Bye bye food dye
We celebrated a big milestone in our house this week, as Chloe turned five. Today was the best day of my life! she told me, as I tucked her in. At five years old, this is what made her day a piggy bank, $5 and an astronaut outfit for her Barbie. Oh, and a gigantic, five-shaped chocolate birthday cake covered in Smarties.
The Barbie outfit was easy for me. We have so many teeny tiny hot pants that I was getting nervous about the overall message. I was ecstatic when I found Space Barbie. She now has moonboots, a huge helmet and a jumpsuit that covers 90 percent of her body. Its absolutely skin tight and her cleavage is bursting out of it, but its positively matronly compared to the rest of her wardrobe.
The cake was more of a dilemma. I wanted Chloe to have something fun for school that still fell in with my as-natural-as-I-can ideals. People often roll their eyes when I steer my kids away from artificial colours especially at birthday parties. They seem to think that I am depriving them in some way. But hear me out on this. My problem is that at this age, birthday parties arent a one-off, they have them practically every weekend. Over the course of a year, imagine all those slabs of birthday cake and party bags lined up in a row. Its an awful lot of chemicals to pour into your kids. And thats not including Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day and all the other celebrations along the way.
When it comes to junk and kids, it is incredibly difficult to find the right approach. There are lots of different philosophies, ranging from allowing unlimited access and letting kids self-regulate, to banning sugar and additives completely. The danger with the former is that childrens taste buds get so overstimulated they fail to be satisfied as adults with anything other than junk. The problem with the latter, is that banning or over-restricting just makes junk more appealing.
So, in our house, were going with a middle-of-the-road strategy. And I have to say I am much easier on sugar that I am on the chemicals. So it was then, that Chloe arrived at school with an enormous chocolate five, covered top to bottom in Smarties. The great thing about Smarties is that unlike M&Ms, they are naturally coloured with things like spinach and beet juice, rather than the dreaded Blue One and Red 40.
Whats interesting is that the regulations regarding food dyes are very different in Europe than in the US. Many brands that exist both sides of the pond are naturally coloured in Europe and artificially coloured in the US. (Starbursts and Nutrigrain bars are a good example). According to the FDA, many of these food dyes are safe in the amount found in food, on the premise that they are destroyed by the gastrointestinal system. However, over and above the fact that these food dyes are made from coal tar or petroleum (yummy!) and I cant get my head around why anyone would think thats OK is the new research that indicates the food dyes may be bypassing our GI system anyway. A new study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology for example, indicates that Brilliant Blue (Blue One) crosses the mucous membrane on the tongue and goes straight into the bloodstream.
The idea that we are taking in only small amounts anyway, is also questionable. People in the US now consume more than five times the amount of food dye they did in 1955. So to all those who say it never did us any harm, I say put that in your pipe and smoke it (if you dare.) The simple fact is that these chemicals are in our candy, chips, processed meals, cheese, sports drinks, sodas, medicines and toothpastes. They are everywhere, and unless you deliberately make an effort not to, you will consume them every day.
There is a significant amount of research linking food dyes to a variety of health and behavioural problems including, but not limited to, asthma/allergies, headaches, hyperactivity and ADHD. Many are also known carcinogens. To be fair, there is also research that suggests the quantities we now consume are not clinically significant. However, one of the most compelling arguments against their use is very simple that by attracting kids to highly-processed, colourful, calorie-dense and nutrient-poor food, we are in the same vein driving kids away from natural food. The bad news is that its a trend thats fuelling our obesity epidemic. The good news is that its a trend we can do something about.
Remember this. Every time you purchase something, you are essentially using your dollars to cast a vote. Natural products can be more expensive, but as they are getting more popular, they are getting cheaper. You do have a say in how the food you eat is farmed and produced. Natural colours may not be as vivid as their chemical counterparts, but they are still fun in that respect at least, you can have your cake and eat it too.
If you would like help navigating your way through the world of artificial food dyes, take a look at the details in the box. Ive mapped out what to watch out for, and simple swaps you can make instead. Ive added some extra items at the bottom, recently identified by Shape magazine as some of the top food additives to avoid. You can check out the full details on my Facebook page. Finally, although natural is usually better, there are a couple of exceptions. You might want to avoid shellac an insect secretion used to make items shiny. And as always, avoid cochineal/carmine a natural food dye made from the dried remains of red beetles. Yum!
The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details visit www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda
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