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.

Did you know that Europe has banned food dyes because of cancer and ADHD risks? Read more about that here and here.

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?

  1.   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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Yesterday, I touched upon this subject when I wrote about maintaining our health as part of why we homeschool.  About 8 years ago, I read the book Is This Your Child? by Doris Rapp M.D..   Reading that book began a journey I am thrilled to be on and can only hope that in sharing our story, it may lead someone else to begin that same incredible journey in leaving some sort of illness behind in the dust.

Dr. Rapp only briefly spoke of the dangers of MSG and other neurotoxins in her book, but following her protocol for an elimination diet led us to much research into MSG and other neurotoxins as well as other artificial ingredients in our Standard American Diet (SAD).

When my son began demonstrating the typical signs of ADHD, I felt I had the qualifications to parent and educate my child without medical intervention.  Not only was I a former special education teacher (retired early  - very early), but I also was aware because of previous research, that the wrong medication could ignite a gene for Bipolar Disorder should he happen to be carrying that gene, inherited through me, as my daughter had and I had from my biological mother.  My daughter's gene was already ignited and traveling full speed ahead (part of that personal part of our decision to homeschool - see previous post).  I did not want this for my son.  Of course, I didn't want it for my daughter or myself either but I thought perhaps I could do something to 'save' my son while I could not, or so I thought, do anything for my daughter and I.  Little did I know -  I could do something for us all!

Reading on natural methods of treating ADHD and my knowledge of how food dyes and sugar can affect this disorder led me to Dr. Rapp's book.  I insisted the entire family, husband included, do the elimination diet together out of empathy for my son.  I simply could not expect him to do it alone.

What we discovered upon adding things, one day at a time, back into our diet was alarming!  Honestly, all I had expected to find was that sugar and red food dye would most likely increase his hyperactivity and inattentiveness to mundane (school) activities.  We never even got around to trying red food dye!

In reality, Dr. Rapp's elimination diet is short.  I know now that most elimination diets actually suggest a longer period of elimination to adequately determine an 'allergens' effect. With Dr. Rapp's elimination diet, foods listed were only avoided in totality for one week and then slowly, one day at a time,  added back:  milk, wheat, sugar, egg, cocoa, food coloring, corn, preservatives, citrus and peanut butter.

Without boring you with all the details, our biggest reactions were with sugar (especially my son), food coloring and preservatives.   Note I said "our" reactions!  While we never anticipated it, we all (I, my husband, son and daughter) all exhibited major reactions including rashes, red skin, hives, nausea, vomiting, headaches and major mood disturbances - just to name the most obvious ones!

This discovery led to intense research on my part - on the internet, in books and by talking to LOTS of people!  One person in particular that I feel helped us the most at that time was a homeschool mom I met at my children's homeschool soccer practice.  Becky actually came to my house and helped me clean out my cupboards and refrigerator!  She told me all kinds of things about artificial ingredients and helped me figure out healthier substitutes and suggested some further sources of reference.  I am so incredibly grateful to Becky!

Through the years, we have learned more and more and continue to learn more.  My son and husband still tend to be a bit distractable (though NOT as much as before) as we did not eliminate sugar from our diet as well as we have eliminated the artificial ingredients.  However, my daughter and I have not had any (That's right.  ANY) symptoms of our previous Bipolar/Anxiety Disorders in over 7 years.  We do not take ANY medications and have no reason to do so.  Simply avoiding the additives that our FDA says is completely safe and allows to be added to processed food products has eliminated these diseases and other health problems from our family members!

Currently, our family (other than my daughter as she is away attending college)is further dabbling with the Paleo diet and researching the effects of grains, legumes and sugar on our bodies.

I hope that in writing on this blog about our food choices (among other topics) to further share things I have learned about health and food related issues will help others to learn the same.  I hope you will benefit.

In the meantime, if you wish to learn more about MSG and it's many hidden names (Yes, it's even in products that say "No MSG" on the label!), Truthinlabeling.com is a wonderful source for these hidden names and other information.

I end by saying THANK YOU to Dr. Rapp, thank you to Becky, thank you to all the sources that have brought me to the understanding, knowledge, and HEALTH that I have today.  I will continue writing about all of our adventure and what we have learned and provide these sources to others. And thank you to my husband for supporting my research and being open-minded enough to know that conventional medicine does NOT have all the answers and for wanting the best health for our family right along with me.  I am very grateful to you all.


ADDENDUM:  Today, January 31, 2014 - this post is linked onto FIGHT BACK FRIDAYS on Food Renegade.com  🙂