Going Additive Free: Are Food Dyes Worth the Risk?

fooddyesThe first question I had about food dyes was, Why do we even use them? Is there some sort of benefit to using food dyes? The answer is no. They've been around for decades, and are included in everything from macaroni and cheese to cereal, but they do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, and some experts say they can actually be harmful. So why do companies use them? To make the food "more appealing" to consumers, especially children. Most of the time these foods are already highly marketed toward children anyway, with fun shapes or cartoons on the box, and the color is just an added lure to make your children want to eat it. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, per capita consumption of dyes has increased five-fold since 1955, and each year manufacturers pour about 15 million pounds of synthetic dyes into our foods. Many dyes have already been banned due to their adverse affects on laboratory animals, but the report finds that many of the currently approved dyes raise health concerns. The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens, says CSPI. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply. These artificial dyes are made with petroleum, a crude oil product, which also happens to be used in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and tar. Sounds like something you'd want to avoid feeding to your children, right?

What are the health concerns: risks of cancer, hyperactivity in children, and allergies to name just a few.

You might be surprised to learn that the same products that contain food dyes in the US no longer contain the potentially harmful dyes in the UK. In 2007, a study that took place called the Southampton Study (which was funded by the federal food safety agency in the UK) resulted with alink between hyperactivity in children and certain food additives. In response, the UK branches of Kraft, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and Mars, as well as US companies that export to the UK, removed these harmful ingredients from their foods without making the changes back here in the US. Then the UK’s Wal-Mart equivalent, Asda, voluntarily removed monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, and hydrogenated fat from 9,000 of its own label products, ingredients that weren’t even part of the study. In addition, foods and drinks that contain six artificial food colorings linked to hyperactivity in children are required to contain a warning label. This shows an eagerness on the companies’ parts to clean up their acts for UK consumers, yet they haven’t done the same for Americans.

How can we help create similar change in the US? People are speaking up and asking companies to remove these potentially harmful dyes, you may have seen friends on facebook sharing this petition to Kraft asking them to remove the unnecessary dyes. Another way to make your voice heard is by choosing to speak with your dollar, avoid purchasing foods that use these additives and choose healthier alternatives instead. And there are healthier alternatives to food dyes out there that are already being used to replace dyes. Beet juice, beta-carotene, blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, grape skin extract, paprika, purple sweet potato or corn, red cabbage, and turmeric are some of the substances that provide a vivid spectrum of colors and pose no potential health risks.

Need some tips on how to identify and avoid food dyes? Click here to read a great article from 100 Days of Real Food with some good tips on what to avoid. Also, here are a few quick tips on how to keep these food dyes out of your grocery cart:

  • Keep in mind that man-made food dyes appear in ingredient lists as a name of a color with a number following it: Blue 1 and 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6.
  • Food dyes lurk not only in the brightly colored obvious places like Froot Loops, like the article on 100 Days of Real Food shows, they can be found in items like brown cereal, whole-wheat pizza crust, and even white icing. Reading the labels once again will help you make sure what you are buying is free from dyes.
  • Dyes and preservatives can also be found in personal care products, such as toothpaste and mouthwashes, some of which may be swallowed by young children. Again, read the labels carefully before buying them. Crest toothpaste, for instance, contains blue dye; Colgate’s Original is free of it. Clear, natural mouthwashes are a good substitute for those brightly colored varieties.
  • Most pediatric medicines are also artificially colored and flavored. Ask your doctor if there is an additive-free substitute that would work just as well. For over-the-counter medicines, many now come in dye-free versions.
  • Again, as I said in my first post on Going Additive Free, eating a balanced diet of fresh produce and whole grains will go a long way towards keeping additives and preservatives out of your child’s system. Whole foods are much healthier than processed and packaged. If you choose processed foods, look for the organic options which usually have little or no added synthetic colors or preservatives.

Click here to read my post on making my kids' lunchboxes healthier, and tune in Friday to WAMC to hear me chat with the folks on Vox Pop talking about cooking with kids!

