Thursday, December 1, 2011

the kids get wacky...

Yesterday I took the kids to their doctor's office since they've both had this ominous cough. The Boy is now on antibiotics and even though I specifically asked for nothing with dyes in it, the doctor prescribed zithromax, which has Red #40. The pharmacy looked in the insert for me, and when I called the on-call number it was suddenly MY job to research which drugs were safe for him and which pharmacy carries them. 87 phone calls and Google searches later, I located a pharmacy that carried dye free amoxicillin, which was free (cool!) but EVERY other drug has dyes.

I realize it's my job to do everything in my power to take care of my kids, so I don't really mind doing the calling and Googling, but the doctor actually said to me- (paraphrasing) 'I know some kids get wacky when they have dyes, even though all of the research says otherwise, other parents have said the same thing.'

my happy, sweet boy
Well then. I guess she got to sneak her opinion in there after all! Good for you, Dr. Julie. (this is the same pediatrician who accused me of doing a horrible job of breastfeeding the baby Girl in the hospital, which is ludicrous. My blood boils when I see this woman.)

So, if "all of the research" says there's no reason to worry about dyes in our food (bangs head on desk) lets just challenge Dr. Knows Everything. I plan on writing her a bitchy polite note informing her that this isn't some sort of off the cuff, hippie mom experiment, but was so surprised by reading this information, I thought I'd share some compelling links with you guys, too:

CSPI Urges FDA to Ban Artificial Food Dyes Linked to Behavior Problems

Banned in the U.K., food dyes are U.S. staple

A Parent's Guide to Diet, ADHD, and Behavior

Petition to Ban the Use of Yellow 5 and Other Food Dyes  "It is medically and ethically unwise to burden hyperactive children and their parents with concerns about foods with synthetic dyes. After all, parents (and pediatricians) first would have to know about the potential risk and then figure out if their children were adversely affected by dyes. Then they would have to protect their children from packaged and restaurant foods with dyes and from dyed foods served at friends’ parties, school events, picnics, and elsewhere. Parents (and children) should not be burdened with having to fend off the almost ubiquitous risks" (from the petition above)

F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings

The Hidden Health Risks of Food Dyes  "The three most widely used culprits—Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40—contain compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, that research has linked with cancer."

This awesome blog  had this information compiled from CSPI information on an existing post:

"Here is what the CSPI writes about existing artificial dyes:
Caution: BLUE 1 (found in beverages, candy and baked goods.)
One (unpublished) animal test suggested a small cancer risk, and a test-tube study indicated the dye might affect neurons. Blue 1 might be safe, but it should be better tested.
Avoid: BLUE 2 (found in pet food, beverages and candy.)
Animal studies found some—but not conclusive—evidence that Blue 2 causes brain cancer in male rats, but the Food and Drug Administration concluded that there is "reasonable certainty of no harm.”
Caution: CITRUS RED 2 (found in the skin of some Florida oranges only.)
The amounts of this rarely used dye that one might consume, even from eating marmalade, are so small that the risk is not worth worrying about.
Avoid: GREEN 3 (found in candy and beverages.)
A 1981 industry-sponsored study gave hints of bladder and testes tumors in male rats, but FDA re-analyzed the data using other statistical tests and concluded that the dye was safe. Fortunately, this possibly carcinogenic dye is not widely used.
Avoid: ORANGE B (found in sausage.)
Approved for use only in sausage casings, high doses of this dye are harmful to the liver and bile duct. However, that is not worrisome because Orange B has not been used for many years.
Avoid: RED 3 (found in candy and baked goods.)
The evidence that this dye caused thyroid tumors in rats is "convincing," according to a 1983 review committee report requested by FDA. FDA's recommendation that the dye be banned was overruled by pressure from elsewhere in the Reagan Administration. Red 3 used to color maraschino cherries, but it has been replaced there by the less controversial Red 40 dye. It is still used in a smattering of foods ranging from cake icing to fruit roll-ups to chewing gum.
Caution: RED 40 (found in soda pop, candy, gelatin desserts, pastries, pet food, and sausage.)
The most widely used food dye. While this is one of the most-tested food dyes, the key mouse tests were flawed and inconclusive. An FDA review committee acknowledged problems, but said evidence of harm was not "consistent" or "substantial." Red 40 can cause allergy-like reactions. Like other dyes, Red 40 is used mainly in junk foods.
Avoid: YELLOW 5 (found in gelatin dessert, candy, pet food, and baked goods.)
The second-most-widely used coloring causes allergy-like hypersensitivity reactions, primarily in aspirin-sensitive persons, and triggers hyperactivity in some children. It may be contaminated with such cancer-causing substances as benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl (or chemicals that the body converts to those substances).
Avoid: YELLOW 6 (found in beverages, candy, and baked goods.)
Industry-sponsored animal tests indicated that this dye, the third most widely used, causes tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. In addition, small amounts of several carcinogens, such as 4-aminobiphenyl and benzidine (or chemicals that the body converts to those substances), contaminate Yellow 6. However, the FDA reviewed those data and found reasons to conclude that Yellow 6 does not pose a significant cancer risk to humans. Yellow 6 may cause occasional, but sometimes-severe hypersensitivity reactions."  Read more here.

