Monday, January 10, 2011

Food to Dye for

A Suburban Greenmom is defeated by Yellow 50...

It’s odd—for someone as concerned with what’s in my food as I normally am, I somehow never gave food dyes much thought one way or the other. I mean, most of the food I buy doesn’t have dyes in it, or so I’ve always assumed, so why worry, right?

Except there are those fruit snacks my kids keep getting at parties and from sitters. And “juice drinks” at parties. Halloween candy. Christmas candy. Even the chocolate milk they drink with such joy every Friday at school. (Chocolate milk? Food coloring? Why?) I can have some control over what I buy to feed my kids, but there’s so much stuff out there I can’t control; and I can’t exactly mandate control over everything that goes into their mouths when I’m not around…

So I start looking around.

Mrs. Q over at Fed Up With Lunch has been talking about artificial food dyes lately, linking to a Chicago Tribune article about possible correlation between childhood behavioral problems and artificial coloring in foods. Suspicions of links between the two have been around since the seventies, when Dr. Benjamin Feingold put children on strict elimination diets to try to conquer their allergies…but his findings were not fully substantiated. A 2007 study from Southampton has verified the link, though. For me, the thing that has me won over to believing (I tend to be skeptical of studies) is the fact that so many mainstream medical sites—sites which habitually are fairly conservative in condemning anything, who are populated by “normal people” and not “compulsively green anti-everything-artificial greenmommies” like myself—are mentioning this as a possible correlation and something good to avoid if possible. The Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Psychiatry Online,, and many others cite the Southampton study—and the BBC has an article about the banning of these products all over Europe. And The Daily Green gives a very clear list of seven actual ingredients to avoid; plug these ingredients into your own searches and follow the links where they lead; it’s a little surprising, honestly…and check out Fooducate’s side-by-side comparison of U.S. cereal bars vs. the U.K. version of the same bar—made by the same company!

This afternoon, for the writing of this post, I did a scan through my own kitchen and to my own relief found pretty much nothing with artificial coloring floating around my fridge or cupboards. But the reason I had the freedom to do that was that my kids were at a birthday party, eating cake with electric-neon icing, getting goodie bags full of all kinds of brightly colored candies and goodies.

So what do I do? What do you all do? I don’t want to be That Mom who won’t let my kids eat what other kids eat, though if after a while the fruit snacks and Blow-pops get forgotten I will quietly disappear them without any remorse. But if there’s so much of this stuff out there, everywhere, how do we keep our kids healthy? It’s like the Red Bees of Brooklyn, who spurned the lovely wildflowers to dive into the Red-40-laced HFCS at the cherry factories; the beautiful bright colors are so alluring, and they are like magnets for little people…

Anyone got any brilliant ideas how to try to keep as much of the icky stuff out of our kids as possible? Or do you all do pretty much what I do, which is try to manage it as much as possible while avoiding making it any worse than you have to?

And another question for the comments: Chocolate milk was the big shocker for me. Anyone find any other basically harmless-seeming foods which harbor some synthetic dye, something that shocked you when you realized it? (I mean, Cheetos, yeah, not a shocker…the chocolate milk surprised me, though.)

Where else do these colors lurk that we may not be looking?

--Jenn the Greenmom


brendie said...

heres one that you might not think of...a friend has bad migraines and has tracked it down to certain colours (me too, colour no 123 red)his is yellow 102. recently discovered that the pie shop adds this colour to their pastry!!

Beate said...

I think one of the most bizarre things food colorings is added to is medicine. Do we really need cough syrup in a specific color? Don’t we have medicine to improve our health?

I also find it hard to regulate or balance the "icky" stuff that goes into my child. Like you, I do as much as possible at home but I think it’s hard to enforce your views (or knowledge) outside.

"Well, thank you so much for inviting my daughter to your child's birthday party. And what a wonderfully decorated cake you've made. I am sure you spend a lot of time, energy and effort in baking this cake for this special day. But I'm sure you don’t mind me bringing our own ‘all-organic-whole-flour-no-sugar-cake’ for my daughter, do you?" Yeah, I don’t think so.

I do try to educate people around me by dropping bits and pieces of information here and there. At daycare, I posted articles to the message board and offered to research healthier options.

In the end you can always play the “My child is allergic” card ;-)

Canadian Doomer said...

Our children are "allergic to cow's milk" - or rather, they cannot tolerate A1 casein, which is found in the milk of modern cow breeds. Yea, simpler to say they're allergic, especially as they are allergic to soy.

It tends to make things easier, because any of those bizarre foods they would get outside of the house contain whey or soy.

We're lucky in that about half our older child's preschool class is allergic to something. The classroom is dairy, soy, seafood and nut free!

I've run into people who say you shouldn't pull the "allergy card" unless it's a true allergy, but it's what people understand. Start talking about intolerances and reactions to food colouring, and just watch their eyes glaze over!

Lisa Sharp said...

Yellow #5 makes my asthma act up, it's common for it to bother asthma. Blue #1 makes me dizzy and gives me a major headache.

That stuff really is in EVERYTHING. Just because something is clear doesn't mean it doesn't have dyes. It's crazy.

You can get naturally dyed, candy, sprinkles, food coloring, etc... I get all of mine at-

I LOVE their cotton candy haha. Maybe at least you can curb some of the dyes with this stuff.

I agree with Beate if you really want to curb it and not offend you can say your kid is allergic or sensitive to dyes. The last one is true as we all are.

Not sure how old your kids are but you could always sit them down and talk to them about why you don't eat dyes and if they are going somewhere with dyed food you could offer something better without dyes for when they get home.