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Mamatoga's Favorite Allergy Free Snacks {safe and delicious for everyone}

Finn and Levy are both in peanut and tree nut free classrooms this year, and although we are fortunate that none of our children have food allergies, I've been having fun trying out some new allergy free snacks and food items here at the house so they can have some yummy (and safe) snacks for school. But remember to think outside the classroom too, and keep these ideas in mind for parties, playground snacks, playdates and anywhere you might serve a snack outside of your home (or inside your home to kids who might have allergies). Barbecues, block parties and beyond, we can help keep all children safe by being mindful of food allergies. First up are the mixes from Cherrybrook Kitchen. I first started using these mixes when I was totally vegan as they are egg and dairy free, but they are also peanut and nut free, and they also have seven gluten free mixes as well. They have cake, cookie and brownie mixes, as well as frostings, and breakfast mixes, and their goal is to provide delicious all natural baking mixes for the millions of people that are affected by food allergies. These mixes are a tasty way to make cupcakes for an allergy free classroom (IF cupcakes are still allowed in your classroom of course).

allergy4If you have a PB&J addict that can't imagine a school lunch without the childhood favorite, Sun Butter is a delicious and healthy (for everyone) alternative to peanut butter. Made from specially roasted sunflower seeds, it is completely peanut-free, tree-nut free and gluten-free, and is an excellent and safe choice for people with peanut allergies. It comes in a ton of varieties like creamy, crunchy, organic and natural and is packed with nutrition. It has the same consistency and creaminess of peanut butter, and can be used as a peanut butter replacement in any sandwich or recipe.

allergy3Another delicious and safe cupcake alternative for the classroom or a birthday party where some guests might have allergies is Divvies, they make sweet treats from cookies to popcorn to jellybeans, all free of the biggest allergens. Their cookies, popcorns, and cupcakes are made in the company’s-own dedicated facility where no peanuts, tree nuts, eggs or milk enter the doors. Divvies candies, frosting, and sprinkles are certified by their manufacturers to be peanut, tree nut, milk, and egg-free and are packaged in Divvies Bakery. Divvies also conducts routine testing to minimize the risk of any cross-contamination in their certified allergen-free ingredients. Plus, all of this goodness is delivered right to your door ready to eat!

Here are some other easy, go-to peanut, tree nut free snacks to pack for you kiddo (note: these are not all dairy/gluten free)allergy1

  • Pirate's Booty
  • Fruit Strips
  • Fig Newtons
  • Yogurt
  • Tortilla Chips and Salsa
  • Apple Sauce
  • Teddy Grahams

Of COURSE, you can also go basic with some fruits and veggies. Apples or ants on a log with Sun Butter are healthy kid favorites. Try something new like an easy black bean dip sandwiched between two slices of cucumber or some edamame hummus with carrot sticks.

allergy12If you're going to serve up some apples, why don't you go pick some locally? And here is my post on some healthy (and SUPER easy) smoothies kids will love, they are perfect for breakfast and for after school snacks to stave off hunger before dinnertime and sneak in some nutritious stuff to boot. xoxo





These Smoothies Will Change Your Morning

smoothieloveEveryone knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and kids need it even more than adults. Their growing bodies and developing brains rely heavily on the regular intake of food. When kids skip breakfast, they can end up going for long periods of time without food and this period of semistarvation can create a lot of physical, intellectual, and behavioral problems for them. That being said, morning isn't always the ideal time to get them packed with proper nutrition, however. Especially if you have a picky eater, healthy eating can get lost in the morning rush. This is where smoothies come in. I first started my smoothie exploration with Finn. He hated eating anything green and only liked grapes. Not exactly the most nutritional fruit on the planet. I needed a way to get him to eat some greens and fruit with very little push back, so I started trying different smoothies.

