Most international companies that sell food and beverages in the US and around the world produce two versions – toxic dyed food for Americans and safer food coloring for other countries.
When Tosh was two, he loved eating red food. Strawberry yogurt, red velvet cupcakes, goldfish crackers, strawberry flavored breakfast bars, you name it. If it was red or strawberry flavored, he was all about it. It was so cute.
When Tosh was two, he also had meltdowns and psychotic episodes that went way beyond normal toddler behavior. He’d wake up in the middle of the night screaming and wouldn’t stop for two or three hours. He beat his head against the floor. He slapped himself in the face and head repeatedly. It was so terrifying.
One day I wondered if he was hitting his head because it hurt. On a whim, I Googled toddler migraines and discovered many possible causes, but one caught my eye: Red 40 food dye.
I’ve been eating natural foods since 1999 – some years I’ve been better at it than others – and had always felt guilty giving my little guy processed or fast food. At the time, I was working a stressful job in a city with no family and too often, relied upon Domino’s Pizza or a yogurt tube for a quick and easy dinner. I knew better than to eat these foods myself, much less give them to my toddler. So I decided to eliminate them from Tosh’s diet and see if it made a difference.
Cutting out Red 40 wasn’t very hard. None of us needed to be eating those red velvet cupcakes anyway and there are plenty of crackers, yogurt and other products that don’t contain Red 40. You just have to read the labels. At that age he wasn’t the picky eater he is now, so it was pretty easy to distract him with other foods he liked and trick him into eating the dye-free version of a food instead.
After just one week the change was dramatic. No more beating his head against the floor. The night terrors rarely happened and eventually disappeared. AND – whenever Red 40 was reintroduced back into his diet – pink frosting on a birthday party cupcake or Skittles on Halloween, for example – the meltdowns and self injurious behavior returned within a few hours.
Scientific research confirms that many food dyes cause behavioral issues, sleep disturbances and cancer. The European Union began requiring warning labels on all food that adds artificial food dyes 2010, which pressured most companies to replace them with food coloring sourced from vegetables. Sadly, most international companies that sell food and beverages in the US and around the world produce two versions – toxic dyed food for Americans and safer food coloring for other countries.
If you’re the logical sort who needs proof – and a tip of the hat to you if you are – here are some links to get started.
Here’s a link to a report that lists the most common food dyes in the U.S. and the risks they pose based on scientific studies, including genetic damage.
Here’s a report from the National Institute of Health that says Cresidine, found in Red 40, is “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen.
Here’s a scientific study that shows a connection between food dyes and irritability, restlessness and sleep disorders in children.
I’m not just cherry picking these. I could post links to legit, scientific studies proving the connection all day long.
We put a lot of work into eliminating food dyes, MSG, preservatives, dairy, gluten and other things from Tosh’s diet. I totally understand that as a parent of an autistic child, you’re already exhausted and can’t imagine taking on any more work. But consider this: he rarely has meltdowns and last night he slept 11 hours straight. Our quality of life is so much better as a result! And, he’s thriving in a mainstream classroom despite his severe autistic diagnosis. His future is much brighter because of our efforts.
If your autistic child has behavioral issues or doesn’t sleep well, eliminating food dyes is the easiest place to start and could have the greatest impact. Give it a try for a week or two!
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
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