Heading off Holiday Havoc
Holidays are a time to catch up with friends and family, a time for spirituality and of course a time to eat! As more and more studies are linking various foods to hyperactivity and other behavioral issues in young children, it may be a good idea to monitor more closely what your little ones are eating this holiday season. Although the holidays can be a time for homemade goodies, there are still plenty of brightly colored candies, sodas, processed foods and wheat products being served, starting as early as Halloween trick-or-treating. Physical and emotional reactions to any of these foods have the potential to wreak havoc on family and friend gatherings. Even before many studies had been published, Dr. Ben F. Feingold M.D. believed that there was a link between foods and children’s behavior. Over 50% of his patients proved that eliminating food dyes, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors and preservatives including BHA, BHT and TBHQ improved their behavior and greatly reduced hyperactivity.
In 1976, when Dr. Feingold founded The Feingold Association of the United States, the nonprofit organization analyzed 15 different studies addressing the connection between food dyes and hyperactivity in children and determined that between 60% to 90% of all children exposed to more than 50mg of dyes per day reacted with behavioral issues. Have you ever noticed the reaction many children have to consuming lots of brightly colored candies which typically include food dyes such as Red 40, Blue 1 and 2 or Green 3 as well as plenty of sugar? During the holidays, especially when socializing with lots of friends and relatives, you may not want to put this to the test.
Most of our children can easily consume 100 mg to 300 mg of dyes per day and during the holidays these numbers can be even higher. For example, giving your child one 16 ounce Kool-Aid Burst Cherry drink would result in them ingesting 104.6 mg of dyes and a 16 ounce Powerade Orange results in 44.2 mg being ingested according to a study published in Clinical Pediatrics in February 2014.
So what are food dyes and why do they create behavioral changes in most children? Artificial food dyes are made from petroleum and have dramatically increased in use over the past 50 years. There have been numerous studies conducted in an effort to link these dyes to hyperactivity in children. Enough studies were performed that substantiated this link that the European Union in 2010 started requiring a label on all dyed foods that says “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Since this time the majority of dyes have been eliminated from foods in Europe. Countries such as Norway, Finland, France, Austria, and the UK have banned dyes such as Red 40, Blue 1 and six others that food companies in the United States routinely use. The FDA, with increasing pressure from big food companies has chosen to look the other way and continues to allow foods our children consume to be laced with these chemicals, despite the growing body of evidence that they can cause hyperactivity in children.
Since this time, there have been dozens of studies conducted not only for sensitivity to dyes, but also for sensitivity to preservatives, gluten, casein and other offenders.
Many children and adults have food sensitivities to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten helps food maintain its shape, acting like the glue to bind a food together. Although you may not know that you or your child has this sensitivity, adding more gluten in the form of rolls, pie crusts, cakes and cookies during the holidays could create unexpected behavioral problems or could cause physical problems such as stomach aches or diarrhea.
So why all the hype about gluten, which people have been consuming for centuries? In the mid twentieth century scientists began to crossbreed different wheats and grasses to generate new varieties of wheat with the admirable goal of decreasing world hunger. The new wheat strains were also more disease, drought and heat resistant. Wheat was cross bred over and over again, creating new proteins that had a distressing side effect causing millions of Americans to have digestive issues without them even realizing this was happening. This cross breeding, also called hybridization has created hundreds of additional proteins in wheat that our bodies have never been exposed to. Multiple new studies have found that many of these proteins wreak havoc in our digestive systems.
Our bodies try to adjust to these new proteins in wheat, but many of us can’t effectively digest them. Our bodies do their best, but end up with noticeable symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, stomach cramps or lethargy. What we don’t realize is ADHD and autoimmune conditions can also be a symptom of gluten sensitivity.
An excellent book to read for more information on how wheat can adversely affect our children’s health is Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD.
So here is my favorite suggestion to help reduce the extra exposure to food dyes and gluten during the holiday season.
I have found one of the best ways to avoid dyes and gluten over the holidays is to fall back on my personal favorite food – chocolate. This seems to be a kid favorite as well. Purchase any type of chocolate that your child likes, although the darker the chocolate, the less sugar they will consume. Keep it around during the holidays and especially when travelling. A small cooler will be helpful if you live in a warm climate and are travelling by car. Replace the Skittles, M&M’s and Starburst with chocolate when your child has a sweet tooth and nothing else will do.
Here is one of my favorite chocolate recipes – no dyes, preservatives, sugar, gluten or artificial sweeteners! Just good old fashioned ingredients.
• 8 oz unsweetened chocolate squares
• ½ cup honey
• ¼ cup pure maple syrup
• ½ cup raw sunflower seeds
• ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
• ¼ cup ground flax seeds
• 1 cup chopped raw pecans
• 1 cup chopped raw walnuts
Melt chocolate in a glass bowl for approximately 1-2 minutes in your microwave until melted. Do not burn. In a second large bowl, add dry ingredients and mix together. Add honey, maple syrup and melted chocolate and stir until everything is coated with chocolate. Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut into pieces and serve. Store in the refrigerator.
Of course I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a mom, if I didn’t also recommend packing snacks such as apples, dried fruit and granola or trail mix.
So during this holiday season, if you are looking for peace of mind and harmony pay attention to the brightly colored candies, sugar and gluten that your child might be consuming and replace these with more healthy, natural choices.