A few weeks ago I attended a workshop offered at my children’s school that dealt with the side effects of food sensitivities.

First of all, I am not a chemical freak. Never have been. I have been of the mind that exposure helps you build immunity and makes you stronger. In fact, more than once I have rolled my eyes at a fear-ridden parent waving the “all-natural” banner. I’ve thought of other “all-natural” things that could fry your brain like cocaine and marijuana.

The teacher who put this class together, Mrs. Fiala, gave us a brief introduction at a prior PTA meeting when she listed symptoms as if describing my youngest daughter. After that meeting, I paid attention just to the occurrence of yellow dye #5 and yellow dye #6 in her diet which Mrs. Fiala mentioned were linked to asthma.

“Get out!” I thought.

My daughter has asthma for which we have given her Claritin every day for the past three years, and Singulair every night for the better part of a year. Which again, never really bothered me. I had allergies growing up and had a daily medication for years. As an adult, I take Claritin. I just figured she got my allergy genes and that’s that.

Turns out yellow 5 and 6 are prominent in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese – that’s what makes it glow in the dark and her FAVORITE food. Not to mention it is used in all my favorite candies: Starburst, Skittles, Mike & Ikes, and M&Ms.

In two weeks of not letting her have the Mac & Cheese and a few other things I noticed contained those dyes, we have completely eliminated the Claritin. That proved to me that Mrs. Fiala knew what she was talking about and I needed to listen. Following are my notes of the evening’s information.

First off, Fiala follows the Feingold diet and is a member of that association. It might be worth looking into if your child has been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, or autism and there’s something in the back of your mind and in your heart that just tells you that is not right. For those of us who have kids that occasionally show hyperactive behavior, or an inability to focus, these few tips might just do the trick.

The behaviors include: bad dreams, difficulty sleeping, sleep walking, limited attention span, impatient, trouble listening, can’t stay seated at a table, walks on toes, sensitive to sounds, eczema, dark circles under eyes, acne, asthma, ear infections, constipation, poor hand coordination, poor writing.

Fiala gave us an acronym to easily remember the nasty culprits that can trigger this behavior. CAPS: Colors, Artificials, Preservatives, Salycilates.

The dyes used in foods are largely petroleum products with traces of arsenic, lead and mercury. Many colors have been banned over the years but many are readily used—yellow 5, yellow 6, red 40, blue 1 and 2 for example. Not only in foods, the dyes are used in cosmetics and medicines—two times as much are allowed in medicines as in food.

Dyes in medicines often contribute to the problems they are supposed to be treating. For instance, dyes make cells swell. If your child has an ear infection, it means that bacteria has gotten trapped in the ear and created an infection. You go to the doctor and get some bubble gum flavored pink stuff. It kills the infection, your child feels better, but because the pink stuff makes the cells swell, the ear canal is smaller and has the propensity to trap more bacteria. Two weeks later, there’s another earache.

Yellow dyes are associated with spacey, unfocused behavior. Yellow 5 is attributed to hives and asthma, and yellow 6 causes nasal congestion. Red 3 is sometimes used as a pesticide and Red 22 that is used in cosmetics is used to kill marijuana. Naturally!

When Fiala took the dyes out of her daughter’s diet, she said her daughter did not believe there was any difference. To prove the point, they did an experiment. They bought two mice and taught them to go through a maze. When the mice could make it through in 30 seconds, one night they added a drop of yellow food coloring to each of their water dishes. The next day they sent them through the maze, but this time it took over two minutes for them to get through. The mice stopped and scratched themselves, went the wrong way and were totally spaced out. They let the mice clean their systems for a few days and then added a drop of red food coloring to their water dishes one night. The next day, it was evident the mice had had a rough night. The bars were bent and they had blood on their paws and ears. They made it through the maze in just 15 seconds. Focused but aggressive. They also tried the blue dye with the same results as the yellow.

