BY JULIA GARSTECKI, SUPERVISOR AT SUNY FREDONIA
If you were in Wegman’s grocery store two years ago and saw a woman crying in Aisle 7, it was probably me. I was trying to start a Gluten Free diet, and it was then that I realized how much work it was going to be. We were still trying to figure out what was going on with my son, and I had heard about this Gluten Free/Casein Free diet. After seeing Jenny McCarthy on Oprah I had been inspired. I thought it might be a solution, saving us hours of therapy and work. That didn’t happen, though we definitely had more energy and were better focused while monitoring our gluten. Eventually we slipped back into our old eating ways, but I am ready to try again. Because I’ve been hearing so much about food dyes and sugar alternatives affecting children’s behavior, I thought I’d look into it. With the help of Jane Faus, Director of the Feingold Association, and Faye Elahi, a Special Needs Nutritionist, I was able to better understand how and why food affects behavior. Perhaps this can help you too!
My kids don’t have any problems. They can eat whatever they want. Perhaps that is true, though if you’ve ever wondered why your child seemed irritable, hyper, unable to sleep or appears moody, maybe this is food for thought (sorry, I couldn’t resist). While all children have these behaviors at times, some display them more than others. When I asked Ms. Faus why some kids could eat bags of candy and others couldn’t, she pointed out that some children were deathly allergic to bee stings or peanuts, others weren’t affected at all. Some children have a high tolerance to red and yellow dyes; others can’t eat whipped cream if a cherry sat on the top. If you or your children notice negative behaviors or physical issues, begin looking for patterns. If you notice this, consider what you have been eating. Read labels and take notes. It certainly couldn’t hurt!
Do those bright orange “crackers” really affect their behavior? When I mentioned this to Jane, she discussed the use of any drug, prescribed or otherwise. It is designed to affect the brain and change behavior. Faye Elahi, Special Needs Nutritionist discussed the reason for being Gluten Free. She states that some symptoms of candidiasis (gluten sensitivity) include hyperactivity, irritability, high anxiety, inattention, and mood swings. In her practice, Elahi reports 80% of autistic children exhibit gluten sensitivity with simultaneous food allergies. Like Faus, she says symptoms improve by following a diet that excludes gluten (yeast), casein (dairy), MSG, aspartame, and artificial coloring. Even if a child does not have autism or a learning disability, the “typical” child could benefit from avoiding these synthetic foods.
It’s not like I’m pouring my child a glass of red food coloring with dinner. When Ms. Faus asked me what food dyes were made of, I had no clue. Apparently, they are made from crude oil. They are synthetic, and it goes back to her point that humans were designed to eat foods. Man made synthetic alternatives are simply not supposed to be in our food. I was curious if she or the Feingold Institute was anti-medication. She said absolutely not, but she believes parents deserve to know what their children are eating. My other thought; haven’t food dyes been around for years? Absolutely, according to Ms. Faus. However, thirty years ago, candy was given out at special holidays, and certainly wasn’t given out in schools. It goes back to the point that some children are more sensitive to food dyes than others. I started to wonder what the big deal could be. How much could my children be consuming? Ms. Faus asked me to read the labels in my pantry. She was right; these synthetic chemicals are everywhere. In the frozen French toast I “cook” for breakfast, in their vitamins, in the yogurt, in the gummy treats they earned while potty training, even in the white frosting on our cupcakes!
Is this really a big deal? In studies, a little bit of preservatives doesn’t cause any damage at all, which is apparently why the FDA allowed these into our food in the first place. But a little bit adds up to a lot. Consider this: blue dye damaged nerve cells, and MSG damaged nerve cells. When they were combined, the nerve cells were damaged four times as much. When aspartame and yellow food dye were mixed, the damage to the cells increased seven times as much as when they were alone. To make high fructose corn syrup, the corn must be put through several chemical processes to become syrup. Apparently HFCS is very hard on the liver.
Something else the Feingold Institute explained was about yellow 5. Yellow 5 causes you to lose zinc through urine and saliva. For people with ADHD, zinc is lost even faster than someone without ADHD. Why is this a big deal? Because zinc is an essential trace mineral, Faus explained, and is required by hundreds of our body’s enzymes involved with the metabolism of protein, carbohydrate, fat and alcohol. Zinc is also critical for wound healing, immune system function, and cognitive functions. Because I know how great I felt when I went Gluten Free, I have slowly reduced the amount we eat. Ms. Faus made a fantastic point that I am considering. In fact, it may not be as difficult as going yeast free.
I have been assured that I will not be crying on a grocery store floor while I shop for chemical free food. Many brands offer two similar products, and most of the time children don’t know the difference. I put Ms. Faus to the test. I found several varieties of boxed macaroni and cheese. I started to read the labels and easily found one on the list of “safer” foods. Because it was white cheddar flavor, it had no dyes in it. It cost the same amount, and my kids didn’t seem to notice. I’ve never bought a bag of Cheetos for my kids, but I found the bag Jane discussed, and now I am a hero in my son’s eyes! Buying a box of buttermilk frozen waffles instead of the original flavor, I’ve spared us unpronounceable additives. I’m Supermom! My grocery bill didn’t change, it didn’t take me any longer, and my kids were none the wiser.
Will this change the lives of my children? Maybe. I have met plenty of families now that say it has. Parents of children diagnosed with ADHD have been told about the Feingold (or have been given similar information) plan by their pediatricians and feel better about their children. Some parents I know very well say it has been life altering and swear by this diet, yet others say it isn’t important to them at all. I have definitely considered all that I have learned, and believe me, there is so much more information out there. Because my son does not have an obvious reaction to red or yellow dye, I have a bit more freedom to change our pantry over slowly. Since I have become an avid label reader and monitor what we eat more carefully, I have noticed my son is finally sleeping through the night, as am I. It certainly couldn’t hurt to scale back on the processed foods. Jane left me with one final thought. She gave me several reasons why I shouldn’t eat food dyes. Could I give her one reason why we should? She got me there!
Jane Faus is the Director of the Feingold Association. To see a simple yet effective explanation about the Feingold diet, visit www.feingold.org for more information. I strongly recommend this website, as it presents the information clearly and offers solutions, not just research.
Faye Elahi, M.S., M.A. is a Special Needs Nutrionist. She has written several books and has been published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Julia has been involved with education for over twelve years now. She has taught at both the elementary and high school levels. Julia also has been an adjunct professor at SUNY Fredonia in the education department. Currently, she works part time at SUNY Fredonia supervising student teachers. She lives in Bemus Point with her husband and two children.