March 29, 2011 at 9:09 PM ET
When the Food and Drug Administration meets this week to hear experts testify on whether artificial food dyes play a role in making kids hyperactive, there’s a community of parents who will be all ears.
And if the FDA eventually decides to require a warning on products containing dyes or to ban dyes altogether, it will be a fantastic outcome, albeit somewhat anti-climactic, for these passionate moms and dads. That’s because they’ve already stripped those suspect dyes ── Red #40, Red 3, Blue #2, and so on ── from their kids’ diets.
The use of artificial dyes by foodmakers has increased by half since 1990, reported the Washington Post, and it's not limited to candy. Foods made pretty by chemicals now include everything from bagels and pickles to Pop-Tarts.
Organizations like the Grocery Manufacturers Association contend there's no issue: "All of the major safety bodies globally have reviewed the available science and have determined that there is no demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity among children," the group says in a statement.
But the anti-dye mom brigade vehemently disagrees. They don't like the effects they claim the dyes have on their kids, and they voice their frustrations in places like the Facebook page, “I keep my kid away from Red Dye #40!! Do you??”
“My son was given pink Nerds candy at school yesterday afternoon and ever since he has been bouncing off the walls. I can’t calm or reason with him. Doors are slamming, things are being thrown. I HATE RED #40,” writes one mom.
There’s also the Red Dye Free! blog started two years ago by Cayla Maraist, a Florida mom and former elementary school teacher who blames red dye #40 for her son’s turbulent behavior. Once she dropped the dye from his diet, she says she witnessed a complete turnaround and started the blog to share what she learned.
“Why should children or anyone else needlessly suffer because of consuming these harmful dyes?” says Maraist, who posts testimonials of moms who say they have seen changes in their kids after they cut out dyes. She also has a link to The Red Dye Free Store, where you can buy products without artificial colors.
For moms like Jackie Jackson Vann of Washington, D.C., removing dyes from her family’s diet several years ago was life-changing.
When Vann's oldest son, Rileigh, was in second and third grade, he was having issues in school. "He'd fall out of his chair or just fall down while walking. We thought he was being the class clown," says Vann. Rileigh was also having trouble focusing and struggled with homework. Teachers suggested that Rileigh be tested for ADHD, but his parents felt his symptoms weren't severe enough to merit medication.
Research led Vann to discover the Feingold program, a diet created in the 1970s by Dr. Ben Feingold, who believed food dyes were linked to hyperactive behavior.
On the Feingold diet, you eliminate everything with artificial dyes, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors, plus three major preservatives: BHT, TBHA and BHA.
Vann gave the diet a trial run with Rileigh. And after two weeks, she says the change in her son was obvious. Homework that used to take hours to do would take the 30 minutes it should have required. He was more focused and happy. "The challenges were removed for him," says Vann.
After that, the Vanns decided the whole family should make it a way of life, so they cleaned out their kitchen. "I read every single label. About 80 percent of the stuff had to be thrown out."
Vann admits that in the beginning, food shopping was a pain that involved going to multiple stores to find products. She now even uses iPhone apps such as “Don’t Eat That” to help decipher labels.
For busy, time-starved parents, the idea of spending so much energy on grocery shopping may seem daunting. And what about all those treats you've got to pass up?
Vann says her kids aren’t deprived of anything. They eat ice cream (Ben & Jerrys and Breyers all natural), and chocolate-covered raisins, and love Neuman-Os, the organic, natural replacement of Oreos. When they eat potato chips, Jackie looks for those with simple ingredients. "They should be potatoes and oil and salt. That's all," she says.
Do you limit the artificial food dyes your children consume? If so, have you seen any changes in behavior?