BTW when eating cake out for most you can get rid of at least most of the dyes by not eating the icing.

Green Bean said...

I only recently started paying attention to food dyes when my oldest, who is ADHD among a number of other challenges, had neon green poop for four days after eating some green colored Christmas cookies. I noted that the rest of the family ate the same amount and seem unaffected but my oldest has always seemed more susceptible to toxins and such.

In the supermarket today, I read the ingredients for everything I bought and everything - right down to pickles! - has food dye in it.

Alison Golden said...

I have been watching food dyes (and everything else chemikill) for four years now. My kids are ten. We went through a year where nothing artificial went in their mouths - no birthday cake, no eating out, no potlucks. It was hell.

It isn't possible to eat clean 100% and live in the world. Our kids fight our issues on the front lines - at lunchtime. There is a huge social component to eating the 'right' thing along with a social acceptability that defies whatever is healthy for us. Junk = cool.

My kids are now physically big enough to cope with a little artificial without them turning into hyperactive monsters. They are also strong enough to withstand the pressure to eat crap. (And I was ballsy enough to withstand their earlier pleas.)

My rule is not to bring anything into the house I don't want them to eat. Then when they are at parties, other people's houses, restaurants, they can eat anything within reason although we avoid the worst restaurants.

We avoid medicine as much as possible and I only give them the tiniest amount of ibrupofen I can get away with.

I used the allergy excuse when they were younger and quietly managed their playdates as much as possible so that we played with kids from like-minded families and/or had the kids over to our house.

Rosa said...

I do what Alison said - we don't buy that stuff, so he doesn't eat it at home, but at school and other people's houses, anything goes.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Beate- The other day at school, we were talking about penicillin and the kids were shocked to hear that penicillium mold ISN'T bright pink and DOESN'T smell/taste like bubble gum!

SustainaMom said...

I simply tell people that my son is one of those kids who seems to act up after eating artificial food coloring. No one wants to cause a 4-year-old to bounce off the walls. My son is extremely picky, so we usually have to bring his food anyway. It doesn't seem like a big deal at this age.

I'm trying to teach him that he can't have dyes. When he asks for foods in the grocery store, I'll say, "You can't have that. It has red dye in it." And he's stopped begging. I hope as he gets older, he'll be able to tell other parents that he can't have food dyes, like my 8-year-old nephew does.

Anonymous said...

Pickles and piecrust. (hee hee...sounds like something my grandmother would mutter when she was frustrated. I may adopt it...)

Funny how sugar has been blamed as the cause of making kids hyperactive, when it's seeming now like it's the chemicals that seem to go WITH the sugar that cause the problems. These do seem like some good strategies, though...and that whole "social component" thing is brutal--even at my son's school, the "hot lunch" kids sit separately from the "cold lunch" kids, and only about 3-4 kids from the class bring cold lunch, so it's like enforced ostracization and really IMO sad and unhealthy. (Because I don't want my kid eating the processed gunk they serve for hot lunch every day.)

I like the idea of teaching my kids to read ingredient labels, and if they can find artificial color in whatever it is, we won't buy it. (and if it's NOT there, I guess I'll be kind of stuck, but might be worth it...)

Sigh...comforting I guess that we're all in the same boat...

Marcia said...

There is a wonderful support group that helps people know where the dyes are and how to avoid them. BTW, they are not just in food! It is called Feingold Association and the website is

The FDA is holding hearings on food dyes in March. Let's hope our country follows what the UK is doing and banning these dyes.

Liz said...

I feel very strongly about people saying they have an allergy to something when it's an intollerance or even a preference. For example, you might not want to have milk so tell someone you're allergic to it. That person may give you something that has some milk/milk derivative in it (possibly unintentionally and only find out afterwards) and see that it doesn't cause you problems and will then think it's okay to give to the next person who says they have a milk allergy - that happened to a friend of mine and as a result she had to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance as she went into anaphylactic shock and could have died. So while it might make it easier for you to avoid things you don't want, it does not help genuine allergy sufferers.

Kimberly said...

Right after Halloween, my younger son and I went through our pantry. There were several things that didn't surprise me (boxed mac and cheese - which we don't eat often, but keep around for crazy schedule nights). But Ovaltine? Really? I don't need my chocolate milk to be "colorful." Another one that surprised us was salad dressing and not just the brightly colored ones either.

Anonymous said...

Mayo, cheese, Cool Whip, chips, toothpaste, butter, margarine, soap, vitamins, prepackaged anything almost, shampoo, soaps ... there's color in almost everything. Don't forget that there are also "hidden" colors.When color is an ingredient of an ingredient it doesn't have to be listed. I've been told plenty of times that there is color in breads and most chocolate, and after removing those from my child's diet recently(along with all the obvious we removed a year ago) we see even more of a difference.
My son is 8 and has been dye free for a year. He makes the choice himself when he's away from home, takes it upon himself to read labels and has no issue with being the only one at a birthday party unable to eat/drink what's there. He knows what he feels like with dye in his system. He understands fully that it can take up to 24 hrs for foods with dye to hit him, and liquids with dye hit harder and faster and are our worst nightmare. He understands that dye stays in his system for 72 hrs and that repeated exposure will only build up and make him feel worse.
Educate yourelf and your kids. When we started on this jouney a year ago we thought we'd never get to being dye free and yet now we have moved on to eating all natural. We've even recently begun to bake our own breads. Steps and stages.It's brought our family(we also have a 12 yr old daughter) closer together and we've been having fun looking for new foods to try.

Anonymous said...

White marshmallows often have blue or red dye. The no name brands sometimes don't!


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