Food for Thought: Food Dyes and Children

Yum! Really? Let’s think about this.

We have all heard that we should “eat the rainbow”, meaning that daily we should have a variety of brightly colored delicious fruits, grains, veggies, etc. There is rarely a trip to the grocery store where my darling 2 year old doesn’t beg me for one of these (see above) food items that in it’s own special way, meets that rainbow requirement. What is reassuring to me is that during any given shopping trip, there is at least 4 other moms who also have a 2 year old who is being bribed with these said “food” items in order for those mommas to be able to grab the healthy essentials without leaving the store bald and deaf. We exchange the glance and the smile and know better than to judge the other’s shopping carts.

I am far, far, far from being the perfect parent, but nutrition, I feel, is one area I do fairly well (um, except … for the weeks between Halloween and New Year’s). What is great about these grocery trips with my kids is that I am that awful shopper who, once I am at the check out line, I whisper to the cashier that “I’ve changed my mind” on particular items that were once used to keep my child happy for the duration of the trip. I know. I know. It’s horrendous. But let me tell you why I do it.

Having taught elementary school for several years, I have had my fair share of exposure to children with ADD and ADHD. My first introduction to information about the role of food dyes in behavioral problems was when I was student teaching and one of my kiddos had a severe case of ADHD. By slowly but surely eliminating blue and red food dyes from his diet, his destructive behavior slowly diminished and his ability to focus and learn began to improve dramatically.  This raised many questions in my mind and to this day has an impact on my own diet.

I am not here to say that you should get rid of every single food dye in your kitchen … heaven knows my children have their fair share, as  do I, as it is nearly impossible to eliminate it completely due to how many foods you find it in (you’d be shocked….). I’m here to make you aware of what you are eating and bring your attention to the ingredients in some of the most popular food items for children.

Food dyes are synthetically engineered from coal and, now, also petroleum. Delicious. Because food dyes are often some of the last ingredients listed, we usually overlook them, thinking that they are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But … take note next time you head to the supermarket … nearly EVERYTHING has at least one food dye. It adds up! Beyond that, and most important, these food dyes have been studied and shown to be carcinogens in lab animals and cause hyperactivity … take a look at the current studies and known results in the latest research.

Because we often overlook these food additives and sometimes even appreciate them for the rich colors they give our fruits and vegetables, they usually are forgotten when trying to diagnose food allergies or find triggers for problematic behavior. I encourage you, though it is more costly, to buy organic produce when you can, simply because the presence of these dyes in regular produce are used regularly and in large amounts to produce the best results.

Is it realistic to eliminate them all together? Not really. But if you’re aware of what you’re eating, then it can and will make an impact on your life!

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