Red Free for Over a Year


It’s been over a year now since we removed Red Lake 40 from our children’s diets.  Cutting a processed food from our family’s diet was not a natural move for us.  However, it has made a HUGE, HUGE impact on our family life and since I decided to do it after reading a blog once, I thought perhaps I should document our experience in case it might help someone else. 

The summer of 2012 I noticed that one of my children was having outrageous I mean OUTRAGEOUS temper tantrums.  The littlest thing could set her off into a FIT of FURY.  Kicking, screaming, fists wailing, it was all I could do to physically get her upstairs to her room where she would continue to rage for about 45 minutes or so.  There was no reasoning with her.  And truthfully, no controlling her either.  I would sit outside her door tears streaming down my face praying for wisdom and wondering where on earth did we go wrong.   As the summer progressed I grew quite fearful of what the school year would bring.  Scott and I talked, wondering if I’d be able to continue to home school.  How could we possible deal with these tantrums and teach 3 kids? 

Finally we hit rock bottom and decided something had to be done.  I recalled reading something online about how red food coloring affected this mom’s child and how when she removed it from their diet she saw dramatic effects.  Desperate, we decided to keep a food log.

I have to tell you that we had gotten into the habit of eating quite a lot of mac n cheese.  Aldi’s sold it for around 30 cents a box and this child in particular loved it.  Couldn’t find an easier, cheaper lunch so it was often on the menu.  My kids also LOVED fruit snacks and I would buy them frequently for them to snack on in the car.   As I started charting what she ate and her outbursts I began to see a correlation.  I decided to start buying dye free mac n cheese and got rid of the fruit snacks.  The school year started and we noticed FAR LESS outbursts.  They still happened, but not with the frequency we had seen before. 

Then December came and with it Candy Canes.  I guess by this point since the outbursts had lessened, I wasn’t staying as vigilant, because I let the kids have candy canes.   And we had some major episodes.  And I have to tell  you that I didn’t put it together right away.  But, one day after we had had several days in a row and one major epic tantrum.  (kicking screaming, horrible aggressive behavior, picking fights, not listening to reasoning, hitting) I told my husband.  And he right away called it.  “Did she have any candy canes?” 


They had been eating candy canes every day that week.  And candy canes have red dye.

It was then that we decided we could no longer take a passive approach to the red dye.  Between candy treats at school or gymnastics, there was no way for me to control it.  They had to know and they had to be on top of it also.   We had to sit the kids down and say no more red dye.  We taught them to read labels. 

I didn’t want to single one child out.  And I didn’t want to say, “this dye makes you act bad” b/c I didn’t want the dye to be a crutch used as an excuse for bad behavior.   So we told them none of them could have it due to an allergic reaction we had seen. 

Red dye is in SO much… Doritos,  fruit roll ups, like every fun kid cereal there is, pretty much every fruity candy there is, M&Ms…. It’s in yellow food coloring.  It’s in some yellow and chocolate cake mixes and icing.  It’s in chocolate pudding.  At first we did a great job of spotting it in the obvious places.  No red ring pops.  But what about the less obvious places?  Yellow cup cakes or grape ring pops, or strawberry gogurt.  We learned to read labels. 

We have not removed all dyes from their diet.  The one that had the most dramatic effect was red dye and we took it in baby steps.  They have been red dye free for over a year.  They hate Valentine’s day parties b/c they pretty much come home with a bag of candy they can’t eat.  I started buying dye free lollipops from Trader Joes and when they get a candy somewhere that they can’t have they trade it in for one they can have. 

They have been SO good about it.  They always ask if there is red dye in something before they eat it.  My 3 year old is so funny b/c if he asks for something and if I say no he instant assumes it’s b/c of red dye.  We were at the store yesterday and he wanted to buy the milk with a blue cap (It was 2% and I had just put skim in our cart)  No I told him, we don’t need that milk.  “Oh”  he said, “Does it have red dye?” 

I have to say that the change in her behavior was almost unbelievable.  The fits of rage are gone.  We’ve had a few over the past year and I am positive they came when a bit of red dye slipped through un noticed in a food we didn’t think to check.  We most certainly would have been taking her to the Dr and probably had to put her on medication b/c her outbursts had gotten that bad.  And none of that would have been necessary b/c removing this dye was all that was needed.  Can you imagine?   I would have been thinking I was helping her, giving her medication she didn’t need and it all had to do with a chemical put in her food and candy? 

Keep in mind I am not saying my child is now perfect b/c we took red dye out of their diet.  She still disobeys, she still sins, she even still hits her brother and sister when she’s mad, but she is no longer out of control.  Now I can discipline her.   I can send her to her room with out having to physically carry her up the stairs.  I can talk to her about her behavior and have a reasonable conversation.  Before I had to literally wait out the storm before we could discuss the behavior and give consequences.  And she always took those consequences well (after she settled down).  She’d admit that she was out of line, was sorry and had no idea why she kept doing it. 

I am not alone.  Google red lake 40 and you’ll read others stories like ours.  I don’t know why it effects one of my children and not the others.   But, I do know it has made a DRAMTIC effect on our family life.  And I share this with you, incase you find yourself in a similar place to where we were a year and a half ago.  Maybe a food log might be a good first step for you too.


  1. So interesting, Crystal. I have been curbing the obvious red dyes because of outbursts from one of my kiddos. I think you convinced me to go all out. Thanks. So glad it has made a positive change for your family.

  2. Have had similar situation with a middle child of mine :) For other interesting research on the topic look up Biology of Behavior by Dianne Craft. We did what you did, but also added some supplements to restore the good bacteria in the gut. Wish we lived closer, cousin, I think we'd have lots to talk about!


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