They didn't all go down well, literally and figuratively, and it takes some tweaking sometimes to come up with the perfect recipe for your kiddo, but here are some tried and tested ideas that have been successful for me, along with some of my favorite kid approved smoothie recipes. They are fast, easy, and best of all packed with healthy stuff that will keep kids powered till lunch and beyond.

First up, the milk. We skip cow's milk and soy milk in our house and instead I use flax milk, coconut milk or almond milk (you can find all three of these at Healthy Living Market and usually can find coconut or almond milk at most supermarkets). The flax and coconut milk come in different varieties of sweetened and you can easily substitute the plain for less sugar or calories. My kids love the vanilla flax milk and I love that it has the extra nutrition of the omega 3s from flax already in it. The chocolate almond milk is Levy's favorite and often I simply just mix in a banana, some avocado, and some green powder into a cup of that for a super quick smoothie for her.

smoothiemilksNext up, pick a green powder to add a powerful (and easy) nutritional boost to any smoothie. We really like the Honest Company's Baby and Toddler multi-powder. It comes in individual packets that you just snip open and add in, nice and simple. It has 22 essential vitamins & minerals from 31 organic fruit & veggies, in addition to key antioxidants, superfoods, amino acids and more, plus an optimal balance of Vitamin D, Vitamin A, folic acid & iron to support brain function & promote healthy growth & development. It's free of commonly found binders, fillers, allergens, synthetic additives, pesticides & contaminants so you feel safe giving it to your little one, and Jack absolutely loves this one.

For the older kids, we throw in a scoop or two of Amazing Grass Kidz Superfood powder with a wild berry flavor. Just one 6 gram serving has the antioxidant equivalent to 3 servings of fruits and vegetables, and it's made with organic green foods. The kids have no idea that I add this powder, and if you blend it up well you there is no chalkiness or grittiness at all.

smoothiesThe fun part is when you can start adding stuff in to experiment. We use a little bullet blender similar to this one, and the best part is that I can make three different smoothies for three different kids with very little fuss or muss (which is necessary since no one EVER likes the same smoothie in this house). I just switch the cups up and rinse the blade off in between smoothies and it blends them all up nice and smooth. I'll throw in a handful of kale and half an avocado for Finn, bananas and berries for Levy, and some flax for all three kids (buy it pre-ground to make it easier to blend in). Avocado makes it nice and creamy, and you can balance out the kale with the sweetness of some berries. It's easy with the bullet style blender to take a sip and try it out before you serve it, and I also like to add some local honey to sweeten up a particularly "green" smoothie to satisfy a picky child. I like to use fresh fruits and veggies (spinach is another great one to throw in there) but you can also use frozen too. Add in some Greek yogurt for a protein boost too.

smoothieaddinsI have peace of mind knowing I've gotten at least some nutrition into the kids, and the kids get a satisfying and filling breakfast, it's a win win. Need more inspiration? Check out some of the links below for some great recipes! xoxo

Why Our Allergy Free Family Avoids Peanuts

This will be the third year we will be sending our kids to school with no nut products. None of our three children have nut allergies, thankfully, but I am happy to make sure they don't bring any nuts into school that could cause an allergic reaction in a classmate. Our school doesn't prevent parents from sending in peanut butter or food with peanuts or allergens in them, but I want to, and I feel like I need to. In fact, I feel like we all need to. Whether they are "banned" or not.

I know nut allergies are not the only food allergy present in children (and adults), but they are a big one, with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimating that peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of food-related death. The number of young children affected by a peanut allergy has doubled between 1997 and 2002 and continues to rise.

The first time I came across the "nut free zone" was at the YMCA when Finn was in preschool. I had heard some stories about kids with nut allergies, and I was fine with making sure we didn't bring nuts into school, but it wasn't something that was on my radar. Especially with Finn, starting two year old preschool at 20 months, I was so wrapped up in his little world. He was fine, he didn't have allergies, it was a precautionary thing for a child I didn't know, and as I said, I was happy to oblige. But the importance, the vital importance, did not register with me, even though I didn't mind adhering to the guidelines.

