The Natural Dye Alternative

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I have to admit that being a mother to a child who is sensitive to food dye had its moments of disappointment. I grew up in a home where we were blessed to eat homemade dinners almost every night. That didn’t mean, however, that our home didn’t contain the staples of Top Ramen, Kraft Mac&Cheese, processed cheese slices and Cambell’s soup concentrate. My mom did a good job feeding us considering that I don’t think we ever questioned the quality of the ingredients in mainstream marketed food products. We used to take dye and add it to food for fun. Like blue pancakes or green mac&cheese. In fact, I used to do the same fun things for little kids I used to babysit not having any idea that dye mattered. It just never occured to me.

That changed with my daughter. We discovered artificial food dye just wasn’t going to be allowed in our home for the mental health and sanity of us all. It turns out we are not the only ones affected by this chemical sensitivity and even the Lancet came out with a November 2007 study (random, double-blind and placebo controlled) that links hyperactivity to artificial chemicals and preservatives. We have had to be more creative in the types of sweets and treats we allow our daughter to have. This past Halloween was interesting in that I found all dye-free candy to give to her to replace the Halloween candy she got from Church during our Trunk-or-Treat.

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I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I discovered natural food coloring prior to Camden’s third birthday. She wanted pink and purple cupcakes and I was pondering on how to make them. Lo and behold, I came across India Tree’s natural food dye. I purchased my set on Amazon.com.

India Tree’s food dye is vegetable based and contains no corn syrup or synthetic dyes. The pitfalls are that you will be hard pressed to get any primary looking colors out of this dye. At the most magenta is about as close as you will get to “red”. It is also pretty pricey.

However, for people like me this is just a wonderful alternative. It was wonderful to make my little girl fun homemade cupcakes for her Birthday and to make traditional frosted sugar cookies for Christmas or to dye easter eggs for Easter. We are pretty devastated right now because we can’t find our India Tree dye, we lost it sometime over Christmas so we’ll keep looking for it. Wish us luck! Here are Camden’s Birthday Cupcakes.

India Tree also carries a variety of natural dyed decorating sugars. However, they are not the only company offering synthetic free alternatives. The following companies also offer natural dyes.

Nature’s Flavors – They also give directions on how to use their dyes for Easter Egg coloring.

Seelect – Colors are sold separately.

If you don’t have the money to purchase any of these products there are also helpful sites that offer foodsource alternatives for getting the color you need. Here is one site.

Also, we found sprinkles that are colored with natural dye as well and we love them! We’ve also used chocolate candy coated sunflower seeds (purchased at Trader Joe’s)t o use as sprinkles on ice-cream.

Let’s Do Sprinklez

Please let me know if you know of any other natural food dye brands and I will post them.

It’s About Time

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The immature side of me wants to say “neiner, neiner, neiner” and “I told you so!” But instead I will clap my hands and be thankful that finally some scientific studies that corroborate what observant parents have known for a long time and that is that food additives (food coloring and flavoring) can cause far reaching effects in children’s behavior and health. This study simply addresses a short term exposure of 6 weeks and explicity examines hyperactivity but it is a good start.

Here is the article on the study:

New study links food additives to hyperactivity in children
23 hours ago
PARIS (AFP)
A cocktail of artificial colours and the commonly-used
preservative sodium benzoate are linked to hyperactivity in children, according to a ground-breaking study published Thursday by The Lancet.
The implications are far-reaching, say the investigators, who suggest that by
vetting their child’s diet, parents have a simple tool to help them tackle
hyperactive behaviour.
Researchers at Southampton University recruited 153 local three-year-olds and 144 children aged eight or nine and assigned them to either of two groups.

One group received an ordinary fruit juice and the other was given a drink
identical in look and taste that contained common commercial additives. Both
drinks were supplied to parents in identical, sealed anonymous bottles.

The “additives” group itself was split into two batches. Some children were given “Mix A,” a drink which contained artificial colourings typically found in a couple of 56-gramme (two-ounce) bags of sweets.

Others were given “Mix B” which had a higher level of colourings, equivalent
(in the dosage for the eight-year-olds) to consuming the additives in four
such bags of sweets.

Both mixes had the same amount of sodium benzoate.

Before the six-week trial began, the researchers asked parents and teachers
to assess the child for overactive, impulsive and inattentive behaviour — the
hallmarks of hyperactivity.

A third yardstick was given by trained observers (in fact, psychology
graduates), who sat discreetly in the classrooms and noted each child’s behaviour according to an international set of measures.

For the first week of the trial, the children followed their typical diet.
After that, sweets and drinks with additives were withdrawn, and parents were asked to substitute with the trial drink instead.

The amount of the drink given to the child was in proportion to the amount of
artificial colouring removed from their usual diet. The parents did not know
whether the drink was Mix A, Mix B or the placebo.

Six weeks later, the children were assessed again for hyperactivity.
Mix A had a “significantly adverse” effect on the three-year-olds, although
Mix B made no difference on this group. In the older children, both Mix A and
Mix B had a strong effect.

“Overall, children who took the mix moved about 10 percent closer to the
definition of being hyperactive,” lead author Jim Stevenson, a professor of
psychology at the university, told AFP.

“We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and
benzoate preservative can adversely influence the behaviour of children,” said Stevenson.

“However, parents should not think that simply taking these additives out of
food will prevent all hyperactive disorders. We know that many other
influences are at work, but this at least is one a child can avoid.”

The first caution about food additives and their impact on child health were
made more than three decades ago, but evidence to give flesh to this warning has been scant or contested as unscientific.

In the past decade, hyperactivity has — apparently — ballooned into serious
proportions in some countries, stirring controversy along the way.

US doctors commonly see hyperactivity as a medical condition
(attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD) and prescribe a potent drug, ritalin, to treat it.

Other experts speculate that hyperactivity has social causes such as home
instability and poor education, and say use of powerful, mind-altering drugs is
dangerous.

In the new study, Mix A comprised 45mg of sodium benzoate and 20mg of
artificial food colourings, namely sunset yellow (European food code E110),
carmoisine (E122); tartrazine (E102); and ponceau 4R (E124).

(P.S. neiner, neiner, neiner!)

Here are other things I’ve written about food additives and artificial dye:

Eating a Rainbow

Bathing in a Rainbow

Dangerous Popcorn