Artificial Food Dyes, Behavior and My Son – Dealing with Intolerance

Posted on July 3rd, 2012 by Carolyn Hart in Storytime Standouts Shares Early Literacy News and Commentary

Artificial Food Dyes, behavior and my son -

Carolyn shares details of her son’s sensitivity to artificial food dyes

About five years ago, I managed to figure out what was “wrong” with my youngest son. Some of the time he was a happy, relatively polite, relatively well-behaved, active kid but (and this was a huge issue), some of the time he was unpleasant, miserable and defiant.

We were at a loss to understand what was happening with him. It was completely illogical and sometimes scary. Frankly, at times, my husband and I worried it was a mental health issue. We consulted our family doctor and attended family counseling.

After one particularly miserable evening, I sat at my computer and started searching “kids and anger”. I think the first website that gave me hope was that of The Feingold Association of the United States. My son’s symptoms couldn’t be described as ADHD but there seemed to be “overlap” in some of their descriptions and our experiences.

Anyhow, we decided to try a one week elimination diet. We removed all coal tar food dyes from the foods he ate. Although we had planned to experiment for seven days, we knew in three or four that we had identified and solved the problem. He was a completely different boy when not consuming artificial food dyes – especially those derived from coal tar.

Now, fourteen years old, happy and healthy, he does not eat any artificial food dyes derived from coal tar or petroleum and he also avoids Annatto (which is technically considered “natural”).

Artificial Food Dyes and How they can impact childrenRed dye derived from coal tar can be called Red Dye 40, Red Dye #40 or Allura Red. In addition to eliminating Red Dye #40 from his diet, my son also avoids Yellow Dye #5 (also known as Tartrazine) and Blue Dye #1 and #2.

Basically, if a food, medicine, toothpaste or beverage has an artificial dye or Annatto as an ingredient, he does not ingest it.

Interestingly, after we figured his intolerance out, we had one professional say to us that kids who are sensitive to artificial food dyes are likely very sensitive to alot of things. It is part of their “make up.”

On the “good news” front, the issue of sensitivity to color is now much better known than it was five years ago. President’s Choice (Real Canadian Superstore) has recently announced that they are eliminating artificial dyes from their products by the end of this year. McCain also seems to be moving in this direction. Some products, especially in the United States are now specifically labeled “No Artificial Colors.”

We have also discovered a few rather interesting differences between Canadian and American products. Miracle Whip produced in Canada has artificial food dye in it, American Miracle Whip does not. Jug chocolate milk, sold in Canada, has artificial food dye in it, American jug chocolate milk usually does not.

We don’t trust anything – we have found artificial dyes in vanilla ice cream, in chocolate pudding, in French fries, in cheese, in salad dressing and in snack crackers. I read every label before I put a product into my shopping cart or before he eats it. We have even asked to see labels when eating in restaurants.

We are very fortunate because he is equally committed to avoiding the artificial food dyes. He never asks to eat anything with dye even when tempted by cupcakes decorated with sprinkles or the cherry on top of a milkshake. Obviously, artificial food dyes and Annatto make him feel terrible.

There is not a day that goes by without me feeling grateful that we solved the mystery of my son’s behavior. What once seemed illogical and frightening is now completely understood and avoidable. We wonder, how many other children and their families are unknowingly dealing with sensitivities like his. We wonder how many children are having difficulty sleeping or managing their anger because something they ate was made to look “pretty” by adding an artificial food dye. This desire to create a more attractive food at less cost is unnecessary and is hurting our children. I continue to advocate for (at minimum) better food labeling but I would much prefer an outright ban of coal tar based artificial food dyes.

Some products we purchase (in Canada) because they don’t include artificial food dyes or Annatto:

Cavendish Farms frozen potatoes, Fanta soft drinks, Colgate regular toothpaste, (some) Sudafed cold tablets, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes but not Kellogg’s Vector (seems crazy), Smarties, Bryers’ Natural Ice Cream, Powerade Clear and Kirkland Organic Chocolate Milk, available at Costco.

Our Artificial Dye Pinterest Board

Websites with helpful information about Artificial Dyes and Behavior

Red Dye 40

Center for Science in the Public Interest – Urges FDA to Ban Artificial Food Dyes

Artificial Dyes and Behavior on YouTube

Tiffany Kenney’s report

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic. It is one that I am passionate about.

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7 Comments on “Artificial Food Dyes, Behavior and My Son – Dealing with Intolerance”

  1. Martha

    Hi Carolyn, After struggling with similar issues with our son and his reactions to artificial dyes we created a sight for information gathering and sharing at about the status of artificial dyes in the foods we consume and feed to our children.

    Thank you,

  2. Carolyn - Storytime Standouts

    Thanks so much for your comment. I enjoyed visiting your site and reading about your experiences.

    Yesterday, I noticed an article in our local newspaper regarding the increase in teen anger. To quote the first paragraph, “Intermittent explosive disorder – a controversial mental illness marked by outbursts of uncontrollable rage – is so common among adolescents it affects one in 12 teens, a large new study found.” – Battle Brews Over Teen Anger by Sharon Kirkey, Postmedia News.

    I believe firmly that some of these teens are sensitive to dyes, just as your son and my son are.We are poisoning our youth – so many of the foods they are drawn to are the ones with color: cereals, falvored and colored milks, some medicine, some yoghurt, ice cream, french fries, candy, cookies, salad dressing, Gatorade, most Powerade, toothpaste, some soft drinks, Jello gelatin and puddings, some chips (i.e. Doritos), Kraft dinner. When you read this list, does it not seem that these are the very foods that children and teens consume most?

  3. Rebecca at "Die, Food Dye!"

    I want them banned, too. I posted up my interview on my blog with a dye-sensitive 16-year old boy last month, your son may relate to him. My daughter and I are both affected by annatto, too, which I only figured out a few months ago. I too ask restaurant servers and managers for ingredients all the time. And I do believe that kids who react to food dyes have super SMART bodies that may also react to other stuff, especially dairy (I heard that the added vitamins in milks are preserved with petrochemical preservatives). Our daughter had a scary, severe reaction to milk as a baby, but we suspect her symptoms transformed after age three, to behavioral and concentration problems. We also have reactions to fake flavorings like “vanillin”, and to preservatives like TBHQ. It is such a relief to figure this stuff out. Last summer was hell, this summer is very different!

  4. Carolyn - Storytime Standouts

    It is really unfortunate about Annatto because it is considered “natural.” I like your mention of super smart bodies – I will remember that! Thank you for commenting.

  5. Stephen @ The McCain Team

    Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks so much for the mention in the article above! We’re so proud to be part of the “Good News” front of this important and all too common issue. Stories like yours are the reason we’ve worked so hard to remove all artificial colours and flavours from our products, replacing them with ingredients like you would find in your own kitchen.

    Thanks again!

    -Stephen (The McCain Team)

  6. Carolyn - Storytime Standouts

    Thank you Stephen.

    We believe,before too long, McCain’s will be seen as a leader in a revolution of sorts. We think eventually consumers will look back on these days and wonder how we could have been so foolish as to eat coal tar!

  7. Debbi

    Thank you for a great article. We learned a week ago that our son is sensitive to yellow food dye, dairy, almonds, and lettuce. On top of that i am diabetic so we are dealing with food insanity. Reading your article made me wonder if we should just remove all artificial dye.

    Dont even know what to eat anymore.

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