Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Our Battle with Food Dye

Neven tends to be a pretty mellow kid. As a road tripper, he'll look out the window for all of a two-hour car trip. When he first gave up his naps (at 2.5 yrs), he'd opt for sitting in his closet reading books for literally hours instead of falling asleep. Along the same lines, it takes a LOT to get this child excited (amusement parks? eh, not really). Mellow and even-tempered, just like his Dad. 

After Neven eats anything with food dye (by this, I mean artificial food coloring), there's a DRASTIC shift in his personality. He throws full-blown screaming tantrums* over the simplest things (like he wanted to close the fridge door but instead I did). He talks back and screams at me. He pushes physical limits with Daria. He doesn't listen to rules/boundaries that are always in place and he otherwise has no problems with. He's an emotional roller coaster - giggling one minute, and screaming hysterically the next. During his meltdowns, he gets this crazy, empty look in his eyes and it's impossible to reason with him at all. These days are filled with a treadmill of arguments, tantrums, tears, frustration - not much quality time happening. These feelings even spill over onto Daria. We refer to this outfall as The Crazies - it usually starts the day after food coloring, and usually lasts for a few days. 
*I understand kids this age will get irrationally upset about things... but this is different. Neven still has the occasional meltdown even when he's not under the influence of food dye - but I can explain what's going on to him, offer an alternative, and he's usually at least remotely open to the idea. 

At first, I was skeptical. I thought I was just being paranoid, trying to find an excuse for Neven's 3-yr-old-like behavior. I spent months suspicious that food coloring was the culprit, yet still not sure enough that I didn't take the final step to eliminate all food dye from his diet. I got to the point where I was able to convince Matt that there's a correlation (if you know Matt, or have a husband like Matt, you'll understand why this means so much!). 

A few weeks ago, Neven had a bad case of The Crazies that resulted from iced tea mix and/or the powdered 'cheese' on Pringles. This incident was the final straw for me. I realized that we've  already lost too many days to The Crazies, and I don't want to lose any more. I searched through our cupboards, determined to rid our home of food dye. There wasn't much, but it felt good to get it out - marshmallows, Easter candy, Halloween candy (ha!), granola bars, instant oatmeal, licorice, beef broth, iced tea mix, (kids'!) toothpaste, Tylenol, lotion, aloe vera... <On a side rant here: Really, Red40 in Children's Tylenol? Because kids care that cherry flavored must be red?! Not to mention... why does it need to taste like cherry or bubble gum?!> This purging made me realize that even though Neven hadn't been getting much food dye his diet, I think there may have been a slow trickle I wasn't aware of, resulting in essentially a continuous fallout. 

We've now been dye-free for nearly three weeks. I definitely notice a difference. He still has his occasional meltdowns, but they are few and far between and not so intense that they make ME want to cry. He has started asking me "Does this have food coloring in it?" to which I try to explain to him that's for me to worry about, not you. Whether Neven's reaction to food dyes is "real" or not is to be determined, but I'm definitely not the only one out there whose child turns a bit nutty after consuming them. And if there's a logical change I can make that happens to correlate to a more balanced, happier child... I'll do it! 

In my online researching, I found a helpful website (Die, food dye!) which not only has lots of information, but also many others with stories very similar to ours.  I've also discovered that Trader Joe's brand food contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. The Natural Candy Store carries everything from gummy bears to candy-coated chocolate candies, all without artificial  colors, flavors, or preservatives. I splurged and bought Neven a few sweets - perhaps out of guilt? ;)  

Thoughts? Anyone else out there with a similar experience? I'm still looking for all the support and validation I can get! 

Photo Copyright Sheila Aldridge - All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that you've found the culprit. O doesn't get much food dye with his soy, dairy and wheat free diet but I hadn't thought about the Tylenol and other medications having the dyes. Maybe those are contributing to some recent mood changes as he's been teething so I've been pumping him full of ibuprofen!