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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

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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