Seeing red

(You can find the introduction to this story here.)

Last year, I was on a flight where the passenger in the seat next to me struck up a conversation, telling me about his preschool-aged son.

Soon he was pulling up photos on his mobile phone: There was his son, there were his little friends. “Oh, and this one,” he told me, pointing to one of the children, “this one has some pretty challenging behavior problems.”

I had already noticed that the smiling kids in the photo were licking brightly colored popsicles. But that particular kid with the notable behavior issues? Well, that one was sticking out a bright red tongue.

Cherry red.

But not the red of real cherries. No, I’m talking cherry red as in the color you want on your sports car. I’m talking FD&C Red No. 40-red.

I don’t know that kid’s situation, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether that one had a particularly rough rest of the day.

My husband’s uncle was the first to bring our attention to colorings in food.

A few years before that in-flight conversation, we had been visiting Arizona, where much of Jon’s extended family lives. He drove out one day to visit his Uncle Ray’s home on the desert. In the course of their visit, Jon told Ray about the challenges we were experiencing with our son: the tantrums, the mood swings, the defiance.

The next day, Uncle Ray called Jon up. He said he had thought of something that might be helpful. One of his grandsons seemed to have an issue with the color red. Red? Yes, any time he eats or drinks something colored red, he explained, “he gets mean as a rattlesnake.”

Jon’s uncle and aunt’s desert home is a little community with many of their dozen kids, and those kids’ spouses and children living close by. This guy knows kids. And he knows rattlesnakes.

What a weird issue, we thought. And not an hour later, Jon absentmindedly bought a bottle of bright-red Gatorade for our guy.

“Um, remember what your uncle told you … ?” I asked, not sure whether I believed in the connection enough to put the kibosh on particular foods and drinks. I mean, these dyes were approved to be used in food, right?

Well, we reasoned, the drink had already been purchased, our son was thirsty, and he had seen it. Even if the coloring provoked tantrums, so could taking it away …

I don’t remember that day well enough to tell you whether we saw rattlesnake-like behavior after our son drank the Gatorade, but I might not have noticed anyway. Back then, every day was a rattlesnake day for us.

Maybe that’s why the conversation about food colorings slipped our minds.

Next: The Weekend of Orange


Meanwhile, have you noticed certain behaviors—yours or your child’s—that follow consumption of certain foods or drinks?

Today’s spoonful of sugar … Healthy-eating kids don’t need to miss out on fun treats. I pick up individually wrapped chocolate truffles and sesame snacks in the grocery store bulk bins and supply them to my son’s teachers. If they’re doling out treats, my son gets ones he loves—and that agree with him.

Photo credit: Max Kleinen on Unsplash

8 thoughts on “Seeing red

  1. I have heard of the problem with red in the past. My sister loves to bake, and was told she was not to bring anything made with red food coloring for the children at church anymore. I got her some Watkins food coloring which is free from the bad stuff.


    1. Great tip, Barb! We have the Watkins colors in our pantry and will be trying them out this holiday season. (I’m almost giddy to hear that your sister’s church has put a stop to allowing red food coloring — what a great start.)

  2. I met a lady whose daughter was allergic to a specific red dye. The parents had to check ingredients in everything–even crayons and clear hand sanitizer. It never occurred to me that “clear” hand sanitizer might contain red dye to balance out green tones.

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