn't indicate any colors, but since it comes from a factory with lots of other colored stuff, it probably gets in there. I should have known better. It was sad to watch. It started with a very hyper day. Then all the frustration, the "I can't do this" and "everything's going wrong" feelings really persisted for the next 2 days. But as usual, he's much better now. Thank God! It's achievement test week at school.

As for other updates, I heard back from the food service director for my school district. She thanked me for not yelling at her or making outrageous demands. She explained that ordering foods without dyes is pretty feasible, but needs to be handled by each individual school. She planned on talking to the food managers for each school and was going to pass along my email with links to the information. She said they can definitely try to pay closer attention to the dyes. I was not the first person to make her aware of the issue. She said that getting rid of the preservatives was a much harder issue to address and not likely to happen soon.

So, all in all, I was pleased with what I feel is a good start. At this stage I want to get the information to key people and hope that they begin to make informed decisions. I requested that they pay attention to some specific foods such as yogurts, cookies, etc. and try to have dye-free options whenever possible. I explained that my children don't buy many school lunches because I don't want them to have the preservatives or dyes. I also explained that I don't think decorated holiday treats are good for children and could they just stick to the basics like plain old chocolate chip cookies. I tried to emphasize that I don't think this is just a problem for my kids. It may affect all kids to some degree. I should have added that Maryland recently had legislation to ban dyes in all school lunch food. She said that it should be possible to buy more dye free foods. So, I guess I'll wait and see.

If anyone wants to forward the same information to their food service director, feel free to contact me. I'll send you a copy of the email I sent.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Colored candy bliss, or nightmare

As we wind down the week with beautiful weather, I am absolutely grateful for thinking ahead. My son was set to go to "take you son to work day. " I encouraged my husband to ask what snacks they were going to have for the kids. You would not believe the colored sugar bliss that awaited! There was a whole bag of candy for each child. There was so much Red 40 and the like I had to take a picture of it all. On the left were the ones without dye, then the obviously dye laden lot on the right

Luckily, since we got the bag a day ahead and knew the other kids would have candy galore, I was able to make a quick trip to Trader Joes and get lots of safe choices for my son. We replaced the "bad stuff" with with natural candies. He had Trader Joes' Gummy Tummies, rolled candy and organic lollipops. The funny part was, he didn't even eat half of the candy I sent. Most of it came back home. He's never been one to overdo it on the sweets. I was just so glad he didn't have the disappointment of emptying out a whole bag, only to end up with one or two allowable things.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quick response!

Wow! I heard back from the food service director. She is in meetings this week, but indicated she would like to talk to me next week. It is so nice to have someone even remotely interested! There are about 7700 students in our district. Changing even 1 school at a time could affect hundreds of kids. I hope we can really get some positive changes going. All kids deserve a healthy lunch without additives like food dyes and preservatives.

Protect and nourish the earth

Happy Earth Day

I've been trying to decide what to do today to celebrate Earth Day. I was looking for something food related, so I finally took the leap and sent an email to the director of food services for my school district. I requested that they consider reducing or eliminating artificial colors and preservatives in school lunches. I sent a link to a slide show about school lunches. Check it out if you want. It's from the Feingold Association.

I feel really strongly that we need to work harder to reduce petro-chemicals not only in food but in general. I think there are lots of things the little people in families all over the globe can do. I thought it was a good day to post this video about the effects of plastic bags. We made the change to re-usable canvas bags several months ago. We use them just about every time we go to get groceries. They actually work so much better than plastic: easier to carry, fit more stuff, and they don't roll around or spill in the car as easy.

So celebrate the earth today.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I can only imagine..

...what my life would be like if I had not figured out the connection between food and behavior. We used to have tantrums over nothing, defiance over the basics, and all out war over the biggies like homework and chores. My children used to have wound up, hyperactive, crazy days where their ears were blocked to the sound of my voice and their engines burned at full tilt from dawn til after dusk. I used to naturally try to raise the sound of my voice to be heard over all the buzzing chaos and wound up frustrated and hoarse without any better results than if I had sat on the couch doing nothing. My oldest often hated my guts and had no qualms about telling me to my face.

Then, I started taking away the food dyes, and it got better. Now I have completely removed food dyes and I also keep 2 of my kids off apples and grapes. The salicylates (chemically similar to aspirin) seem to wire them. Now, we have an unbelievably different picture. Life is smooth. My oldest is polite, helpful, cooperative and affectionate. I can't remember the last tantrum. He appreciates little things and thanks me for them. He will hug me spontaneously and say "thanks of buying the granola bars I like" or something similarly sweet.