So, I'm just a little miffed that a pediatrician doesn't take any of this seriously. I can't imagine my son trying to recover from an illness while simultaneously feeling as crappy as he feels when he's ingested Red #40. The kid puts up with enough as it is!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The nightmare that is Thanksgiving (or, you'd think I'd learn...)

I should know by now how there are dyes in everything, but there are still things that sneak up on me. I should know to read the labels on everything, regardless of if it doesn't seem like something that could be stuffed chemicals....

I gave myself a pretty decent guilt trip about the pumpkin pie from Walmart that had Yellow #5 in it. Then I felt even worse once I found out that the Boy had a slice. He didn't seem to be affected the way he usually is. He's been a little lethargic since Saturday, and it's unusual for him. It's Monday, and he was still sleepy and snuggly today. Who knows if he's getting sick or if he's actually reacting to the pie, but why on earth would someone put Yellow in a pumpkin pie? It's main ingredient is orange, and it's full of delicious yellow-ish ingredients. Seems like a no brainer. A naturally made pie is perfectly beautiful and appetizing, and this Walmart pie has basically just pissed me off. 

Here's another Thanksgiving horror story: Marshmallows have blue dye. Actually, wanna know *exactly* what's in them? The ingredients in Kraft marshmallows are: corn syrup, sugar, modified food starch, dextrose, water, pork-skin gelatin, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, artificial flavor, natural flavor, and blue #1.  As a reference, I'm including Smitten Kitchen's recipe for springy, fluffy marshmallows- her list of ingredients are confectioner's sugar, unflavored gelatin, granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, egg whites, and vanilla. Big diff, eh? They put Brilliant Blue #1 in there just to make my blood boil.

Oh, and we got to do something really awesome this holiday weekend with our family- we went to the Shrine Circus! It was super fun, and I was impressed with the quality of the acts, but that place was oozing with red sno-cones, blue cotton candy, lollipops, sodas, nacho cheese... well, you know, circus food. No surprises there, but still evidence to the pervasiveness of food colorants marketed toward children. 

I know there was a lot of bitching in this post about a holiday that's supposed to be about thankfulness and gratitude, so here's my attempt to win you over and make you think I'm a human... with a beating heart. 
  • I'm grateful for the health of my family, for two healthy, happy kids and a husband whose only health affliction is stubbornness (but there doesn't seem to be any remedy for that.)
  • I'm thankful for the opportunity to raise my kids in the comfort of my own home, and am grateful that as a result, I have two happy, well adjusted and securely attached babes. 
  • Obviously, the internet, chocolate, and wine. 

I'll let you know how my homemade marshmallows turn out, and if I win the war on food dyes as Christmas approaches!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dye Free Food, Meal by Meal:

If you're considering making some changes in the way your family eats, let me throw you a bone and give ya' some tips (i.e. very basic info.)

