Food Dyes, Explaining to 2.5 Year Old

Updated on September 22, 2009
B.Z. asks from Streamwood, IL
10 answers

I am convinced that my son is sensitive to food dyes, especially red 40. How quickly does a child's behavior change after exposure to food dyes? My son's behavior seems to change at least 6 hours after, sometimes the next morning. How long does the dye affect the behavior? After a large exposure to food dye, my son is back to normal by day 5. Is this typical?

The reason I ask is that my son's pediatrician does not believe that children's behavior changes with food dyes. Because my son has some sensory issues (quirks, I like to say), the doctor attributes the difficult behavior to sensory overload at parties or whatever. I don't agree... my son has been to many parties and gatherings, been fine during and for the following days. Birthday parties are the worst, and summer gatherings with Jell-O or Doritos are bad bad bad.

My son's diet is usually good, but we don't shelter him from occasional treats. One Dum-Dum lollipop doesn't seem to affect his behavior. How much is enough to trigger the behavior?

I also need help figuring out how to limit certain foods, especially the stuff that he previously enjoyed at parties. What do I say? Do I go so far as say that he has an allergy?

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So What Happened?

I have some research ahead of me; thank you for the reading suggestions. Perhaps he is allergic to other additives or maybe he had one or two many bites of junk food. I don't see this behavior change often enough to suggest a common allergy, like wheat, eggs or dairy. I decided that I am going to be super strict about the food dyes, even if it means that I bring my own cupcakes to a bday party! Today I explained to my son that he couldn't have a yogurt (with red 40 and blue 1) at my parent's house like his cousins did. I explained that there's something in it to which he's allergic, and I offered him something else sweet. He was totally fine with it!

I appreciate the reminders that I AM NOT CRAZY, although I do go crazy during these episodes!!! The behavior change is simply too dramatic not to notice.

Thank you for your suggestions and perspective!

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answers from Chicago on

I try to avoid all food dyes as much as possible. There is no reason that we need to consume food dyes and I suspect, as many parents do, that it is not good to feed these dyes to growing bodies!

We shop primarily at Whole Foods and avoid packaged treats unless we are traveling or in a pinch. I try to come prepared to parties with healthier, safer treats. One of my kids has a severe food allergy, so no one asks why he is eating something different.

I think Kool-Aid, Jell-O, etc, should be de-classified as food!

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answers from Chicago on

My son reacts to blue dye, but I notice it within minutes to a half hour. Every time he has it. And there must be something in fast food, like a dye or a chemical, that he reacts to, also.

You are his mother, and if YOU see a change, then it's there. You know your child. I would just keep him as far away from food dyes as you can. There are, of course, going to be times when this is not possible. So just know what to expect.

You can take him to certain types of doctors who will test him (look up kinesiology) and find out for sure. But I think since you know this is happening, your observation is as good a test as any.

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answers from Chicago on

You HAVE to check out the book NDD disorder by Dr. Sears. He talks alot about how the disorders children have these days have alot to do with the chemical additives, artificial coloring/flavoring, etc. Its a really easy read that is to-the-point and informative. I have been educating myself on a more holisitc diet for long-term health for my family. Dr's these days are quick to write a presciption to fix a symptom but won't take the time to tell us that with diet modifications/supplements children can thrive as well- because holistic approaches do not provide Dr's with incentives like big Pharma does (anyways another issue for another day) You ARE NOT crazy- always remember YOU know your kid- not the DR. that spends 10 minutes with him every so often!

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answers from Chicago on

Food dyes can certainly have an adverse effect on children. This was first introduced by Dr. Feingold in the 70s. Unfortunately many drs. are well-versed in pharmaceuticals, and not so much in natural/alternative solutions. My 11 year old is ADHD and is on a modified diet and nutrition (vitamin) therapy. We went to the Pfeiffer Institute initially in Warrenville for a complete biochemical work-up. They are MDs but take a nutrition-based approach to many conditions. My daughter went from failing 3rd grade to getting Bs and Cs, and her attention and behavior did a 180. You may want to read Dr. Feingold's book on the ADD diet (I found it at the library) and also Dr. Marcia Zimmermann's books.
Feel free to message me if you want further info on any of this--I could go on at length!



answers from Peoria on

My 14 year old daughter started getting very sick after drinking/eating foods with any food coloring in them when she was 2. It took me a while to figure out what was causing the crying and diareha(sp) and all around fussiness. When I did, I had a totally new child!! What I did to "protect" her was, I sent drinks for her to all her parties, told all the moms she was allergic to food coloring and asked if I should send her own food. Most of them were really good and supportive and still are. One even made her child get a white birthday cake with white icing so she could be included in birthday cake! When she was three she started looking at food labels to find out if they had coloring in them and she still does that now. Blue was the worst for her and still is. She now gets stomach cramps and migrane headaches. She doesn't think it's fair, but she's really gotten good at policing herself. Be very clear to your friends and start talking to your son about it, he'll catch on very quickly!



answers from Chicago on

Bad food affects me. I just don't feel good when I eat unhealthy food for too many meals in a row. I don't think that it's that crazy that dye that is not natural to a food would cause a reaction in your son. Bring your own snacks as much as you can when you go out and that's about all you can do. You can even pack your own chips and cupcakes for times like those. Trader joes has a lot of healthy snack options. You can make organic gluten free cakes and cupcakes.



answers from Chicago on

I know you received alot of great advice. I wanted to add in my own personal experience with my 6 year old. Several years ago we noticed behavior issues from High Fructose Corn Syrup. The final culprit was Mott's applesauce. They sneak the HFCS in so many products. He also has had issues with food dyes and we watch for those issues also.

We have just told him and anyone whose house he goes to, his teachers, etc. that he has an allergy. People are very open to helping us watch for things. My son is also very good about knowing what he can have and what he cannot. His pediatrician listed it as an allergy with behavior issues and headaches on his health form for school so the staff is aware of it.

We have seen issues within 1/2 hour and the behavior can continue with outbursts and anger for several days. My son knows the feeling and knows that he has had something with HFCS in it.

I hope you get to the bottom of what is causing issues. Our son's behavior has been night and day since we have monitored his diet. We all need to be aware of what is being put in our foods.

Best of luck! I am sure your son will learn to self monitor things quickly.



answers from Chicago on

Consider taking your son to a specialist is allergies or a Naturopathic medicine or Holistic medicine. You need to really have your who child checked out because it may not be the dye it may be something else that he is eating. Wheat flours for example can cause sever mood and emotional changes. Milk can do the same thing.
You could also do a diary of your sons diet prior to going in to see a specialist so they can look at what he has eaten that could cause problems.

Good Luck



answers from Chicago on

I havent heard of food dye causing adverse reactions. But I have heard of food. Especially since it is so much after the fact. I woould say it is a sugar reaction in the body as opposed to a food dye reaction. Candy, chips, etc can actually cause you childs sugar levels to dip and raise. One lollipop doesn't affect him becasue it is such a small dose of sugar. But Jello, Chips if taken in large quantities can cause adverse effects. I know if my 5 year old doesn't eat something healthy every 3 hours or so he starts acting up. If he start acting bonkers or cranky an apple or banana will put him back to normal. I would keep a very healthy diet with meals every 3-4 hours and see what happens. Good Luck.

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