The Food Coloring (Photo credit: Matthew Bland)
I had a very shocking and scary experience with my daughter and red jello yesterday evening. She had a strange reaction to it only minutes after she ate it. I have never experienced anything like this with a child in my entire life, especially because normally I always avoid foods that are high in sugar, preservatives. dyes, and so on. On special occasions like birthdays or holidays I let my daughter, who is 21 months old, have treats like cupcakes and other junky foods, but she never eats that much of them anyway, so I had no idea she would react the way she did. So let me explain what happened:
My husband and I took his mother and my daughter to a really nice seafood and sushi buffet, and when I went to the fruit bar with my daughter, she pointed to the red jello and wanted to try it, so I put one little piece on her plate. She ended up really liking it, so my mother-in-law insisted on giving her more. Despite my better judgement I let it happen, mainly because my mother-in-law and I don’t have the best relationship, and I constantly have to tell her no about things concerning my daughter, so I was trying to be polite and keep my cool. Elena, my daughter, was sitting next to me stuffing this jello in her mouth. That is when I noticed a sudden change in her behavior.
Elena started squishing the jello in her hand, and her eyes became very big and dilated. This was not a tantrum, it was not the normal reaction that young children get when they start becoming restless and bored and want to start exploring the restaurant, and she was not even upset in any way. In fact she was being really good the whole time up until that point. Next she started getting extremely hyper, shouting mama and dada and other toddler babbles at an abnormally loud volume. She was almost twitching with a strange burst of hyperactivity and severe energy. She then proceeded to shout and laugh at the top of her lungs while sprinting all around the room in a circle, something she NEVER does unless she is chasing other kids or is being chased. I know my daughter, she is a very sensitive child who has her share of temper tantrums and toddler boredom, but this reaction was absolutely not normal. It was actually scaring me and my husband because it was so outrageous.
There is only one experience I have had that compares to how Elena was acting: taking ADD medication. Yeah, she was acting like she had taken some kind of drug for sure. She was acting the same way I did after I had taken an Adderall pill my roommate gave me in college one night so we could stay up and study . When you take that stuff without actually having ADD, you become hyperactive and have tons of strange energy, almost like a caffeine rush, except more intense. After I tried Adderall by the way, I could not believe they were giving that stuff to kids. The way you feel and act, not to mention the way your stomach and body feels after it wears off, is horrible even for an adult.
Food coloring is not necessary in our diets, it is only used to make food appear more appetizing, especially to children, so if food needs to be dyed to look edible in the first place, why would we want to put it in our mouths and bodies anyway? Dyes are used to recreate the bright colors we see in nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables like brilliant red berries and green salad, foods that we are naturally attracted to. Unhealthy junk that the dye is added to has no nutrition at all, but the bright colors make it seem appealing to us.
Places like the United Kingdom have banned these harmful dyes, but the FDA has refused to acknowledge these dangers in the past (probably because they are bought off by huge food corporations, but that’s a whole other issue). I had read about the reactions children can have from food coloring and about how food dyes are toxic to the body for years, but when you have an experience like this it really puts things into perspective. I am compelled to tell this story so that other parents will keep unsafe foods away from their children. Please believe me when I say, from one devoted parent to another, food dyes are not safe for us and especially not for our small children. I have always been a strong advocate for my daughter by being strict about harmful foods, and I will never let anyone else, including my mother-in-law, influence my decisions about my child’s health.