The sour side of Easter candy
Think about the chemicals in candy before you buy!
Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Malic Acid, Blue 1, Mineral Oil, PGPR, Red 40, Magnesium Stearate, Yellow 5, Sorbitan Monostearate, Blue 2, Polysorbate 60, Invertase, Yellow 6. If these sound to you like the ingredients of some good house paint, guess again!
"These chemicals are actually found in many children's Easter candies," says Jane Hersey, Director of the Feingold Association (www.feingold.org), a charity that helps children with learning and behavior problems. "Most parents don't realize that many of the pretty candies and chocolate bunnies in their kids' Easter baskets contain artificial additives that have a very ugly side," says Hersey, whose own daughter was helped by the low-additive Feingold diet.
Hersey advises parents to always read the ingredient labels of any Easter candy that they plan to give their children. "A good rule of thumb is, if you don't know what it is, don't feed it to your child!" she says.
According to Hersey, studies have shown that synthetic food dyes, artificial flavoring, and certain preservatives found in many candies and processed foods can trigger hyperactivity and attention problems in sensitive children.
When British researchers from Southampton University and the Allergy Research Center studied the effects of artificial food dyes on three-year-olds, they concluded, "These findings suggest that significant changes in children's hyperactive behaviour could be produced by the removal of artificial colourings and sodium benzoate from their diet."
But how can food additives affect children's behavior?
"Small molecules such as artificial food colors can be carried through the bloodstream from the intestine to the brain, where they can interfere with the chemical and electrical functioning of brain cells," says Hersey.
A groundbreaking University of Liverpool study testing the toxicological effects of several artificial food additives, including two synthetic dyes, found that they stop nerve cells from growing and interfere with proper signaling systems. It concluded that these additives are particularly toxic when used in combination, as they often are in children's snacks and drinks.
"This is particularly alarming when you consider how many different food colors are in a typical child's Easter basket," says Hersey. "The jelly beans alone may contain more chemicals than you'll find under your kitchen sink!"
"Those pretty colors have also been linked to hives, asthma, eczema, tics, and sleep problems," she says.
The artificial dyes used to color eggs can also be problematic, and Hersey recommends that everyone using them wear gloves. She also advises parents to discourage children from eating eggs if synthetic dyes have seeped through the shells.
"I suspect the Easter Bunny would run off like a scared rabbit if he knew the truth about most Easter baskets!" says Hersey.
Kids can have their candy and eat it too
"Your children can still have beautiful Easter baskets full of brightly colored natural jelly beans and other candies," says Hersey. She recommends the following tips:
1. Avoid buying Easter candies containing synthetic food dyes (such as Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 1), artificial flavorings, or the preservatives BHA, BHT, and TBHQ.
2. Buy delicious natural jelly beans, chocolates and other candies at traditional supermarkets, health food stores, specialty stores, and natural food markets.
3. Feed your children breakfast before letting them indulge in Easter sweets, in order to reduce the amount of candy they eat.
4. Replace some candy with dried pineapples, figs, or dates, which are much more nourishing.
5. Put a stuffed animal, such as a bunny or chick, in the basket to help take the emphasis off sweets.
6. Consider using brightly colored plastic Easter eggs or coloring your boiled eggs with either natural dyes or plastic sleeves, which are slipped over the eggs and dipped in hot water.
7. Plan an Easter egg hunt to help children work off excess energy and get some exercise.
8. "These simple suggestions can help your family have a happy and healthy Easter," says Hersey.
9. Individual dietary needs vary and no one diet will meet everyone's daily requirements. Before starting any new diet, check with your doctor or nutritionist.
The Feingold Association helps families implement a low-additive dietary program developed by the late Benjamin Feingold, M.D. for children with learning/behavior problems and chemically sensitive adults. The Feingold Association researches brand name foods and provides members with information about which foods are free of synthetic food colorings, artificial flavorings, and certain preservatives. Its Foodlists contain thousands of acceptable brand name products and its newsletter, Pure Facts, provides updates ten times a year.