So in choosing the title of this post, I was absolutely thinking of the song by Casting Crowns. Freedom from food dyes is a gift from God, a kind of redemption, for my family. We live in light and peace now. No, we're not perfect, but things are soooo much better. And I really do think food dyes are a direct work of evil trying to erode families everywhere. What you do with the information is up to you. Dismiss me as crazy if you need to. I know it probably sounds too good and simple to be true. If you are skeptical, click on my links to the right. Check out the research or the other parent testimonies. Sometimes the truth is simple. If you have not tried avoiding food dyes, then you can't even imagine how much better things can be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

don't keep it secret-- a challenge to moms

I was inspired today by another mom whose story is surprisingly similar to mine. Another amazing turnaround happened just by taking the food dyes out of the diet. We agree that we need to work harder get the word out. She sent me a link to another article about food dyes: The truth about food dyes from CBS. I like this one because of all the comments at the bottom from other moms. Be sure to go all the way down and read those.

Because of this, I want to challenge other families to get the word out. Don't just tell your friends, have a talk at your school PTA meeting. Start a group at your church. Talk about making changes to the school lunches. Do something to let bigger numbers of people know about the importance of food dyes and how bad they can be for children. We can't keep this a secret. We need to become warriors, fighting for the well being of all the children in our country.

We can do this. We can make a difference, but we need to make the information better known. We need to put pressure on food companies by using our wallets to buy only natural foods and convincing enough others to do the same that it starts to make a difference. If you haven't tried taking the food dyes out of your diet, you have no idea of the child you might be missing out on knowing. Doesn't every child deserve to have their real, un-chemically altered brain working on a regular basis?

More petroleum in food?

My friend and fellow food dye avoider called me to say she noticed Heinz advertising on their vinegar that they are the only one guaranteed not to contain petroleum. WHAT!? Now it's in the vinegar too?! I did a quick Internet search and found this article about vinegar and petroleum. Once again, it pays to know what you are eating. Something else to ponder, I guess.

By the way, I think the vanillin (another petrochemical) in the easter chocolate has been affecting me this week. Maybe that's why my daughter is a little on edge too.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

We seemed to avoid food dyes this Easter. I was really happy when they gave out brightly colored shoe strings at church, rather than candy. The kids had fun looking for eggs inside. We ended up putting puzzle pieces in most of the boys' eggs. We added some erasers, jacks, and "squishy bugs" and they enjoyed it quite a bit. We had limited amounts of chocolate eggs and jelly beans (Sweet treats brand). All in all it was a good day. I've been wanting a better picture of my kids and they manged to stay dressed up just long enough to oblige me after church.

Friday, April 10, 2009

food dyes and bugs

I've had some recent emails and comments about dyes made from bugs. I don't think my kids have a problem with the bug dyes. These are different than the numbered dyes that I avoid. I avoid the chemical dyes commonly called red #40, yellow #5, yellow #6 and blue #1. My understanding is that the numbered dyes are manufactured from petroleum. They are synthetic chemicals that do not commonly occur in nature. Thus, our bodies are not well equipped to digest them. I've seen repeated references to artificial colorings being neurotoxins that excite the brain (not in a good way). While they are very prevalent in food marketed to children, research shows more and more that they cause increased behavior problems.

The bug dyes, on the other hand, are made from ground up bug parts, which is considered a natural product. They are referred to as carmine, or chochineal. They come from the chochineal beetle. Here is link to an article about the differences in bug dyes and artificial dyes that explains it better. Allergies to carmine are not as common, but I've seen many discussions of more life threatening problems to carmine such as anaphalatic shock.

I guess the bottom line is still the same, know what you are eating and know how it makes you react.

Food dyes and Easter

I have not looked into dye free Easter candy much this year as one of my children is on a pretty strict "sugar free" diet. We are going to do more stickers, tatoos and small trinkets for Easter baskets and eggs. The last few years I've filled eggs with things like plastic soldiers, plastic butterflies, etc. If you want jelly beans, Jelly Belly and Surf Sweet brands both have some dye free jelly beans. We'll stick mostly to chocolate. Watch out for the inexpensive foil wrapped chocolates as they sometimes contain red #40 if they don't contain much of the real chocolate. You are pretty safe if you stick to known brands like Hershey, Dove, etc.

I think I'm skipping the coloring of eggs, unless I can find some kind of kit with stickers and decorations rather than dyes. I'm thinking my boys' contact with eggs at school has them both reacting somewhat today. I've been wondering if skin contact is a problem, now I may have my answer. I think my kids react to skin contact with artificial colors as well as eating it. I've been getting the dyes out of lotions, tooth paste, shampoos, etc.

