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Could We Be Poisoning Our Kids?

This local Patch mom realizes how bad processed, colored food is for children.

It has been a month since another mom told me that the Hawaiian Punch in my refrigerator is killing my kids.

We were talking on the phone. Can you imagine the horror in my face as she told me this while I watched Teddy gulp down a glass of this red 'poison'? I hung up the phone, grabbed the bottle of punch and dumped it down the drain, just as Teddy asked for more.

I ran upstairs to the computer and started researching this claim. Was there any truth? Well, yes, apparently, it could be true and, of course, it's not so black and white, or red for that matter.

Here are a few things I've learned since that day through research and, of course, Facebook:

  • Food coloring can cause hyperactivity. According to the Mayo Clinic – Yellow 5, 6, 10 and Red 40 can increase hyperactivity in kids. I had two parents report to me through Facebook that they removed food dyes from their child's diet because of hyperactivity, and that they found significant positive improvement in their behavior after doing so.
  • Food coloring can also trigger allergies. I already knew this, but never really thought about it before, even with an allergy-prone child.
  • Food coloring could cause cancer. There haven't been any studies done on humans, but I don't think I will take my chances waiting for that to happen.

I took this information and did what any rational mother would do: I ran downstairs and methodically emptied our cabinets and refrigerator into the trash can. Of course, I had just completed a large shopping trip the day before that apparently was 90 percent food colored, cancer-inducing junk.

I thought briefly about donating that food instead of just trashing it, but it seemed unethical to give someone else something I wouldn't eat myself.

Cereals, Fruit Roll-Ups, salad dressing, Jell-O, pudding, yogurt, popsicles, ice cream, Gatorade, refrigerated pie crusts, candy, gum, pickles, port wine cheese–these are just a few of the items that found their way to my trash can that day.

The boys wanted to know what was going on, and I told them and I didn't sugar coat it: “Food dyes could be linked to cancer.” Many kids wouldn't get this, but my boys had to say goodbye to their 5-year-old cousin this past September, after a grueling battle with brain cancer. So instead of crying about losing their popsicles, they went through the cabinets themselves and pointed out foods I had missed.

I even got rid of my Diet Coke because of the caramel coloring. It turns out that caramel color has nothing to do with the candy. Caramel color is a chemical byproduct that has been shown to give rats and mice cancerous tumors. I honestly felt betrayed. I loved my Diet Coke. Even when I knew that it was bad for me, I still drank it. But for some reason this caramel coloring, the second ingredient in the cola, was what finally did in my love for the soda. In fact, the entire ingredient list was a total turn off.

Then, a couple of weeks into our new dye-free lifestyle something happened: . Valentine's Day is a day of candy and cute pink cupcakes and food dye. I was nervous. How could I tackle this day and get away with it? Lucky for me, doesn't allow sweets to be distributed so my kids came home with only pencils and tatoos. I thought we had made it through the day successfully, but then a family member stopped by with boxes of conversation heart candy for the boys.

For some reason, those little hearts, which contain Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40 and Blue 1, broke us. The boys had fun eating them and telling me what the hearts said. They even fed me a couple.

A few days later, I saw Teddy with a Fruit Roll-Up. It turns out I missed two boxes of them when I threw everything out. Peter wouldn't touch them, but Teddy was willing to take his chances and I didn't stop him. I even broke down and had a Diet Coke. Moderation is key after all, right?

But the thing is, now that I am reading labels, I'm really freaked out about my children's health. I want them to have the occasional colored treat without thinking about cancer. I want them to have their conversation hearts and an occasional root beer without worrying about it.

There are natural alternatives to these toxic food colors. The kids' brightly colored gummy vitamins were on my hit list until I saw that those colors came from fruit and vegetable juices, not chemicals.

