“It shouldn’t have to be like this.” This thought ran through my mind constantly every night at my two-year-olds bedtime for almost six weeks. Back in November, he had been his normal, sweet, good-natured self. A little boy that loved to snuggle, went to sleep on his own with zero fuss and had the sweetest personality. Then it was like someone flipped a switch. He had issues focusing on things when I asked him to do something, he ran around like a wild man, he was violent, and at bedtime, he was a total nightmare.
What used to be a thirty minute sweet, quiet routine suddenly had become a three or more hour ordeal. I dreaded bedtime. It would start out pretty much the same as always, but within five minutes it would spiral out of control. He was fighting me trying to brush his teeth, jumping on the bed, crawling over the edge of his toddler bed, slapping me in the face, punching me in the eye, and telling me that what he was doing was funny. I was an emotional wreck. I wanted my sweet little boy back and refused to chalk this up to the “terrible twos”.
Then I remembered a little boy I used to babysit who had very similar reactions to red foods. So I took my friend’s list on Facebook. I had some friends who had children with food dye sensitivities so I sought them and their expertise out. What my son was experiencing was textbook food dye sensitivity, specifically to Red 40. So I set out on a journey to try to eliminate Red 40 from his diet, just to see what would happen. What I wasn’t ready for how prevalent Red 40 was in foods we were feeding him. Or for its presence in other things like toothpaste, vitamins, and medicine.
I wasn’t expecting a miracle overnight because everything I read said that the dyes could remain in your system for up to a week and reactions could still be evident for the duration. What I got was an almost immediate improvement. We cut Red 40 out of his diet on January 9th, 2014 and he was already doing better that night. Not a complete turnaround, but better nonetheless.
By January 12th he was back to his sweet, adorable, loving self. The difference was amazing. My husband, ever the skeptic, wasn’t completely sold but he was willing to go along with it for awhile and let me be “that mom” for until either my theory was proven or disproven. That night my son was having a lot of pain courtesy of the four two year molars that were racing to the gum line to see which one would come through first.
It was around midnight when he woke up in tears and couldn’t be consoled. He knows when he hurts and isn’t afraid to tell me he needs Tylenol. The only Tylenol I had in the house was pink. Chock full of Red 40. But I had to give it to him so he could have some relief. And we were immediately on the Crazy Train headed for Insomnia City. It was almost 4 am before I finally got him calmed down and able to go back to sleep.
What my husband saw that night was enough proof for him so we went through everything in the cabinets, pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. If it had Red 40 in it, we put it in a pile to donate. If it was safe it was put back on the shelf and deemed “clean”. There was so much food: Poptarts, Hamburger Helper, Jello, fruit snacks, Doritos, vitamins, sauces, juices, crescent rolls, pie dough, Toaster Strudels, cheese crackers, Tylenol, and more. It seemed like it was everywhere.
But we now knew that if it was in our house, it was clean. Two days later I went grocery shopping, armed with new recipes to make some of his favorites and with brand names that were Red 40 free. Having to stop and read labels meant that the trip was easily twice as long as I had planned. I couldn’t be too careful since I never dreamed that it would be in things like crescent rolls.
When we left my son was tired and hungry. I fell into the trap. You know the one. You have a trunk full of groceries but you stop and get food on the way home because you have no time. Yep, that’s how I ended up in line at Taco Bell. I never dreamed that Taco Bell used Red 40 in their proprietary seasoning blend. But they do. Which is why we had yet another really horrible night.
So the research began in earnest. The next day I researched all of our favorite places to go so I could figure out what was safe and what wasn’t. I now have a mental list of all of the ingredients in burgers, pizza, sauces, salad dressing (who knew honey mustard salad dressing contained Red 40?), juices, and sandwiches from the places we typically go.
My mind was swimming with all of the foods and other items that contained Red 40. I needed more though. Before I really started talking to others about it, I wanted to be completely educated. I knew there would be skeptics because this wasn’t your typical food sensitivity. People are prepared for you to say your child is allergic to peanuts, dairy, or gluten. They aren’t prepared for a food dye issue. So I kept researching.
What I found was unbelievable. According to the NPR, research has shown that not only does Red 40 sensitivity mirror ADHD symptoms, but the dye itself is petroleum based and has been shown to cause cancer. I couldn’t believe that this was approved to go in our food with known issues.
Further research showed that Red 40 and the other petroleum based food dyes, there are eight in all (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 3, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, and Orange B – Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 make up more than 80% of the dyes used in our food and Red 3 and Orange B are no longer used in foods in the US), are banned in the UK and the FDA is looking in to the possibility that the issues may be more prominent than they thought.
That being said, the exact same companies that make food in the United States using these toxic dyes are required to use something else in the UK. For instance, NutriGrain bars in the US contain Red 40 while in the UK they are dyed with natural ingredients. And this happens across the board. Every item that is made here that contains these dyes is required by law to be free of them before they can be sold in the UK. So it isn’t that the dyes are mandatory. It’s that they are cheaper and we are willing to buy them.
Not anymore. Not this household anyway. I have started making so many things that we use to buy as a convenience from scratch. Whereas we use to just grab the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, it has Yellow 5 in it which can have many of the same types of reactions Red 40 has in children, so now I just buy the noodles and make the cheese sauce from scratch. We make our own yogurt, spaghetti sauce, pizza dough, bread, and many other things.
I substituted puff pastry for crescent rolls in the things I used it in and use my grandma’s pie crust recipe for everything now. As for going out, if I can’t guarantee something is safe, we go with a basic salad with grilled chicken, which is fine with him because he loves salads. Since we have implemented these changes to his diet, and ours by default because I refuse to allow us to eat something that he can’t have, I have noticed changes in all of us. We feel better because we are eating a lot more homemade foods.
We are happier and less moody. Our calorie intake has dropped significantly and our grocery bill has actually dropped. The exact opposite of what I thought it would do. Honestly, as much as I hate that he has this issue, it is probably the best thing that happened for us. We are eating so much healthier as a family and much more aware of what we are putting in our bodies. Oh, and he’s doing great. He’s my little Snuggle Bug again and now instead of the nightly punch to the eye, I have the nightly, “Lay down with me, Momma. Snuggle!”