As a little kid, what was your favorite treat? Was it M&M’s? Skittles? Ice cream with rainbow sprinkles? Cookies or cupcakes with pretty frosting? Ice cream sundae with a (maraschino) cherry on top? Jolly Ranchers? Gummy bears? Swedish fish? Lollipops? Or maybe the ever-popular ring pops?
My favorite was ice cream sundaes with no cherry on top. I love maraschino cherries. But I never got that desired topping. Nor did I get M&M’s. Or Skittles. Or rainbow sprinkles. Or any of those other delicious treats. Nope. I was never allowed to.
My mother always told me that I was allergic to food dyes because they made me hyper. I never believed her. I always assumed it was the sugar. But sugar makes everyone hyper! So of course, whenever I was at a friend’s house, I would greedily eat all food-colored foods available, because I missed out when in my mother’s presence.
As I got older, I still didn’t believe that I was allergic, but I believed her when she told me that they were bad for me, and so I always kept an aversion to them, opting for the white Tic Tacs and the clear gummy bears. In the dining hall, I don’t drink the blue fruit punch or the much-too-red cranberry juice. Food dye has always seemed like this secretly evil substance that would have mysterious and terrible effects upon me. Hence, as I have gotten older, I have stayed away as much as possible.
So is there a reason that my mom caused my aversion to food dye? Is this reason based in fact? Oh, yes. The UK has come out with a study that has scientifically determined that food colorings and additives cause hyperactivity in children. This does not apply only to children with ADHD, though the hyperactivity is heightened in these children. The negative effect on behavior can lead to aggression and a poor showing in schoolwork. The scary part? The average child in America consumes much more food dye in one day than the amount tested in the study. It’s everywhere (cereal, vitamins, gum, toothpaste, mustard, etc.). So did my mom have reason to scare me out of using food dyes? I think that would be a definite yes.
So what’s the big deal now, you might ask? You’re not children. You might not have children or be exposed to children. What does this have to do with me? Well, turns out there are some scary possibilities for adults in terms of food dyes, too. Have you made curry at home before? Well, you might want to check if that curry has “Yellow #5″ listed as one of it’s ingredients. Yellow #5, which is found in many store-bought curries, and, by the way, is made from coal tar, has been linked to hyperactivity, asthma, and cancer. The majority of restaurants in the UK questioned had potentially hazardous numbers of food dyes in their curries. Sounds great, right? Well watch out, food dye has also been targeted as an immune system suppresser (http://drbenkim.com/node/114). Great if you’re in need of an organ transplant; not so good if you’re not.
And so I feel that I have been lucky to have grown up with a very low number of food dyes in my body. Alternatives? Well, you could always just avoid food dyes in general. Somewhat difficult, but definitely doable. Or, you can look for food dyes, frosting, candy, and sprinkles that are not made from artificial colorings is easy to find in a health food store. Or, the way my mom and I have usually done it: you could make your own. Beet juice makes a pink dye, blueberries make a pretty blue-ish purple, raspberries make a great red, saffron for yellow, and boiled spinach for green. Works like a charm.
Note to self: Thank mother for keeping me from dyes.
Lily Berthold-Bond grew up in a chemical-free zone and has struggled her whole life to understand and accept this non-commercial lifestyle. Now a freshman at Tufts University, she has embraced her green life and hopes to share its possibilities with the rest of her generation.