Rainbow of petroleum on asphalt

The irony of additives

In this ninth installment in our family’s quest to bring peace to our home, I offer a quick recap of the main points of our story and share a surprising place where food additives lurk … . (The series begins here.)  

Part 1: Food is my hammer
Part 2: Seeing red
Part 3: The Weekend of Orange
Part 4: Why I’m passionate about what we eat
Part 5: Following the clues
Part 6: The power of peppers: my story
Part 7: The Weekend of … something really different
Part 8: Opening the window

If you’re just joining me on this journey, here are eight points (some of which I did not actually cover in earlier posts) to bring you up to speed:

  1. Different people have different reactions to foods.
  2. As a general rule, we accept and understand physical reactions to food: We like or dislike the flavor of sauerkraut. Peppers give us a stomachache. Peanuts cause our lips to swell. Beans can wreck a great evening … unless we bring along the Beano. (You know what I’m talking about.)
  3. As a society, we have a more difficult time recognizing that foods can also cause behavioral reactions. Except, of course, ingredients like caffeine and alcohol. And sugar. We consume these items specifically for some of the changes they cause.
  4. In our family, we learned that food additives impacted our son’s behavior, making him less tolerant of stress and therefore more reactive … that is, more susceptible to tantrums.
  5. Food additives—artificial colors, artificial flavors, natural flavors and flavor enhancers—are in most processed foods.
  6. Just because a food’s package claims that it is “natural,” “all-natural,” “healthy,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” etc. does not mean it does not include these additives.
  7. I spend a lot of time reading labels.
  8. We now eat very little processed food.

I have much more to share about labels and ingredients, but I want to break in on the food conversation to cover something I mentioned at the end of my last post—a particularly surprising place where additives lurk.

Ready for this?

It’s your medicine cabinet.

You know all those brightly colored elixirs and liquid caps concocted to relieve symptoms of coughs and colds? To help drop a fever?

Just for fun, let’s look at the inactive ingredients list for Children’s Triaminic Multi-Symptom Fever & Cold. (Triaminic was my favorite cold medicine when I was a kid—that sweet orange-flavored yumminess!) Here are the inactive ingredients, straight from its website:

Of special interest to me are the following inactive ingredients:

  • D&C red No. 33
  • FD&C blue No. 1
  • FD&C red No. 40
  • flavor

Note that the “F” isn’t missing from the label “D&C red No. 33.” D&C color additives are a separate classification from the FD&Cs. D&C colors are not for use in food—only for drugs and cosmetics. F=Food, D=Drug, C=Cosmetic. (Here’s the current color additive status list from the FDA.)

Another note: Most synthetic food dyes are derived from petroleum (hence the featured image on this post). Really? Learn more about “The Chemistry of Food Colorings” from the American Chemical Society.

One more note: FD&C red No. 40 is notorious for how it impacts children’s behavior. (Remember the grandson who would get “mean as a rattlesnake” after consuming red things in “Seeing red”?) If you’d like to read more about FD&C red No. 40, here’s a fascinating, quick and informative read, which links to a study that indicates artificial food colors—not just red 40—appear to adversely impact children—both with and without ADD/ADHD diagnoses.

This leads to my next point, which I find really funny/not funny: Artificial colors are added to medications that are used to help children regulate their behavior.

I just have to say that again, and this time I won’t be able to stop myself from adding an exclamation point: Artificial colors are added to medications that are used to help children regulate their behavior!

The irony.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we did, for a time, veer into the wild world of pharmaceuticals. It was after years of trying to find tantrum relief through various therapies, changing our parenting strategies, changing our attitudes, changing our lifestyle, changing our home décor, and on and on. We were desperate for relief.

If you sense a twinge of regret, it’s because here’s what happened in our case: We tried several medications, one, then the next, then a couple together, in the hopes that something would help our son regulate, help put some of the tantrums to rest, help us all to have better days. One or two of the meds seemed to have no effect at all, but a couple of others seemed to help a bit … until they didn’t. At all.

It was baffling. What was going on?

Sometime after the Weekend of Orange, after the Wilderness Cabin, it occurred to me: Our son’s medications and supplements were colored. One was yellow even (see Weekend of Orange)! Another was blue and white. Something else he was taking was white—but when I checked the inactive ingredients list, I saw that it contained blue dye

I made an appointment with the doctor who was managing our meds and told him about our realization about food colorings.

“Oh, that doesn’t make a difference,” he assured me.

I looked at him. He looked at me.

“Yeah, that’s great,” I told him. “But we’re going to need his medications completely color-free from now on.”

Well, that was going to take some phone calls, and we would have to bring a compounding pharmacy into the mix, he explained. I indicated that it sounded like a solid plan to me.

So until we could get that plan in place, Jon and I embarked on some fine motor skills training. We opened each capsule and transferred its powdery contents into clear, empty gelatin capsules we found at the Super Supplements store. There is not a funnel small enough for that task …

Meanwhile, our son had either begun internalizing our battle against food additives or had begun noticing a difference in how he felt. One day around this time, someone offered him a brightly colored piece of candy or cookie or something, and I overheard him say, “I can’t eat that. It will make me crazy.”

It made me sad and warmed my heart all at the same time.

More soon … Meanwhile, I’m taking a little break from our story to address the challenge of eating additive (and other ingredient)-free over the holidays.


Today’s spoonful of sugar: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins! I love these muffins. That’s all I have to say. (Of course be sure to read the label on your chocolate chips …)

Photo by John Rourke on Unsplash

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