There's usually a dye-free version of anything you want to eat. Just because you're craving jellybeans doesn't mean you have to go without, you just have to look a little harder. This Easter, I found the most delicious jellybeans at Trader Joe's, and they tasted so much better than my usual favorites. They actually had flavor. I didn't feel like I was popping pure sugar in my mouth (and I saw them yesterday- apparently they aren't just seasonal!) I think an added benefit of eliminating artificial dyes is the surge of flavor that inevitably comes with better, higher quality food.

So, I think the best way to grocery shop is to make a list. Go through your week and make a meal plan, including breakfast and lunch, and list each ingredient you'll need. This makes it easier to see where dyes are sneaking up on you.
  • Some common breakfast offenders are yogurt and cereal. Oatmeal that comes already flavored and cereal bars often have dyes. In general, you can purchase deceivingly unhealthy yogurt, cereal, and breakfast bars, so buying ones without dyes will probably ensure that you are eating whole grains, fiber, fruits, and generally less processed food. Juice can have hidden additives as well, so be careful. The Boy likes Berry Berry Kix- I was surprised it was dye free. We buy Simply GoGurt, although there are several other dye-free brands. If you like canned cinnamon rolls (and who doesn't!) just a warning that Pillsbury puts red dye #40 in theirs- it makes me so sad, because I believe that cinnamon rolls look beautiful and delicious without the added chemicals.
  • Hot dogs can contain red dyes too- and lunch meats have ridiculous amounts of additives, so avoiding those are usually a good idea. Jellies and jams sometimes have extra dyes, so we buy All Fruit brand jelly usually. So many chips and snack foods have dyes- Doritos and Cheetos are common offenders, but oddly enough Fritos have a surprisingly noble list of ingredients (much healthier than Rold Gold Pretzels, for example.) Avoid Jell-O (but we LOVE these SmartGels from Kozy Shack. They're really good and I am a fan of the ingredients list.) Macaroni and cheese can create some major hurdles, but we like Annie's Homegrown products
  • Dinner food seem to have fewer issues with dyes, since savory foods are often colored with spices instead. Although, one that I forget pretty frequently (because it doesn't make sense!) is Pillsbury brand items- you know, crescent rolls, stuff like that. I bought some garlic bread that comes pre-schmeared with garlic butter, and had my oven pre-heated before I realized it had yellow #5. I gave it to a neighbor but I still felt guilty for giving her chemical-laden food to feed her kids. I know not everyone has a problem with it, but I do, and it weighs heavy on my mind most days. 
  • There are obvious snacky offenders, but I feel that I should list a few in case you don't know about them yet- foods like brownies, cake mixes, frosting in a can, sodas, candies, fruit snacks, and chips sometimes have dyes, but do you see a common thread here? They're all fake, crappy foods. Make your own cake and frosting (it's easy!) and in general, make better choices about what you put in your shopping cart. I enjoy lemon curd with gingerbread cake, and can't buy it from the regular supermarket anymore. Lucky for me, I found it at TJ's recently!
  • Here's a shocker- I had to throw out my kid's toothpaste because it was full of blue dye! We switched to Burt's Bees toothpaste, and we've been very happy with it- the boy loves to brush!
  • Most medications contain harmful colors as well- Benadryl, Advil/ibuprofen, and  Tylenol/acetaminophen all make dye-free versions. One time I looked at the Tylenol website to see if they made chewables that were dye free (they don't), and they seemed to think that parents choose their dye-free products to avoid messes and stains on children's clothing. They're clueless! I've heard that you can get dye-free amoxicillin from a compounding pharmacy but I've not tried that yet. 

Alright, those were just a few... I have lots more to tell you but I don't want your brain to explode just yet. Have you ever been shocked by the ingredients of something you frequently buy?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Twitter- I'm kind of a big deal

Hey y'all, I made a Twitter to keep up with the allergic, food sensitive world: follow me @dyefreefam !!!