One of the worst artificial flavorings is vanillin. It is artificial vanilla that is used in candies and sweets including a lot of chocolate. It is not used in chocolates that have the Trader Joe’s label (TJ’s peanut butter cups are delicious!) and Ghirardelli chocolates.

My daughters have always bounced off the walls after chocolate but not anymore, and the whole family is eating really yummy chocolate that doesn’t make you crazy.

The basic definition of preservatives that Fiala shared is: chemicals to keep fats from going rancid.

The ones to look for in ingredient lists are BHT, BHA, and TBHQ. These are the main preservatives that are in cereal packaging, bread packaging, crackers like Ritz, and in pan sprays. These are used in those “stay fresh” packs and are known to affect behavior, cause migraines, and make you tired. MSG may also be leading to asthma symptoms, headaches and irritability.

Breads without preservatives are available from Trader Joe’s, and Orowheat cracked wheat hamburger buns.

Here’s the shocking category. The shocker is that salicylates are naturally occurring in produce that we often force our kids to eat. Plants produce this hormone to protect their fruit from insects. What they do to kids with food sensitivities is give them symptoms of ADD, ADHD and autism. These kids wet the bed, and sometimes wet during the day, have whininess, over talk, tell lies, have anger issues, and perseveration.

Foods high in salicylates include apple juice, grape juice, orange juice, raisins and other dried fruits, all berries, orange juice, almonds, tomatoes (including ketchup), bell peppers and more.

Foods lower in salicylates are bananas, pears, mangoes, natural lemonade, kiwis, pineapple, watermelon, papaya, cantaloupe, and coconut.

If you think your child has some of these food sensitivities, then Fiala recommends cleaning out their systems, then re-introducing foods one at a time to see what creates the issues. Take the CAPS foods out of the diet. You will notice a big change. To help the process, a cup and half of Epsom salts in a bath for 20 minutes helps extract the toxins out through the skin. Another way to do it that works great for adults is Alka Seltzer Gold, available at CVS.

Beware, once you have gotten these things out of your kids’ systems, you will notice a reaction when any of them are re-introduced in 20-60 minutes. I got a taste of this with a major meltdown from my youngest after a lasagna dinner. Tomatoes: check!

Granted, it’s difficult to never let your kids have any of these things ever again, and you can’t wholly control every bite they take. They are going to go to birthday parties and play dates where these foods will be offered—and offered as ‘good for you’ foods by well-meaning adults. As long as they are not getting these foods every day, they will be better off and the undesirable behaviors will lessen.

Be mindful what you send with them to school for lunch. A typical lunch might be a sandwich with lunch meat, fruit roll ups, some trail mix with raisins and almonds, and a sports drink or juice box.

“’Oh no!’ I think when my students have a Gatorade and a Lunchables for their lunch,” Fiala said. “That’s like a BOMB!”

I was just telling some friends how my nine year old seems to have grown out of some of the behaviors that have always pushed my buttons. What my husband and I realized is that we have not given her a Flintstone’s chewable vitamin this whole school year. Aha! They have every color dye and tons of artificial flavorings.

I have been avoiding the dyes and other culprits myself the last few weeks and I have definitely noticed a difference. I am not taking Claritin and I don’t get the feeling of anger and impatience creeping up my spine when my kids are bouncing off the walls from eating a single Hershey’s kiss.

Here are some tips that will be helpful the next time you go to the store:
• Trader Joe’s promises that their name on a label means “no preservatives”;
• The only three sodas that don’t have artificial flavors and colorings are Sprite, 7 Up and Coca Cola;
• A commercial snack food that doesn’t have any artificial flavors and coloring is Frito’s. The fewer the ingredients the better, and Frito’s only have three;
• Peter Pan or Jif are the best peanut butter choices;
• The best flavors of Vitamin Water are Dragon Fruit or Lemonade—no orange;
• Watch out for dyes in toothpastes;
• Trader Joe’s Kettle Korn and Joe-Joe cookies are okay;
• Children’s chewable vitamins are loaded with dyes and flavorings. Trader Joe’s distributes one that is okay.

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