One Dye at a Time

My 5-year-old son has been on a dye-free diet for almost two years. My 2-year-old daughter? I don’t believe a synthetic food dye has ever touched her pristine lips.

I didn’t always worry about gummy worms. But when my son was about 3-years-old, all hell broke loose in our home. (Seriously, in my nightmares, hell is populated with demons disguised as 3-year-old boys behaving the way my son did for a year of his life.) From his age 3 to 4, we were fairly certain our family was crumbling, we’d given birth to Chucky and, if I’m being honest, that having a child might have been a huge, devastating mistake.

My son could not handle any sort of transition (think getting from car to preschool, think turning off the TV to go to the store, ANY transition) without freaking out. Off the charts freaking out. If he was sad or angry, he had tantrums that lasted more than two hours – trashing his room in the process. He had anxiety. Grown up anxiety. We were certain it wasn’t normal. We were barely holding it together. And we had just brought home baby no. 2.

We consulted every parenting manual since publishing began. By others, we were told to ignore him. We were told to beat him. We were told it was all our fault. We were told it was the new baby’s fault. It was clear to others he was challenging, difficult and spirited as well as super smart and funny. How could we get more smart and funny and less Satan?

In our quest for answers, I found (or God led me to, but that’s another really deep blog post, don’t you think?) an occupational therapist who helped us identify some mild “sensory processing” issues in our son. After a few extremely helpful therapy sessions and advice on how to handle tantrum after tantrum, she suggested perhaps we try eliminating synthetic (artificial) food dye from his diet.

I had never heard of food affecting behavior in such extreme ways, but we were desperate to help our son – and ourselves. As a result, I didn’t hesitate. It never occurred to me to think, “This is quackery.” I actually remember thinking: “Could the answer be THIS simple? I’ll try anything to fix it and avoid drugs – or straight jackets!”

Two dye-free years later, the answer is indeed so delightfully simple. No drugs. No special therapy. No tantrums. No broken family – or broken toys thrown against a door.

Strictly forbidden in our children’s bodies (and our pantry) are foods with ingredient labels containing the name of a color followed by a number (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, etc.) These chemical compounds – they are not food in any way – are actually created from petroleum, and their only purpose is to make your “food” pretty. There is no nutritional value. And as you can imagine, just like ingesting a pharmaceutical, ingesting toxic chemicals comes with plenty of side effects. So alarming are the side effects, in fact, that these very same dyes have been eliminated from the food supply in other developed countries – but not the United States. (This is where, in another post, I will go on a rant against the FDA, our government and the American food industry. If you can’t wait, Google “Robyn O’Brien” and “Feingold Association.” They’ll help a mom out.)

I’m not going to lie. It’s been a long and, well, colorful road. We’re certain our son reacts to food dye because we’ve cleansed his body for weeks at a time and then fed him the stuff. His reaction from one tiny Dum-Dum lollipop happens within an hour. My hilarious, witty, smart, empathetic son disappears before our very eyes – replaced by a boy who can’t focus, can’t control his emotions, can’t make a decision and who cries for no reason. It’s terrifying on so many levels.

So maybe you’re thinking, well, we’ll keep eating food dyes because our kid isn’t crazy like yours, Brooke Bernard. And that’s fine. I try really hard to share the information and let people take it or leave it. It’s a lot to wrap your head around. But if you’re considering learning more, even just a little bit, think about this:  Even if your child doesn’t react in visible ways like ours, eliminating food dyes has no negative side effects. Your child’s handwriting might improve. Your child’s tics might go away. Your child’s social anxiety might improve. Your child might actually listen to you or stop hitting his brother every day after school. Your child might get out of bed in the morning without melting down. And even if you swear there’s no behavioral change whatsoever, you are probably helping defend against your child’s brain being taken over by dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s down the road because dyes have been linked to these disorders, too.

I know. That’s big. It seems like if I’m right, if the answer is so simple, then these toxins should just not be allowed in our food. How can I be right and the FDA be wrong? I’m not sure… The only thing I know for sure is that around here, we’re taking it one dye at a time.

Brooke Bernard has a lot more to share about raising happy, healthy dye-free kids. Submit your dye-free questions to and follow Brooke on Twitter @BrookeBBlogs. Brooke writes most Wednesdays for


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.