Halloween. It happened, and I lived to tell the tale.

Buzz and Chicken
I was fairly certain having a child with dye sensitivity on a candy filled holiday like Halloween would send me to the psychiatric ward. At the very least I expected a migraine, or permanent eye twitch, but none of that happened!

Here's how the night went down- we went to a friend's house. We put costumes on the kids. We went trick or treating. No one got hurt. Nothing crazy. The Boy somehow resisted the temptation of all temptations and did NOT open the full-sized bag of Skittles, nor did he dig in to anything else- in fact, he ate ONE piece of candy all night! It was an organic TJ's lollipop, and the odds of that happening peacefully are like a bajillion to zero. I should have gotten a lottery ticket on the way home last night.

I was fully prepared to whine and complain about this holiday, but it was actually a really good time! I'm looking forward to next year, especially since the focus for the 3 year old seemed to be the people he spent the evening with, "I have some really nice fwiends, Mama." Amazing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I'm becoming 'that mom'

Before I became a parent, I was horrified by people who controlled their child's every move. I knew I'd never be 'that' mom- I would let my kids do as they pleased, be free thinkers, teach them to love life. But then, this dye thing happened and I've become a helicopter mom. For example, recently we were at the doctor's office. This is what went down:

Nurse: Look at those cute kids! I bet they'd like a sticker!
Me: (distracted and busy, because I'm the idiot who brought two children with her to an appointment) Oh, nice!
Nurse: (comes back with her hands full of suckers) Which flavor would you like?
Me: (Oh crap. She said *sucker* not *sticker.* I wave my arms in distress and beg her not to let the boy see them)
Nurse: (Shooting me a look of confusion and bewilderment) Um, ok??

Yes, I'm now the mom who won't let her kids have suckers. No one gives out dye-free lollipops, because they cost eight times as much. I panic at the sight of candy. Halloween might give me an aneurysm. And why do doctors give out candy anyway? Surely there are more families like mine? Or diabetics? Or good old fashioned health nuts?

When the boy sees brightly colored candy, I tell him he can't have it because it makes him sick. He's starting to understand, but no one can resist a bag of Skittles. I try to keep a Trader Joe's sucker in my purse but they don't last long in there (hey, Mama needs a sugar fix now and then!)

At restaurants, a well meaning server will offer mac 'n cheese or orange soda like it's no big deal. My friends and family haven't quite realized how one slip up will have an effect on my life for days. I feel like I'm trying my best to keep my kid healthy and happy; I'm sensing that those close to me and my family think I'm micromanaging.

So, the next time you see a mom get a twitch in her eye when her kid is offered a 'harmless' sucker, don't judge her, *please.*

and this is why we're dye-free:

Since food dye intolerance isn't a widely recognized allergy, I should probably explain why and how we made the choice to be a dye-free family.

About a year ago, my son was having lots of difficulties sleeping through the night. There were lots of changes going on in our family though, so it didn't immediately occur to me that it could have anything to do with his diet. He was used to co-sleeping with us, and he had begun the transition to sleeping in his own bed. He nursed until he was 25 months old, and was gently weaned when I began having contractions (on bed rest, no less) during my pregnancy with my daughter. However, I am positive that he was not ready to stop nursing, and would have benefited from a longer weaning period. We were doing our very best to make it through each day. We would parent him to bed, peacefully and with as much love and attention as was humanly possible, and he'd drift off without a care in the world. He'd wake up a few hours later though, inconsolable. We kept him close to us, and did everything we could not to isolate him when he was so upset. As this went on, there were concerns of an anxiety disorder or emotional disability, but during the day he was what we considered to be a normal two-year-old. Occasionally he'd show signs of being a 'terrible two' but I am so opposed to that terminology that I knew in my gut that something was wrong.