We're also on day 3 of the shrieks and screams after Lindsey came home from preschool telling me she ate a blueberry muffin. The staff clarified that it was put on her plate but quickly replaced by her organic blueberry cereal bar that I provide. Well, if she even nibbled at the fake blueberries or if it rubbed off on her plate onto her food, then it doesn't really matter. She might as well have eaten the whole thing. She's reacting like she did. It's so sad to see my sweet, affectionate child turn into a little maniac for a few days. It should run it's course tonight.

I've also had a few more requests for my list of dye free foods this week. I am still willing to send that out if anyone is interested. When I have tried to post it, the table doesn't copy over and it gets all messed up. So, I just email it to anyone who asks. I want as many people as possible to know about food dyes and be able to avoid them. It still stuns me that this is not common knowledge to most people.

I think many doctors do families a huge dis-service by prescribing medication to children with behavior problems and not ever telling the parents that they may be able to fix the problem just by making some simple dietary changes. The problem is that it is sooooo hard to be consistent in avoiding dyes that many mom's I've talked to are reluctant to even try it. I wish other moms could see for even a few days how much smoother life goes when kids don't have dyes in their systems

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Signs of progress today

I found some pleasant surprises today. We read the labels at the grocery store and found out that Dannimals smoothies and crush cups of yogurt are actually dye free. I had not checked Dannon yogurts for a while as the last time I looked they had red #40. Now they are colored with fruit and vegetable juices. My kids were so excited. I also found a dye free Suave kids shampoo. I've been slowly trying to get rid of dyes and for once it seemed like the task was easier than usual, right off the shelves at Kroger rather than the health food store. Maybe companies are finally starting to realize that many of us want to be dye-free. Let's hope the trend continues.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

How do you convince people that food dyes are a problem?

I found myself in an interesting conflict the past couple of days. I attended a professional training conference for Play Therapists. (when I'm not blogging about my housewife days, I'm actually treating traumatized children at my private practice a couple days a week.) The conference was really excellent and I learned quite a bit. There was a tremendous focus on brain research that indicates that the use of multiple senses helps heal trauma.

There were lots of great examples of how to do this. However, it was frustrating that the suggested foods were almost all with dyes (M&Ms, colored and flavored marshmallows, gum drops, etc.) Then there were the conference snacks which also contained food dyes. I found myself repeatedly tempted to eat things I know could make me react. I didn't give in, but I wanted to. I was also pondering how to use the activities with my clients. I have set a new rule for my therapy sessions that I do not give out anything containing food dyes. I decided that if it's bad for my own "sort of normal" kids, it can't be good at all for children who have abuse histories and behavior problems.

Luckily, my friend is a "dye free mom" and fellow play therapist who attened the conference with me. We brainstormed and really ended up with good substitutes: mentos candy (only some flavors are dye free), Brachs fruit chews, Sundrops (dye free M&M like candy), chocolate candy. But I couldn't help feeling like there is so much further to go with getting the word out.

So, tell people about the research. Talk to them about what you see. Send them a link to this blog or other links on food dyes. Please keep spreading the word so that other families can feel the difference of being dye free.

return of the calm orderly family I know and love

I can barely describe the difference I saw in a 24 hour period with my son. He was wild and impulsive all day Wednesday. It was wearing me down quite a bit. I was easily frustrated and irritalbe too (my reaction to dyes). Then by Thursday afternoon it was like the cord got unplugged and all the wild stuff just went away. Life was normal again. I've seen this so many times. We eat food dyes, everyone goes a little crazy for 3 days. Then we are all normal again. I'm breating a huge sigh of relief that my oldest didn't have as much of a reaction. Maybe there is hope that one can outgrow it a little.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

2 out of 3 hyped again

Well, we tried to get away to an indoor water park for a few days since the kids are on spring break. That's why I haven't posted in several days. It was really nice to get away, but I'm pretty sure we've had another "food dye mishap." It's been harder to narrow this one down since we were eating out for several days. My best guess is that the spicy curly fries from the hotel restaurant may have been the culprit. I'm not sure if it could have been the orange batter or the seasoning, or both. I should have been suspect of orange fries anyway.

All the same behaviors have returned in 2 of my kids. The hyperactivity, the impulsivity, the yelling, it's all there full force. It's amazing the complete difference in their demeanor. I hope for my husband's sake it wears off by Friday. He gets to stay home with the kids while I go to an all day training.

I'm tempted to go back through all my posts and count up how many times we accidentally get food dyes in restaurant food. It seems to be a trend now.