Category Archives: Health and Wellness

Food Dye Sensitivities: Our Journey to Cutting out the Junk

I have wanted to write this post for a while, but I don’t know…..I guess I haven’t had the right motivation to get me going.  I have not found the motivation until now that is.  A few weeks ago, the FDA met at the request of the Center for Science in the Public Interest to discuss adding a warning label to foods that have artificial food dyes as an ingredient due to concerns that they might be increasing behavior issues in some children.  Not surprisingly (to me anyway), the FDA voted 8 to 6 against the warning label.   Here is a pretty decent article summarizing what went down.  That’s fine.  It’s government, and there’s always more to the story than we see, namely money.  I do my own research without the help of the FDA and act accordingly.  I am sad for people who blindly follow their recommendations simply because they are the FDA, but that’s another post altogether.

So what does all of that have to do with our food journey?  Let me tell you.  Food dye sensitivities/allergies/whatever you want to call them are real.  Very real.  I have a child who is extremely sensitive to the dyes that are nonchalantly placed in so many of the foods you see in a grocery store.  I consider myself lucky to have figured that out by the time she was 24 months old.

Little miss H was a high needs baby, and as we entered into toddlerhood it became a struggle to figure out how to help her.  Some days were good, and some were not so good.  It felt like we were just all over the place with behavior, tantrums, sleep, etc.  Granted, part of this is just the nature of a toddler, but deep down inside I knew something else was going on.

One day an online friend mentioned that her daughter reacted horribly to red food dye.  I decided to do a little experiment and see what happened when I eliminated red from H’s diet.  I noticed pretty big changes.  The hubster was a bit skeptical and didn’t really see them at first.  But one day as we were sitting down at dinner, I looked at H and jokingly asked him what she had eaten that day.  He looked at me pretty solemnly and said, “I gave her a red jolly rancher.”  I think that was the moment that he realized how real this really was.  We vowed to each other at that moment that we would not allow her to have any red dye.

Easter came along a little while later, and we figured that we could bend the rules for the holiday.  We only let her have a tiny bit, but it was enough to send her (and us) over the edge.  She took forever to fall asleep, slept very restlessly when she did sleep, became aggressive, and lost any self control she would have normally had, and these all lasted for days, not hours like one would assume.  We both knew that it wasn’t fair for her to have to suffer for our bending the rules.  So from that moment on we decided to be strict in not allowing red dye.

And let me just say that it is extremely difficult to avoid dyes.  Potlucks are a challenge because there is no labeling, and you just have to make your best guess.  Some foods that you wouldn’t ever consider as possibly having dyes in them do in fact have a rainbow assortment of dye.  I learned very quickly that if we buy something out of a grocery store, the label MUST be checked and rechecked for dyes.  It was hard to get out of the mode of just assuming something wouldn’t have dyes and into the mode of checking every little thing.  I made a lot of things from scratch anyway, but out of necessity, I was forced into the from scratch thing even further.

As time went by, we noticed reactions (albeit not quite as dramatic as with the red dye) from other dyes and eliminated those as well.  We have also eliminated high fructose corn syrup from our diets simply because the research on that is frightening at best.  When we walk into a typical grocery store, there are very few things we can buy.  That is sad.  I wonder how many children are suffering with behavior problems, ADHD, and who knows what else simply because no one thinks to look at the foods they eat as a possible problem.  How many children are being medicated when a change in diet could be the cure?  Okay.  Off the soap box for now.

Having a child who reacts to dyes is a struggle.  For starters, people often look at me like I’m some wacky hippy mom (okay, I am!) with 3 eyes.  They often think it’s an excuse I’ve made up for poor behavior or whatever.  And how could my child possibly have problems when there are so many who don’t?  My parents, in fact, were pretty skeptical at first until they saw H “on red dye.”  I think that sealed the deal for them that this is real.  People expect hives, a rash, or an inability to breath.  Behavior and sleep problems are harder to see.  It’s a lot more subtle.  Ultimately, a lot of people will think we are just too hardcore and not letting our children “experience” life.  I can’t change anyone’s misconceptions, but I can protect my child’s health.

I just alluded to this, but there are social difficulties involved too, especially for the kids.  When we go to a party or someplace where there are treats, I often have to tell my children that they cannot have what is being served or that they can trade in the candy they were given for something safe when we get home.  I do my best to keep them from feeling isolated in these situations by always having special treats in my bag, but it’s not always avoidable.  I couldn’t ask for more better children in this area.  They know when they can’t have something and deal with the disappointment graciously.  I suppose that’s a life lesson they will carry with them for years to come.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s also difficult to keep these chemicals out the mouths of my children.  They are in so many foods it’s ridiculous.  (And do I ever have a huge load of empathy for parents of children with other allergies, and especially ones who react with anaphylactic shock!)  But we have to be vigilant with non-food products too.  We have learned the hard way that a lot of chapstick is not safe.  Even medicines which are meant to help are laden with dyes.  Our local pharmacy knows now that we cannot give our kids the usual pink antibiotic, but that first time I went in to get a prescription filled for H, we had to get the script changed to an antibiotic that mixed up white and not pink.  Dyes are everywhere we turn!

