Why I’m Over This Rainbow: Our Food Coloring Sensitivity Story
I heard about the link between food coloring and dyes with children’s behavioral and health problems a few years ago, but I didn’t make the connection for our own family until this summer.
A little background information about us – Our child is hypoglycemic and was born with a severe allergy to cow’s milk. She grew out of the cow’s milk allergy by about three years old, but we still manage her blood sugar with regular and bedtime snacks. I fed her only organic stuff until she was about three, which is when I loosened my standards and gave in to the candy culture. Friends and family wanted to sweetly share treats with our outgoing girl. She suffered with bad eczema as a baby and toddler, which I never attributed to a dye sensitivity…I thought it was related to her milk allergy, or that she just had sensitive skin like me. I was dealing with adult acne at the time too. We tried changing laundry detergents and bath products.
Tip Of The Unnaturally Blue-White Iceberg: How We Found Out About Our Food Coloring Sensitivity
I used to get compliments all the time about how calm my child was, everywhere we went. Tantrums weren’t her thing, and she had only had a few of them as a toddler. Her behavior changed somewhere after she turned three, but I chalked it up to that whole three-year-old normal independence phase…except her phase seemed way more intense than it should have been. A friend gave her one yellow M&M at a restaurant once, and within minutes she went from happy and calm to a screaming, kicking, tantruming tornado. I had to physically remove her, legs and arms flying, from the restaurant. I thought the sugar had affected her, but then again, she was fine after eating sugary stuff in the past…
This summer was so hard. Our calm, reasonable, bright child was having very emotional tantrums, slamming doors, spitting, kicking, screaming, throwing stuff at us, saying awfully mean things, falling apart over tiny mishaps, spacing out, ignoring us, not finishing school work, even growling. Homework was impossible, and we couldn’t reason with her anymore. She would hold onto anger all day, couldn’t cope with anything, and started having foot sensitivity issues (sock seams were torture, the pool chlorine made her feet itch to the point of tears). I was pretty much pulling my hair out and reaching for the mommy juice a little more often than I liked. And I was acting differently too. I hated my role as warden, mean mommy, drill seargent. I was miserable. I went from being excited about our time together, to counting the days until school started again…eleven…more…weeks…
I thought she was reacting to our big move from Florida to Georgia. What if she had some deep-seated resentment towards us for uprooting her life? We talked a lot and she seemed happy here. One day, I thought back to what she had eaten the night before a very scary hypoglycemia episode. We had no idea she was hypoglycemic until I couldn’t rouse her one morning at around age two. She was weak, slurring her words, heavy, clammy, and didn’t want to wake. An ambulance ride to the ER and some tests showed that her blood sugar was dangerously low. She was treated with sugar solution and food, and snapped right back. But the night before, she had eaten a few M&M’s after dinner…I’ve since read that there could be a connection between hypoglycemic reactions and food dyes…
Again, I talked myself out of this logic, not really knowing enough about it to make a diagnosis. We tried cutting out sugars. We tried cutting out chocolate. We thought maybe we should talk to her doctor about the possibility of ADD/ADHD or sensory issues. But she would be fine on sugar or chocolate some days, and not fine other times. It was not consistent, nor constant. I was hoping to help my kid without medications.
Then a friend mentioned that her oldest child had a food dye sensitivity. She said some things that really hit home for me – that the difference in her child, on and off food dyes, was like “night and day”, and, that they were concerned enough to consider therapy. Other parents tell me it’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I’d like to add that I was starting to feel like Coraline’s “other mother” on her bad days – sans spider legs (although, that may have been coming next).
Holy bird. I started researching food coloring and food dye reactions in kids. That sugar-free pudding? Yeah, it had food coloring in it. No wonder she still changed into a hyper (and deaf) monkey right after eating it! Looking in our pantry, I discovered that LOTS of foods we’d been consuming had dyes. So, I dumped all the dye-laden stuff and went on the hunt for dye-free replacements. Labels became my ally.
After we changed our diet, our daughter told us how the dyes had made her “feel mad all the time.” This made me think of those times during a tantrum when I’d ask her why she was doing those things, and she would cry and say “I don’t know!” I could relate to that feeling (more on my own dye sensitivity revelation in My Rainbow Connection). Within a couple of days, we noticed a real change in our child – she was calm, even on sugar. When she had gummy bears once at summer camp, I could watch the transformation – hyperactivity, that crazed look in her eyes, the growling. After we replaced said gummies with a natural alternative, within a day, she was fine…in fact, she was turning down offers of dyed gummies and offering her natural ones to friends. Our last two weeks of summer were WONDERFUL. Peace at last! I felt sad when summer was ending.
I started looking for other parents who had been through the same thing. I would fit this new issue into conversations with friends and strangers, eager to relate to SOMEONE. The reactions? Crickets. Or worse, they would go “Ohhhhh” and look at me with either concern, or fear (kids, step away from the conspiracy lady!). Occasionally I would hit a familiar note with strangers, but it was few and far between. Nobody seemed to know about this.
I had no idea that food coloring was made from petroleum. It has been linked to cancers, hyperactivity, obesity, diabetes, attention deficit disorder, sleep disturbances, and even bed-wetting. And worse, the more I researched, the more I realized how underhanded and sneaky food manufacturers were in their marketing and labeling. Foods and beverages marketed to kids were misrepresented at best (more about that in Artificially Rose-Colored Glasses, and Devil In The Details). Oh and don’t get me started on the European versions of US manufacturers…we have the capability to make these foods without petroleum dyes? Really? Then why the hell are they not doing it here in the US?
At The End Of The Rainbow: Why I’m Writing About The Dangers Of Food Dyes
My goal now is to end the use of petroleum food coloring and dyes in US food, beverages, medications, and personal care products. If first lady Michelle Obama is as serious about children’s health issues as I think she is, then perhaps I can bring this problem to her attention and garner support. I hope that my message, along with your stories, will reach lawmakers, parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and school districts. You can start right now by sending your personal story to Center For Science In The Public Interest here. Send letters to your representatives…here is a cheat sheet to get you started. And if you and your child are interested in sharing your story, send me an e-mail at admin[at]diefooddye[dot]com to participate in my upcoming interviews! And finally, if you know of any people or organizations who may be interested in what I’m doing here at Die, Food Dye! then please steer them my way.