I will never forget the moment an occupational therapist mentioned to me as I sat in her office with my overly sensitive, unnaturally emotional and – let’s just say it – difficult 3-year-old that perhaps artificial food dyes might be causing some of his “issues.” In my own 32 years, it had really never occurred to me that food had any relationship with behavior or health. Sure, I had heard of “organics.” But wasn’t that just some trendy fad for the upper class and celebrity set?
Intrigued by the idea that I could help my son and our family out of our distress by simple diet changes, I jumped aboard the research train. What I learned along the way is that food – especially the chemical concoctions so much American food contains – severely impact all children’s brains and bodies every day. What our kids are ingesting is often linked to tics, skin disorders such as eczema, migraines, mood disorders, ADHD, ADD, autism symptoms, sensory integration disorder, difficulty learning, poor handwriting, trouble transitioning from one activity to another, rage and much more. And that list doesn’t even include what parents might not see for years to come such as dementia and cancers.
My son didn’t need pharmaceuticals (ironic how everyone recognizes that the chemicals in drugs impact our bodies but often believe that those same kinds of chemicals in food are harmless) or thousands of dollars in therapy or even a good spanking to become himself. He just needed some simple lifestyle changes. If your child is too sensitive (so that it negatively impacts his life), doesn’t succeed in school, shows abnormal anxiety levels, has difficulty sleeping, exhibits behavior issues, or battles illnesses such as ear infections more than normal, these diet changes might be a starting point to help your family, too.
- Eliminate synthetic (artificial) food dyes. These chemicals, made from petroleum, are required to be listed on ingredient labels. So, if the package contains a color/number combination of any kind such as Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5 simply place that product back on the grocery store shelf. These chemical dyes are scientifically linked to behavior and hyperactivity issues in children. The science is so solid, in fact, that many other countries require any product containing them to carry a black box warning label! As a result, Kraft Mac n Cheese and even M&Ms are sold all naturally in most of Europe but still contain toxins here in the United States.
- Just say no to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Despite what manufacturers want consumers to believe, high fructose corn syrup isn’t simply another kind of sugar. Not only have food experts expressed concern about HFCS consumption among kids as a cause for the rise in childhood obesity, recently released research on autism links the current American epidemic to HFCS.
According to the study, “The number of children ages 6 to 21 in the U.S. receiving special education services under the autism disability category increased 91% between 2005 and 2010.” A comparison between Americans (who eat on average 35.7 pounds of HFCS per year) and Italians (who rarely consume it) suggests the increase in autism in the U.S. “is not related to mercury exposure from fish, coal-fired power plants, thimerosal, or dental amalgam but instead to the consumption of HFCS.” (For more breakdown of the study, click here.) Why take the risk? Be a savvy label reader and put anything containing high fructose corn syrup back on the shelf. Alternatives are always available.
- Avoid food products and packages containing BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and TBHQ (tert-butyl-hydroquinone). Many studies have demonstrated the negative health impacts of these petro-chemical based preservatives. You can browse a list of those studies here.
What you’ll find in this research is information such as this from a study titled The effect of BHA and BHT on behavioral development of mice: “The chronic ingestion of .5% butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) or butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) by pregnant mice and their offspring resulted in a variety of behavioral changes. Compared to controls, BHA-treated offspring showed increased exploration, decreased sleeping, decreased self-grooming, slower learning, and a decreased orientation reflex. BHT-treated offspring showed decreased sleeping, increased social and isolation-induced aggression, and a severe deficit in learning.” Um, no thanks.
Many manufacturers have voluntarily stopped using BHA in their products due to public outcry (and again, BHA is considered so dangerous that it is banned in many other developed countries). Often BHT and TBHQ are not specifically used in a food product but on food boxes and bags to “preserve freshness.” However, the chemicals are nevertheless coming in contact with the food and can adversely impact children’s health and behavior.
Based on our own family’s story, there’s a good chance you’ll notice positive changes in your kids – and even yourself – within days or weeks of these eliminations. And, really, all it takes is a little extra time reading labels.
We here at Mamas would love to hear your food related stories and testimonials! And please let us know what questions you have for Brooke Bernard about healthier food choices for kids! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.