One day I noticed a friend's Facebook status mentioned her son's reaction to dyes in a chocolate muffin. I repeat, a chocolate muffin. Why anyone would try to make chocolate baked goods look better than they already do is beyond me, but the idea that her son would be so sensitive to food coloring was intriguing. I started Googling and didn't find much, so I grilled my friend and asked what happens to her son when the reaction is going on, and she mentioned the same things we were experiencing. I finally had a theory, something to go on.

Eli is an intelligent kid. I love this about him. He is also stubborn and independent. This combination can result in some pretty fantastic face-offs between parent and child. I wouldn't go so far as to say he had/has behavior issues, but on a good day- a non-toxic, clear thinking, awesome day- I still have to try insanely hard to model the type of behavior I expect from him. I have to think out each move, keep him busy, keep him challenged. In other words, he keeps me on my toes. On a bad day, one where I accidentally didn't read a label closely enough... it can feel catastrophic. It feels like a three day meltdown. Our family shuts down.

I learned a good lesson about following my instincts. I've learned this lesson before when he was a baby, nursing more frequently than every 2-3 hours, and several times after that. But this was more involved and required more research and dedication. I could have spanked him and sent him to a time-out when he was 'misbehaving' but I made the choice to love him wholly and unconditionally, in his darkest and most frustrating hours, and I am so relieved. Our lives are so much easier now, knowing what we know. The free-flowing additives in food still piss me off, but since we have answers about our child's health and well-being, I consider my family incredibly lucky.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

the beginning

Alright folks, first things first. My name is Ali, and I'm a mom. My kids are 3 and just-shy-of 1, and we're a pretty regular family. My parenting style is probably what you'd call slightly crunchy, but I think in the big picture, we're just like you. I want my kids to be happy and healthy, and love them more than I could ever have imagined. This blog is basically about how I changed my family's eating habits for the better. The catalyst for this 180 was when my son, Eli, had a major (dramatic, scary, emotional, torturous) breakdown after a family wedding, where the colors of honor were orange and blue. This could be a kid's dream come true: blue punch, orange cake, lollipops, M&Ms; all free for the taking! For several days, my sweet boy couldn't sleep, walk, talk, eat, play- we realized right away that there was a problem. I knew of a couple kids who didn't tolerate food dyes, but had never imagined a life without using M&Ms and gummi bears as bribery distraction.

I had a hunch that the food dyes had something to do with Eli's breakdown. He was not a sickly kid- occasional ear infections, but I nursed him until he was 25 months old, and I've considered him ahead of the curve verbally and cognitively. I felt guilty that his discomfort was because I let him run amok through a smorgasbord of dietary poison! These foods were as far from their natural states as possible and he was loving every minute of it.

I was seriously worried that this child was showing signs of ADHD at the age of 2 1/2, and after the blue and orange disaster, my husband and I decided to pull all artificial dyes and colors from his diet. At first, I didn't know where to turn... it seemed like everything in our cupboards was full of red, yellow, and blue.

Are you interested in specifics? I live about 20 miles from Trader Joe's so most of my shopping is done at Meijer (they have a good, affordable Meijer Naturals line.) Anyway, things changed quickly: no more regular microwave popcorn, garlic bread, or hot dogs... No more frozen waffles or cheap syrup, no popcicles or ice cream or brownies or candy! All of these things require forethought and planning and extra energy (and who has that?)

I started buying Simply GoGurt instead of the cheap store brand of yogurt, which contained Red #40 and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS.) We had those all over for awhile, until we'd adjusted more of our eating habits. They were a decent substitute for Popsicles and convenient. I started to notice other chemicals in our foods too- Rold Gold pretzels had a scary list of ingredients compared to a bag of Frito s.

I stopped using cake mixes and baked more bread at home. Cake mix can be convenient but it is full of ridiculous additives that stray from the usual flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. I haven't even tried the organic mixes because I've found such wonderful cake recipes, I'll never go back! (psst: here's an amazing chocolate cupcake recipe...)

So far, we've gotten through Easter, summer, 4th of July, and Eli's 3rd birthday dye free. Halloween and Christmas are coming up- those will be our next challenges (and I have posts planned to tell you about each one of these special days!)