I just had to post my story here because we have seen such a difference in my son's behavior since we eliminated all artificial additives about 2 weeks ago. He is 5 and was having 1-3 tantrums a day. On the weekend leading up to our desperate attempt to try anything to improve it, he had had vanilla ice cream two days in a row, a blue and red popsicle from the ice cream truck, and salami sandwiches (among other things). Well, since starting this diet, we have discovered that he is highly sensitive to the preservative sodium benzoate, the color food dyes, the artificial flavor vanillin, and one "natural" color, annatto (which has been shown to make reactions in sensitive people as well).
Let me just say that before starting this diet, he was having daily tantrums, going into a state where he wanted something he couldn't have and just cried and yelled over and over again a mantra, "want the ball" or something like that, lasting from 10-25 minutes. He would get a very disturbed look in his eyes, would not respond to me trying to offer him a hug or anything positive, would follow me crying if I walked away, and only snapped out of it by something random finally getting through to him (like a water at the right time, or me changing the way I am approaching the tantrum). We had had way more than our fair share of tantrums for a couple of years -- I even posted here about a year and a half ago about whether his behavior was "normal". Up until now, it always was. If only I had known that there was an answer. People had mentioned foods being possible suspects, but it was overwhelming -- was it food dye, or gluten, or dairy? Or what? Where would I start? There was too much and I was not convinced it would work.
Well, after 2 years and things not improving, I did some research. Not only did I find several blog sites that discuss the issue of food dyes and artificial additives to our food, but also medical articles where scientists did a treatment control study and found that the children who got the food dyes showed more signs of hyperactivity. There is a lot of literature on these foods for kids with ADHD, because it exacerbates symptoms, but it is also true for the general population. We have long known that our kids go berzerk after having colorful candy, right?? In my family, we always thought it was the sugar that caused that. But, sugar was in other things that didn't cause him to go berzerk!
After finding so much medical literature supporting this being an actual issue, I decided to take the plunge and give it a try. On the first day, I screwed up (wanted to use up the last piece of bacon!) and gave him something with sodium benzoate. 20 minutes later, tantrum! ("I want the house...I want the house", screaming and crying, me saying he could ask me nicely and I could go get it, to get him to snap out of it, him not changing his approach, etc.). The next day, I gave him a yogurt with annatto in it. Within an hour, a tantrum. That afternoon, he wanted more (there was one left). Fine, I thought, let's see if it is really the annatto. Within 30 minutes, he had hit his brother (aggression is one of the possible symptoms). Something clicked-- I remembered that a frozen healthy kefir pop had triggered tantrums, and even investigated the ingredients to see why it could do that, when the yogurt version didn't (probugs kefir). At the time, I had seen that the pop had more sugar, and thought that was it. I checked the ingredients again, and saw that it has annatto, while the yogurt version does not. Wow! And, I remembered back to some epic tantrums, where he was so unreachable, for up to 30 minutes of screaming and crying, a disturbed look on his face, and I could trace back to something with food dye or vanillin flavoring to each instance. At the time, I thought it was chocolate! I had even posted here, could he be allergic to chocolate? Well, turns out, most of the cheap chocolate chips and drink flavorings contain the artificial vanillin. Wow.
After we fully eliminated it from his diet, we had 10 days straight of NO tantrums!! We saw an improvement almost immediately. Then, a few days in a row at preschool he came back and he was different again. I had packed his snacks but he had forgotten to get them. So, I asked the teachers -- turned out he had eaten a small square of Hershey's chocolate (vanillin), goldfish crackers (annatto), and a freeze-it color pop those few days! (Yikes, why are they giving so much crap, I wish I knew -- have been talking with director about changes, but not sure will get far). So, we had a test case and the bad behavior came back. He was grumpy when I picked him up, had a very short fuse, and had several tantrum incidents at home that week. I am looking forward to next week when we will be AWAY from preschool and entirely in control of his diet!!
I just wanted to share this story because I wish I had tried this diet sooner. If your kid has many more uncontrollable tantrums than you think is normal, give this a try! These artificial colors are made from PETROLEUM, and are in so much that we eat -- just check the food labels, and you will be shocked. They can make children aggressive, sensitive to falling apart (you know when they are on the brink, right?), can cause more typical allergic symptoms like eczema, and even neurological symptoms in some children. And, the medical literature has proven they are associated with more hyperactive behaviors in a preschool setting.