Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Food Coloring: What I Learned the Hard Way

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© credit Feingold website

Red 3--You've seen it on labels for colored sodas, candy and a multitude of other products. But did you know that artificial food coloring is made from coal tar derivatives? The FDA knows it is a carcinogen, but lobbyists have managed to keep it on the market, as long as it is used in smaller quantities. Food processors believe that consumers buy more products that are colored nicely, and they are probably right. But there is more danger lurking behind those beautiful colored sodas, candies, and personal care products--hyperactivity, temper tantrums, lack of focus, stomach and digestive problems to name just a few.
Here is my story. When one of my children, (to remain nameless here) was turning 2, we had a birthday celebration at McDonald's (Yes, I'll admit that!). For the first time, this child drank Orange Soda. Orange Soda has lots of Red 3 in it; check the label for yourself. Within 30 minutes we had a belligerent, bouncing-off-the-walls kid who wouldn't stay put in the car seat for more than 2 minutes. This had never happened before. I put 2 + 2 together and talked to my pediatrician about it. He told me to run a test. Take the child off of all foods with any food coloring for 2 weeks and then serve a lot of it--particularly beverages, as they introduce more into the system quickly, because more volume is consumed than with candy.

Long story short, the child was calm and normal during the 2 weeks of no food coloring. On the day of the test I used Hawaiian Punch, which also contains Red 3. The result was the same. There was no question in my mind that my child was reacting to the food coloring.
I began to read up on the subject and was appalled to learn that most artificial food coloring, but red in particular, causes many difficult to manage behaviors. Along the way, I learned about an organization--the Feingold Program--whose sole purpose is to provide resources to families who have children with this problem. I joined and received an abundance of information on food additives that affect children. They sent me cookbooks, lists of products that are considered okay to eat, lists of products that are not acceptable, and so on. This was 20 years ago, give or take, and the program is still available and quite popular with families who do not wish to medicate their kids who are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Like my family, we often learn that it isn't a disorder, but can be a response to foods and chemicals in them.

Later in this child's life, when a teacher had difficulty managing the child's natural energy, we agreed to go through testing with a psychologist. Turned out that we simply had a very bright, inquisitive child who was taxing the patience of the teacher. She needed strategies for dealing with an exceptionally curious and bright youngster. Interestingly, she became much more agreeable to my requests for careful policing of the classroom snacks and candy rewards that were given out.

Join me for my next post, if you'd like to learn a few strategies for dealing with these issues in your own children. You may even want to check out my prior post on the connection betweeen food and learning or behavior problems. I've been down that road for about 20 years now, and along the way have learned a thing or two that made life with an active and sometimes unpredictable child easier to deal with.

For now, if you're a parent of a kid with behavioral issues that often worsen after a meal or a drink, try the test I outlined above. Check out Feingold's website and consider what they can offer you in the way of education. It's well worth the small cost a year's membership to get the lists, cookbooks, and other resource materials.

Questions? Hit that comment link under the post (next to the envelope icon) and shoot me a note. I'd love to share my experience. Catch me tomorrow for more.

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