Soaking Up the Sun – What You Can Do to Protect Yourselves and Your Children

Mother and Daughter at the BeachFor many folks in the United States, spring cannot get here soon enough.  Between torrential rain storms, late winter storms, and generally below average temperatures, American families are eager to get outdoors.

But even if temperatures are a little cooler than what you’d typically expect as this time of year, it’s still important to use precautions when you’re outdoors.  Cooler temperatures and even overcast, cloudy skies in no way indicate that your family is safe from sun damage.  And for children, the precautions are especially necessary.

The younger the child is, the thinner his or her skin is.  This means that they are at greater risk for over exposure.  Couple that with the fact that young children do not produce as much melanin and your children have the potential for suffering serious damage.

What are some things you can do to prevent your children from suffering?

1.  Have your child wear a hat.  Even if your child has a lot of hair, the scalp is especially susceptible and can burn easily.  If the hat is large enough to shade the face and ears, that’s even better.

2.  Protective clothing is essential.  Make sure that the clothing is comfortable and breathes.  It is recommended that the clothing not be too sheer, because the sun’s rays will still be able to penetrate.

3.  Choose a shady area.  If you have access to a pavilion or other structure, take advantage of that.  If you will be enjoying a picnic at a park, try to find a large tree that offers plenty of shade.  When we attend outdoor sporting events, we pack a portable tent structure that offers shade.  If you will be at the beach, a large umbrella or portable cabana will work.

4.  Limit the amount of time you spend outdoors.  Small children don’t need to spend much time outdoors in order to burn.  And even if they are in water or there is a cool breeze, they are still soaking up the damaging rays.  Don’t let their “comfort level” in terms of temperature fool you.

5.  Use a safe sunscreen on all exposed areas.   Apply generously and often (especially if they are in water or sweating).

There have been mixed messages in terms of what SPF (sun protection factor) is the best.  Some will argue that the higher the number, the better the protection.  Others will argue that the higher numbers don’t offer any more protection that their lower number counterparts.

What is important is what to look for in terms of ingredients.  According to the New Zealand Dermatology Society, sun protection is delivered in two ways:  chemical absorbers and physical blockers.

If you look at the list of ingredients, you will notice words containing “benzone”.  Many sunscreens use these chemicals because they are said to offer complete protection against damage from UVB and UVA II rays and partial protection against UVA I rays.  But notice they offer protection against damage.  The way these chemicals work is that they absorb the radiation before damage is caused.

Although this sounds like a good form of protection, these chemicals have been linked to forms of cancer and assorted skin problems because they are absorbed easily into the pores of the skin.  If fact, Proposition 65 in California lists chemicals and ingredients that are known to cause cancer.  Benzophenone (oxybenzone) has been added to that list.

Physical blockers, on the other hand, protect differently.  When the sun’s rays hit these blockers, the rays are reflected back (or bounced off) the skin.  They are typically not absorbed by the skin and they offer protection against the full UV spectrum.  The ingredients to look for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Physical blockers are considered the ideal sun protection because they are safe and do not typically pose a health risk.

Our family loves the sun and being outdoors as much as possible.  But sunburn is no picnic and we have seen the damaging effects of the sun’s rays on family and friends.  So by all means, get outdoors and enjoy the weather while you can.  A few extra precautions will help you to enjoy all that spring and summer has to offer.

Going Green With Coupons

couponsIt’s no secret that one of my passions is finding ways for the every day family to Go Green.  But I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to turn my household upside down.  That would have been counterproductive and the effort would have been short-lived.

So I decided to make the journey one small step at a time, allowing my family to more easily make the transition.  Once one particular habit was established, I was able to move onto the next step.

Something that I hear quite often is that people have a desire to Go Green, but they’re concerned about sticking to a budget.  This is especially true in the area of groceries and household needs.

If you purchase your local Sunday paper, you will likely find an entire section devoted to coupons.  Manufacturers spend an enormous amount of money creating colorful, eye catching coupons in hopes that people will clip them and use them.  My mother and mother-in-law have been doing this for years and they swear by the savings.

Recently, I happened to catch an episode of Extreme Couponing on TLC.  The episode featured a woman who takes clipping the newspaper coupons to an entirely new level.

While I was fascinated by her ability to buy hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for less than $20.00, the entire premise made me very uncomfortable for a couple of reasons:

First of all, she had shelves and shelves in her garage filled with pre-packaged food items and various toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, etc.).  While it’s great to be prepared, part of the Going Green concept is only using what you need and minimizing the amount of packaging you purchase.  If her intention was to donate all of these items to a local food bank, I would be her biggest cheerleader.  However, I was left with the impression that her goal was about “beating the system” by acquiring a lot, while spending little.

My second issue was that the majority of the food items were pre-packaged foods filled with preservatives, GMO’s and chemicals.  Part of the green lifestyle is eating foods (as much as possible) that are whole and natural.  I saw rows and rows of yellow cake mix, macaroni and cheese, and canned spaghetti.

My final issue was the amount of paper that was being wasted in this effort.  The lady featured on this episode had the help of both her parents, her husband and a brother.  They were all sitting around the living room surrounded by stacks and stacks of newspapers.

I sat there hoping that all of that paper was going to be recycled.  But judging by some of the other practices I witnessed during the episode, I definitely had my doubts.  I found the whole process very wasteful and sad.

I want to be clear that I am not against coupons or saving money.  I have a family as well and saving green is only second to going green.  But I think there are better ways to go about it.

