Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Food Dyes and Behavior

FDA advisors recommend more study of food dyes

It's been almost 2 years since we adopted a diet strategy to address Special K's emotional meltdowns. Current research claims the evidence that food dyes and additives contribute to behavioral problems in children is anecdotal, and I suppose for us that would certainly be true, but we really do believe eliminating certain things from her diet has really helped. She occasionally mentions that she doesn't even miss some of her verboten foods. Apparently after eating some off limits foods she would feel "weird".

You may read stories of children, now adults, claiming to have been "victimized" by the Feingold diet. Special K doesn't feel that way. It really has not been that difficult. We've had a fairly easy time finding suitable substitutes for the foods she loved, but should not eat now. We've even found natural food dye and colored sugars and sprinkles that she can use to decorate cookies, cupcakes, and cakes.

You may also read thoughts from mental health professionals pointing out that if we link behavior to diet it undermines children's self esteem by giving them the idea they are unhealthy and fragile or by creating embarrassing situations in which their restricted diet may appear strange by other children. For us, neither situation has been true. Special K's self esteem has actually improved. She knows certain foods make it very difficult for her to control her emotions. If she stays away from them, she has better control and in return she feels better about herself. It's actually important enough to her that she self monitors her diet and chooses to avoid "bad" foods even when I'm not there to help her make that determination. As for feeling embarrassment around other children, she hasn't had that experience because the vast majority of our friends cook all natural and are even more strict when it comes to diet with their own children.

I truly hope the FDA does fair and thorough research on the effects of food dyes on behavior. It will be interesting to see what they really find.
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Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge said...

As the mother of an autistic child, I have EVERY new diet thrown at me in even casual conversations because someone, somewhere knows someone who has a child who made a huge turn-around. I do believe that for some children food dyes do cause hyer-activity, behavioral issues and/or emotional issues. I think what you are doing is wise and you are including your daughter in the process. She is part of the solution. I think that is where a lot of parents get confused. They force the diet on their children with no explanation and then expect immediate results. Of course I've known parents who were sure their child's behavior was tied to some kind of food additive (color, flavor, preservative, gluten, you name it) only to eliminate the so-called offender (s) only to find out it is nothing dietary that is causing the issue and I think that is very difficult as well because for some of them they feel like there is "nothing to blame" the behavior on so something must be "wrong" with their child. And that doesn't do anyone much good either.

As for my daughter, we haven't made any changes in her diet as a result of her autism. Most of the dietary changes are trying to work with behavioral issues related to autism and she doesn't have any of the behavioral issues. That and if she saw the rest of the family eating, say, pizza and she doesn't get any, she has no concept as to why and thermo-nuclear toddler meltdowns are something we are trying to avoid in this house :).

Bravo to you for going into this journey with eyes wide open and including your daughter in the solution.

Maurisa said...

Thanks, Kristen, for your input. I completely agree, eliminating certain foods is absolutely not a cure all, it has just worked for us and Special K, and for that we are extremely thankful. Realizing food, especially today, is more complicated than we thought has made us more discerning consumers as a family. While we don't keep all bad foods out of our home, dinner is the one meal that I insist on being "made from scratch" and without ingredients Special K is sensitive to. As a family we make that one small sacrifice for her so that we can all enjoy a family meal together and so she doesn't feel left out. I forgot to mention that eliminating culprit food alone would not have been as successful unless paired with teaching her to control her behavior as well. She's a sweet and thoughtful child that was once controlled by her emotions. Now she is sweet and thoughtful and can control her emotions on her own for the most part.

Tonya said...

You're doing the right thing for your child. Good job! :-) Who cares if people are saying they were victimized by a diet (seriously? that doesn't even make sense - our children could say they were victimized by being homeschooled, made to go to church, not allowed to watch things ...).

momto5minnies said...

Interesting read ...

My 10 year old (I believe) is dealing with emotions that seem to be hard to get a handle on. It's been this way for a few years, but this year especially (coupled with hormones) has been tough on the family. I really do believe DIET has something to do with it and I would like to make some changes.