Artificial Food Coloring Awakening

Dealing with allergies is like peeling an onion. There’s always another layer. My husband and I are intimately acquainted with this metaphor. Our eight-year-old son is an allergy-asthma child. We’ve been through various prescriptions as well as several medical specialists. We even survived an overnight sleep study and tonsil-adenoidectomy. Despite all of this we couldn’t get a handle on the little man’s reaction to sugar. After eating some sweets his energy level would exponentially elevate. In comparison other hyped-up children appeared comatose.

My husband and I suspected that our son was sensitive to a specific sugar. We managed his sugar consumption but couldn’t determine exactly which was the offender. Years passed before we learned that our boy is artificial food coloring (AFC) intolerant. AFCs make food and children’s medication more visually attractive. They are unnecessary chemical additives that adversely affect many people.

One AFC Story

As our sweet boy aged we received reports that he was becoming increasingly aggressive. Initially we attributed this to fallout from him being bullied by a peer and a teacher. We assumed that we knew the only cause of his aggression. But as he overcame the bullying it still was difficult for him to control negative emotions.

There were rumors that the problem was in our home. Our home is a loving, structured environment. Our parenting style is traditional and accepting of developmentally appropriate behavior. We set limits and levy consequences for inappropriate actions. This child’s behavior could be attributed neither to lenient nor abusive parenting.

Eventually our little prince matured and progressed toward his behavior goals; however, there were setbacks. Over time his aggressive outbursts occurred less frequently but each episode was more intense that the previous one. We eat healthy, mostly organic, dye-free food. Therefore my husband and I seldom witnessed his aggressive behavior. When we did see it we were usually in a setting where treats were served, energy was high, and tired kids pushed one another’s buttons. There were too many factors to isolate any one perpetrator.

I knew was that there was nothing wrong with our baby. There was something affecting him; something that I had to identify. He tried hard to stop but couldn’t control the impulse. I promised him that I would figure it out. Towards this end my husband and I purposely created positive experiences. When school friends began avoiding him we spent more time with family. We repeatedly reassured him that many people love him.

An AFC-Free dessert

Because of the bullying, during second and third grades he spent time in private play therapy. That was a fruitful investment. When socio-emotional issues were off of the table there still was something to tackle. I began to link the aggressive behavior with food consumption. He was more likely physically to defend himself and to yell after he had eaten sweets. But I wasn’t certain which treats were benign and which led to hyper-aggressive behavior.

To identify the culprit, I drafted a list of potential items and began researching all of them. It wasn’t long before I found a pattern. He wasn’t sensitive to a type of sugar. AFCs were the problem. That knowledge enabled me to target my research. Next came the experiment. We removed AFCs completely from his diet. Bingo! The positive behavioral change was immediate and dramatic.

End Note

Our family is grateful for an answer, yet frustrated that in the United States AFCs are allowed in food products. Today, our pride and joy willingly avoids chemically dyed foods. I can’t imagine what he felt inside during all of those years. It must have been awful because he didn’t push back when we altered his diet. I always knew he didn’t purposely misbehave. He couldn’t help himself. We had to help him. We did it with the support of understanding teachers, loving family and true friends. People were rooting for our kid.

I’m telling our story because it took us a long time to arrive at this place. Hopefully our experience will save others from similar pain. If you are affected by AFCs we are rooting for you.


Kamyra Harding is a partner at Dilday Meyer & Associates, a resource for socially responsible causes. Ms. Harding is also a freelance essayist who writes about families and parenting. Through her volunteer activities, as an advocate for women and families, she has touched the lives of many people. Kamyra blogs at Try Hard Mommy.


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