But there were parents who weren't totally on board. Why should their children not have peanut butter and jelly because of one child who may or may not be allergic? Why should everyone be prevented from nuts or anything made with nuts because of "one" child? One mom went so far as to throw her snack in the trash one day when the teacher pointed out that the ingredients list had nuts in it, all the way down at the bottom. "This is ridiculous", she huffed angrily, smushing the box of cookies into the tiny waste bin dramatically before leaving. The preschool teacher shrugged her shoulders at me and explained that they had extra nut free snacks on hand in cases like these.

nbsDramatic parents aside, more and more I started seeing stories of children who died, or had been near death, from accidentally ingesting peanuts or something containing nuts. Even after years of vigilance on the child's part and in combination on the part of the parents, it got in. It got them. And often it took just one bite, just one tiny bite. And out of all the foods that were safe to serve, not sending my child into school with a potentially deadly element for another child seemed like a no brainer. No peanut butter? No problem. They can eat it all they want at home. The simple idea that if my child accidentally shared their sandwich with someone with a food allergy something horrible could happen. Obviously a sandwich is not worth that, not by a LONG shot.

Most of all, if I tried to put myself into the shoes of a parent of a child with a potentially deadly food allergy, what would I want to happen? In an ideal world, people might realize that to help make a safer environment, skip the foods that are a problem when you are at school, or a school picnic, or a birthday party, or a block party. Do the two second scan of the ingredients list, seriously it takes two seconds, and that could prevent a child from getting ill. Or, simply keep in mind, if it was YOUR child that had the potentially deadly allergy, what would be the base level that you would want from other parents? Could you imagine the stress even going to a simple play date? Making sure the other mom/dad/caregiver REALLY understands the severity of the allergy? It is difficult to comprehend entirely without experiencing it personally, but enormous enough for me to know how important it is.

I'm not going to say I have ANY idea what it must be like to be a parent of a child with a food allergy, I don't. But I know what it is is like to be a parent of a child. And I know how badly you want to protect them. I can't imagine having to rely so heavily on other people to help keep your child safe. You could tell your entire circle of friends, every mom in your child's class about their allergy, and another child could STILL have something that could make them sick. This isn't just an issue for families that have food allergies. Just don't send it in to school, or the birthday parties, or the picnics, or camp. Eliminate that option. Let them eat all the peanut butter and nuts they want at home when there is no risk of dangerous exposure to another child.

And even though, especially on the internet, it can seem like a really BIG, impersonal village, let's try to keep it still a village, still a community, when raising our kids. Let's take responsibility for our own children, and try to make sure we are looking out for others. If it was your child, you would want the same. If it was your child, that same attention from another parent could save your child's life. I'm going to step off my soap box for the night, but if you are a parent who has a child with food allergies and are looking for support, check out this local group. Here is a list of some allergen free snacks to give you some ideas too.



Ellis Medicine's Web Health Chat: Everything Expectant Mothers Need to Know

webchat1Have you ever had a health question and wished you could easily ask the doctor without having to make an appointment? Or maybe you have some questions you'd rather ask anonymously? Ellis Medicine is proud to offer Web Health Chats with local experts in cardiac, cancer, orthopedics, neuroscience, weight loss, women’s health and more. Doctors and staff will be available to provide information on important health topics and answers questions on risks, symptoms, treatment and management. Next Wednesday (June 19th) their Web Health Chat will focus on Maternity: Everything Expectant Mothers Need to Know, starting at 7pm.

If you are a first-time mom, or already have another child, you likely have lots of questions about preparing for your new baby and taking good care of yourself. Join Dr. Nicholas Kulbida, Ob/Gyn physician, and Lori Metzgar, R.N. for a discussion about healthy pregnancies, labor and delivery, breastfeeding and taking care of your new baby.

It’s Free and Easy to take part! All guests are anonymous, all you have to do is enter through here at the scheduled date and time and there will be a link to join the Web Health Chat. You will then be able to submit your questions and view the online conversation.