Maybe the FDA should ban food coloring. The European Union has made major changes when it comes to dyes. Some have been banned, and if not banned, it is now mandatory to label products with food dye to let consumers know that the food could cause hyperactivity in children. There are labels. There are warnings. How is this for insane: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese has Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 in the United States, but Kraft removes those colors for their Macaroni & Cheese sold in Europe.

Is having bright, yellow-orange noodles that important? Should we sacrifice ours and our children's health just to eat some marketing guru's ideal of perfect food? I don't think so. What do you think?

For more information on the dangers of food coloring:

Center For Science In The Public Interest

Feingold Association of The United States

Food Safety News

christina March 06, 2012 at 07:55 PM
I love that you wrote about this. It absolutely makes me sick. I try my best to stay away from "factory" food. It is horrible. Do another article on the "pink slime" that is added to our kids school lunches. What is going on in this world????
KMJ March 06, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Thank you for the article. As consumers we are not educated on the ingredients in our foods. Even reading the labels is difficult -- wording is confusing. About a month ago my family eliminated some products out of our diet. In doing so, I have discovered that other countries have banned certain ingredients but the US has not. One example that sticks out in my mind is the Orange Juice. US continued to sell it with the chemical/poison in it.. they claim the trace is very very small...while the other countries stopped the sales. Our Country is about the $$$, if Kraft can make adjustment for Europe why the yet can't it do it for all humans!!!
KMJ March 06, 2012 at 09:23 PM
One other thing - the schools. I believe years ago it was a district wide policy to have healthy snacks in school. Seems like it lasted 1 year if that. I am so glad Loomis is staying away from the candy. Most kids today get plenty of candy/cookies at home; why do we need it in school.....the lunches are bad enough!
Maureen Pomeroy March 06, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Thanks for this article, Bretany. It does make you wonder why we have things in our food and also beauty products that are banned in other countries. Check your toothpaste too.
Bretany Pilko March 06, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Thanks for your comments. Regarding the schools and the Valentine treats - I thought it was district wide but other moms from Worrall, Culbertson and Russell all told me that their kids got tons of candy on Valentine's Day. The only candy like thing we got was a bag of gummies - which we don't eat in the house, not just because of the coloring and the fact that they are bad for you...but they are so bad for their teeth. I would rather a few hershey kisses than those things.
KMJ March 07, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Yes, it is District Wide. However, no one in the school enforces it. And yes, they did bring home lots of candy and we sort thru and got rid of about 90%. (nothing sticky or gooey for several reasons). I rather them have the "Good Stuff" - Hershey Kisses.
Bretany Pilko March 07, 2012 at 01:41 PM
I wonder how many moms throw out this stuff? If we are throwing it out - why are we buying it? Loomis is pretty strict on the no sweet policy thank goodness. Teddy has allergies so it is one less thing for me to worry about. No one brings in cupcakes etc. on their birthday. Curious about the other schools birthday policies...
Bretany Pilko March 07, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Maureen - I was definitely devastated when I found out that crest has blue coloring. Then I went through the rest of the medicine cabinet. Found it ironic that benedryl for kids has a few colors as well. It treats allergic reactions but could cause them at the same time!
KMJ March 07, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Honestly, I do not send candy into school for these events. Also, I don't send in cupcakes,cookies for their birthday - actually I don't send anything.
KMJ March 07, 2012 at 07:53 PM
its amazing what is in our products!!!!
fran March 07, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Even the stuff in cake and cookie mixes has questionable ingredients from questionable locales. The FDA is the problem; they are not part of a solution. And that is not even getting into GMO foods - look them up.
Ant 3 April 12, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Just eat bread and drink water then. You can skip out on my invitation to your birthday parties too.
MerionManor April 12, 2012 at 01:13 PM
AMEN, When I talk to teachers at our local elementary school they are completely disgusted about how they can't give the kids anything, school simply is not fun anymore, when you can't bring in cupcakes! If a certain child cannot consume a cupcake so be it, what is this world coming to! I recall looking forward to the parties we had in elementary school!

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