And yes, although one child has very strong reactions to dye, we have noticed smaller reactions in our middle child and made a commitment to keep them out of our house and out of the systems of all of our children.  I do wonder what will happen when they are older and need to take a pill that doesn’t necessarily come dye free.  It will be interesting.

My mom has sort of wondered out loud if H will outgrow this sensitivity.  She has also mentioned that she hopes it is something that will dissipate with time.  At first I definitely agreed with her.  I mean, it’s really inconvenient to be checking labels all the time and be really picky about what our kids eat when we are not at home.  However, I do believe this is a blessing in disguise.  Our whole family is healthier without these unnecessary chemicals.  I might not be able to quantify our healthiness, but I absolutely think our bodies and immune systems function a whole lot better than they would otherwise.  I’m thankful that we figured this out with our first child and that she essentially forced us all into a better way of nourishing our bodies.


Worms and Chickens

I have been inspired!  Last night I went to a viewing of the movie FRESH. It was a nice way to get out of the house, and I am passionate about making healthy food choices. I figured the discussion would be good. What I didn’t quite expect was the urge to go home and become a farmer. Actually, since I was a young girl, a big part of me has always wanted to live on a big piece of land and raise a bunch of animals. I still want that (somewhat), but I also have to face reality. The reality of my situation is that I live on a corner lot in our little town. Yeah….I don’t think that herd of cows, goats, pigs, and chickens is going to fit so well. Bummer!

I am, however, going to do what I can with what little I have. We already have a pretty rockin’ garden, so I need to look a bit deeper. Ah, yes! Deeper……the earth in which that garden grows! Vermicomposting is the solution. I have given this some thought in the past, but I think it’s time for action. As soon as the weather warms up a bit, I am going to find some worms (I still have to figure out where I might get worms) and get to composting. That worm poop (I mean, castings) is going to nourish or plants and, in turn, nourish our bodies!

The other thing I’ve been inspired to do is get some chickens. We have casually thrown the idea around, but I think maybe we should consider it a bit more seriously. We are lucky to live in a town that would actually allow chickens. So the first step is to research what we would have to do to make this a reality. My husband has had some experience raising chickens, otherwise I would feel a bit more intimidated. I am thinking that we need to figure out how many chickens we can actually have in the city limits, what kind we might be interested in, coop options, and feed options. I am excited about this! I think it will be a great way to teach our children a little work ethic as well as how to treat animals with respect. They do love eggs!

The snow and ice that we have had on the ground since the beginning of November seems like it might finally melt in the next few days. Spring may finally be around the corner! I am ready. I am refreshed, rejuvenated, and full of a million and one ideas! Here’s to learning and doing something new!

I challenge each of you to find something new to learn about and maybe even DO this spring. 😉

Vinegar: How I Love Thee!

I know it’s odd, but I really do like vinegar.  It is a tasty condiment for swiss chard and spinach, makes sweet and sour sauce possible, breaks down the phytic acid in my whole wheat bread, and is perfect in dishes and dressings where a little tang is needed.  I use vinegar pretty frequently in my kitchen, but this blog post isn’t about my kitchen.  It’s about my bathroom.

My bathroom?  Yep!  And no, I don’t eat in my bathroom.  As it turns out, vinegar is my favorite tool for cleaning.  Nothing (that isn’t full of scary chemicals) breaks up the hard water residue and calcium deposits like vinegar.  It really is amazing.  I keep a giant spray bottle full of vinegar specifically for cleaning purposes.  Some people dilute it with water, but I keep mine full strength.  We have some seriously hard water here, and honestly, I’ve just never tried it diluted.  One day….  For now I’m having success with it the way it is.

All I do is spray down whatever needs to be cleaned and wipe it dry with a cloth.  I use on the vanity, toilet, all of the fixtures, the tile surround in the shower, the tub, and even the floor.  The only thing I don’t use it for is scrubbing the toilet bowl.  I like ajax for that.  I do know of people who use vinegar to clean the bowl too, but my mama used ajax, and for whatever reason I haven’t veered away from that!

Aside from the fact that vinegar actually works with very little elbow grease, I love that I can have my children right beside me while I clean.  There are no chemicals to worry about, and often times, Hannah will ask me if we can eat vinegar to which I always reply with a resounding, “YES!”  One other nice thing about vinegar is that it has natural antimicrobial properties.  In other words, it kills or inhibits the growth of various microorganisms and can be used as a natural disinfectant.  Vinegar is also CHEAP!  We most definitely save money using vinegar instead of other cleaners.  Every few dollars saved adds up.

Now you’re probably wondering about the smell.  Yes.  It smells like vinegar.  However, it doesn’t linger all that long.  You could always light a candle to help.  It doesn’t bug me so I usually don’t bother.  I know some people put essential oils in with the vinegar to give it a different scent.  I’m lazy.  What can I say?  But really, the other stuff smells too.  It just smells like chemicals.  Yeah, I’ll take the vinegar scent over chemicals any day.

I dare you all to give this a try!  You just might be surprised at the results.