When I was a graduate student in the 90s, my wife and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a row of duplexes with several other young couples. One couple across the street had two little girls, so our girls got together several times to play. These were the first people I remember who mentioned the dangers of food coloring. They described how angry and inconsolable one of their daughters would get whenever she consumed red sugary drinks.
Because we were trying to be good parents, my wife and I paid attention. We weren’t scared but began to restrict some red colors from our children’s food as an act of wisdom. I remember thinking, “Some children must be sensitive.”
I really didn’t consider my own possible reactions until very recently. Since my ASD diagnosis, I am much more label conscious. Some resources tell me that Red 40, one of the colors I often see listed as an ingredient, is a neurotoxin. Since my brain is responsible for processing most of my body’s unseen functions, eliminating that food coloring has been an easy choice. (This seems to be a building process – the more I choose to avoid bad inputs, the better my brain can function to choose bad inputs!) “Not gonna do it.” But where does it stop? How diligent must I be?
Plastics are endocrine disruptors. Sugar depletes the immune system. Artificial anything can overwork the gut and the detox organs. It can be hard to keep track of all the foods and packaging that I should avoid. I have eliminated some, and sometimes, I come across another item that I can and should add to the list. Red 40 and other red colorants are easy to identify; I often find them in these: gummies, cake icings, hard candy, and sodas.
But recently, I found it somewhere I didn’t expect: smoked salmon. Snap. I love that stuff! Now, to be fair, some seafood companies may not use it. But most do.
Why? Why does salmon have to be bright red? Smoke flavor can be achieved without it. Of course, when we found some “color free” salmon at the seafood case, it was several dollars more per pound than its neighbors.
I already feel better since I’ve put 5 days between now and the last time that I ate it. My anxiety level has dropped. Am I absolutely sure it was the food coloring? No, but I am happy about my decision. One of my siblings tried to tempt me with some gummy bears this weekend at a family get-together in the Shenandoah Valley, but I politely resisted.
I can keep that contaminant out of my engine. When I see it, I can let the hazard lights blink for a while, and then pass by, content that I am on the road to better brain peace. There may be other foods where I discover these unnecessary and unhelpful chemicals. I’ll shift gears then, too. I need to remember how good it feels to feel good.