In late August I blogged about my daughter’s extreme reactions to artificial food coloring and the post was shared more times than any of my other posts have been. I’m glad. This really is something every parent should know about before they feed their babies solid foods. If I had known what I know now, wouldn’t have eaten anything artificially colored when I was pregnant or breastfeeding.
A week after my blog was published, we started our family on the Feingold Diet for Kate’s behavioral and attention problems. We’re now eating almost completely organic (it’s not cheap, either), however the first stage of this elimination diet actually cuts out most of our favorite fruits and veggies. We’re left with pears, bananas, avocado and a few others, along with grains, meat and dairy. By day three, we had seen major improvement in Kate’s moods and behavior. And after several months we can now see a direct correlation between certain foods and angry outbursts. Kate seems to react to fruits and veggies that are high in salicylates which is something that the Feingold diet suggests you eliminate/lessen in the first stage. Had we not eliminated food coloring, preservatives and high sal foods at the same time, we never would have figured out which foods affect Kate. When we first took out dyes, we no longer had epic tantrums that lasted for hours…but we still had plenty of irritability, angry outburts and hyperactivity. It wasn’t until we pulled everything from her diet for several days, except for the blandest, least allergenic, least processed foods that we could add back in one food at a time to see how she did.
Salicylates are natural preservatives found in foods and they are related to aspirin allergy. My father has an aspirin allergy and my sister figured out she was sensitive to salicylates about a year ago. She’s dealt with severe breakouts of hives for the past twenty years. I have to admit, she encouraged me again and again to try eliminating salicylates from Kate’s diet but I was hesitant because so many of the healthiest foods have the most salicylates. More organic ice cream with a side of potatoes au gratin and a slice of bread and butter? Sure! But hold the spinach, blueberries, raspberries and cucumbers, please. I had tried a few times to go “Low Sal”, but because I hadn’t eliminated artificial food coloring and preservatives at the same time, I didn’t see any real difference. Starting with a “clean slate” was imperative.
Now I am keeping what I am calling a Food Mood Log in which I keep track of everything Kate eats and her moods and behavior. (And to all you expectant mothers, if I could do it all over again, I’d start with a Food Mood Log from the first bite of solids my babies had—-and I’d be especially wary of giving them anything artificial. (In fact, is it me or is it a funny coincidence that the Terrible Twos often coincide with toddlers getting their first taste of sweet treats?)
ADHD and other behavioral disorders have been on the rise over the past several decades and the quality of our foods has gotten significantly worse. I saw a meme on Facebook that said “Once upon a time, everything was organic.” And it’s true. Foods were eaten in the season in which they were grown, they were from local sources—if not right from the backyard— and natural preservatives like salts and vinegars and sugars were used when meats or fruits and veggies were dried or canned for future use. Now we can eat blueberries, strawberries and dark leafy greens year round (maybe we weren’t meant to) and thanks to GMOs, many fruits and veggies have higher than normal levels of salicylates to prolong their shelf life. The strawberries growing in my yard get crushed from being pulled off the plant they are so delicate. In the grocery store, strawberries are bright red but much “harder” than my own organic, non GMO berries. They can last for a week or more without rotting or bruising. Salicylates are a naturally occurring preservative in plants, remember? Genetically modify the level of sals and the fruits and veggies take longer to go bad–good for those selling the berries, very bad for those of us who eat them.
At the beginning of this school year, Kate’s reading was assessed. The results showed that she was not only below grade level, but possibly severely learning disabled. The teachers never mentioned this early assessment to me (and I’m thankful because I would have panicked) but six weeks later, they assessed her again. We had coincidentally started the Feingold diet approximately one week after her first reading assessment. Six weeks later, she was tested again and her reading had improved by 50%. Her teacher and the special ed teacher told me about the dramatic difference they had seen from the first evaluation and the second and they were obviously baffled. They couldn’t explain how Kate barely seemed to understand what they were asking of her during first test and then appeared to be a competent, intelligent, engaged child during the second–who was pretty good at reading! Another Feingold Mother told me she thinks our kids must feel the way we do when we have a pounding headache….foggy, unable to concentrate and irritable.
Thanks to figuring all of this out, we now have a six year old who displays a much more typical temperament. She doesn’t constantly “freak out” over trivial things, she can move past frustration and disappointment without being stuck in the emotion for too long. She wants to read to us, she can play games and play quietly with her siblings without picking fights constantly. We’re seeing so much more of the loving, creative, funny and empathetic child that we always knew Kate was only now we’re not seeing her alter ego who was an angry, out of control little girl with low self-esteem. There are no words to describe this change except amazing, remarkable and life-changing. Our family is calmer and happier and not constantly in crisis. It’s not easy to maintain this strict eating program. We make mistakes and the kids are not in our sight constantly so they occasionally eat things they shouldn’t, and let’s face it, kids with or without challenges like these are still kids who have good days and bad days. But life is a lot better. A lot better.
I want to keep spreading the word about what we’ve learned. My hope is that families who have infants and toddlers will be more aware of how food and behavior can be related so that they can avoid what we’ve been through. It’s much easier to never give your kids certain candies and processed foods to begin with than try to change their eating habits when they are older.
**And a big thank you to the reader who read my blog post “All Parents Should Read this One” and suggested that if Kate reacted so strongly to red dye she would be a good candidate to try the Feingold Diet. That was the comment that clicked for me and made me determined to try it.