Eight years ago my family gave up all artificial colors. We discovered that these, like many other artificial ingredients, led to an alarming amount of physical and emotional symptoms experienced by ALL that consumes them. Yes, I said ALL. I know you've heard of people that have allergic reactions and you may think that only those select few have issues with Red No. 40 or Yellow No. 5 or other types of artificial, synthetic food dyes. But the fact of the matter is, these dyes affect us all. It's just that some of the population reacts to it in a much more obvious way...which...in my opinion, is sort of lucky for them because they learn to avoid them. The rest of the population still wants to believe that it's just those individuals with the problem and not the synthetic dye itself.
It all began with reading the book, Is This Your Child? as I've mentioned before in earlier posts, starting with this one. It should have started years earlier. I was aware what food coloring could do. I was a teacher of children with special needs. One child in particular, I'll call him Billy, had Asperger's Syndrome and was allergic to red food dye. I knew the day he had been exposed to red paint (he ate it) in art class. I knew this because my shin told me so after he kicked it. Years later I'm surprised the bruise isn't still there. Anyway, that's just a snapshot of life with Billy when he was exposed to red food dye (He was really a sweet kid - one of my absolute favorites). But I could kick myself now. Because I knew. I knew what it could do to Billy and many others...so why did it take so long for it to piece together in my own mind that this stuff wasn't good for any of us? Naïve? Stupid? Or just didn't want to admit it because I just didn't want to give up those pretty yummy colors?
The fact of the matter is though, these artificial colors are simply chemicals derived from petroleum. When was the last time you put a dose of petroleum on your child's cupcake? Probably a lot more recently than you thought.
Here are 4 reasons to avoid these artificial dyes and 3 alternatives to using them:
1. As I state above, Artificial Food Dyes are made of chemicals in a lab. These chemicals are derived from petroleum: According to Dictionary.com, petroleum is an oily, thick, flammable, usually dark-colored liquid that is a form of bitumen or a mixture of various hydrocarbons, occurring naturally in various parts of the world and commonly obtained by drilling: used in a natural or refined state as fuel, or separated by distillation into gasoline, naphtha, benzene, kerosene, paraffin, etc.. This is in your child's foods. Yum. (please read sarcastically)
2. These artificial colors have most certainly shown an increase in hyperactivity in children (and adults) and therefor have an impact on their ability to learn.
These dyes are so common in U.S. foods -- especially kids' foods -- that parents don't think twice about giving their children rainbow-colored cereal or fluorescent blue "juice," and adults don't consider bright orange cheese puffs out of the ordinary, either. But you might do a double take if these food packages contained warnings detailing what these artificial food colorings may really be doing to your health, and that of your children.
The Feingold Association of the United States has done an extensive amount of research into how chemicals affect hyperactivity. You can read an eleven page report on this here at Feingold.org.
3. These chemicals have been linked to cancer! It's true. It's been a concern since studies were publicized in the 80's. The three most used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 contain known carcinogens. This is acknowledged by CSPI (The Center For Science in the Public Interest). In addition to these, there have been recent studies into caramel coloring. See more about this and other additives at the CSPI site. Other colors including the above mentioned and Blue 1 have shown signs of causing cancer in lab animals.
4. They contribute to the Obesity Epidemic going on in America and other nations. You don't need to read articles about this to know it's true but if you want to, there's one here. You can observe it everywhere. Kids gravitate to the brightly colored processed snacks that are high in color (artificial), sugar, and other chemicals and yet are very low in nutrients.
So What TO DO?
- Avoid the Artificial Colors - That's it. Don't say, oh, I'll avoid red but not the others. Red is not the only problem though it seems to get a lot of the hype. When my family did the elimination diet close to 8 years ago, I assumed we'd have problems with red based on my prior experiences and on the research I had done. I had not, at that point, anticipated the differences I'd see with the other colors. The differences were NOT just with my ADHD husband and son. My daughter and I experienced them as well. We had headaches, jittery hands, and feelings of unease with just the first two colors we tried.... we never even made it to red. What was the point? Does avoiding them make life difficult? Well- kind of. You can't reach for just any sugary candy or processed cereal on the shelf. You need tor read labels and start making your own treats. Can it be done? YES!! And by the way--- just in case you wondered about that white cheddar cheese in the grocery isle... yes, cheddar cheese without the orange color still tastes like cheddar cheese!
- Buy Food Products That Use Natural Color Additives - When I buy a processed snack, these are the words I look for if it has colors: beet juice or betanin (for reds), annatto (for oranges), and turmeric (for yellows). Those are the most common. Others can include elderberry juice and Lycopene. The bottom line is you need to do your research. Find out what the hidden names for artificial colors are (i.e. Tartaine is Yellow 5) and what is used for natural coloring.
- Make Your Own Treats - You can make icing without color. Honest! It TASTES the same!! Or you can add a natural food color to your icing or treat (see below). Honestly, I think color is one of the things my kids miss the least. So if you're looking to give something up in terms of health, this may be a good place to start. Oh, one more little hint for decorating treats... FLOWERS make really pretty cake decorations. No need for colored icing at all...or better yet.... FRUIT! That one is even edible!
Here's a Bonus: If you are panicking about finding some great candy without all that artificial color stuff added for upcoming treats/birthdays/celebrations.... check out the Natural Candy Store. Not only do they have great organic candy, but they also sell natural food dyes. Of course, you can find some of this on Amazon as well if you look...as well as natural food stores in your area.