If you have certain products that you buy on a regular basis, Google the company’s website and see if they list online coupons.  More and more manufacturing companies are trying to cut corners as well and purchasing space in newspapers and magazines is expensive, especially if you consider that not all of the newspapers may be sold and not all of the coupons are going to be clipped.

Use websites like Groupon, or here in the Chicago area, Spealo.  These companies work with merchants who want to offer deals on everything from food, entertainment, travel and more.  Many of these deals would not be offered in print.

Shop online.  More and more people are turning to the Internet for their shopping needs.  They understand the convenience of online shopping and many companies offer deals to the online customers that are not offered in store.

Do a Google search for coupon sites.  One I especially like is Qpon Junkie.  You can find coupon “codes” for products from your favorite stores and no printing is required.

Given the economic downturn of the past several years, most families will need to employ whatever means necessary to save money in their budgets.  That’s a given.  But it is possible to use these methods without a negative impact on the environment.

 

Eco-Friendly Workout Clothes

If you’ve been here before, you may have read my recent post about my introduction to yoga.  Initially, I decided to try yoga for the stress relieving benefits, but have since found that it’s helping to strengthen and tone my body and helping with my balance and posture.

As I read more and more about yogis, those who practice yoga as a way of life, I’m finding that most of them are vegans (which I am not) and all of them are very conscious of the planet and our effect on it.  That really got me to thinking about how I, as a brand new yogi, could do more in this area and I began researching eco-friendly workout clothes.  Here is what I found:

I learned about a fabric called “veeda”, which is used to make workout tops.  Veeda fabric is made with 45% recycled polyester and can be found at a company called prAna.  What’s great about these tops is that many have built in bras for support, with removable cups.

Another great material for eco-friendly workout clothes is hemp.  Hemp is very strong and durable and will last a long time.  It is typically blended with other materials, such as organic cotton, so that it is softer and flows more easily.  You can find work out tops that contain the hemp and organic cotton blend, along with a little bit of spandex for stretch and support.

Modal is a form of rayon that comes from the fiber of beechwood trees.  The fibers are spun into the material and it’s used mostly for towels and bathrobes.  Modal is an eco-friendly material because it’s made from a sustainable source and the material is lightweight and soft.

Lyocell is another type of material that is derived from wood pulp.  It is considered eco-friendly because the process has a minimal impact on the environment, namely water and energy.  The solvent used during the process is noted to be non-toxic.

You can find yoga pants that use a blend of organic cotton for comfort, as well as bamboo for durability.  Both are considered to be eco-friendly materials made from sustainable sources.

If you practice yoga as a workout, you know that you can work up quite a sweat. That’s why having a wicking fabric (one that regulates body temperature by pulling the heat from your body) is so important.  Merlo wool does exactly that.  It isn’t at all “itchy” like other types of wool.  Instead, it’s soft, does a superior job of keeping body temperature regulated, and it resists odor (super important at the yoga studio).  It’s also eco-friendly.

While you’re enjoying yoga, don’t forget about your other essentials.  There are eco-friendly yoga mats that only use materials that come from sustainable sources.  You can find a yoga bag that has been created with recycled materials.  And let’s not forget a stainless steel, BPA free, water bottle.

Practicing yoga will not only help your mind, body and spirit, but can allow to protect the environment as well.

The 3 R’s Don’t Always Mean What You Think

When I was a kid, my grandpa used to always joke about how I needed to go to school to learn the 3 R’s:  (in his Tennessee drawl):  Readin’, Ritin’ and Rithmatic.

The “Readin” has served me well over the years and helped me to develop a photographic memory.  Trust me – this really came in handy during finals week.

The “Ritin” allows me to share my passion with those of you “readin”.  And it comes in handy for all the things that you have to sign off on when your son is in 8th grade.

The “Rithmatic” doesn’t get used as much these days.  Although I’m more than happy to calculate how much money we have saved since embarking on our green journey.

After many years of school and several more in motherhood, I learned about a different set of R’s:  Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  Over the years, I realized that I had become a champion at consumerism and accumulating stuff.  This stuff began to overwhelm me emotionally and physically and I knew I had to take action.

Today, I “reduce” the amount of things I buy much more easily now than I ever did.  As a mature adult and mother, I can easily gauge the difference between a want and a need.  And until I have the cash to pay for an item, it stays safely in the store or on the website and sometimes I end up realizing I didn’t need it as much as I thought I did.  And I always make sure that what I buy comes in the least amount of packaging as possible.

Being able to “reuse” or “repurpose” something makes me proud.  I can redecorate (see how these R words seem to flow together?) a room or solve a problem simply by putting something I thought I no longer wanted to better use.  It makes me feel like a genius!

And every week, we aim for just one bag of trash and we “recycle” as much as possible.  Although this year we are trying to drastically “reduce” the amount of recycling as well through composting and reusing.  But having a garage sale or donating unused items are great ways to recycle as well.

But I have a different set of R’s that are becoming more and more important to me as I travel further along on my green journey.  Those 3 R’s are:  Responsibility, Renewable and Resources.

I sincerely believe that caring for the planet is a “responsibility” that belongs to every human being that inhabits it.  We do not “own” this space – we are here on borrowed time.  And we have been entrusted with this space as stewards meant to care for it and treat it with respect (another perfect R word).

We all breathe the air, enjoy the view, drink the water, eat the food.  Life is all about give and take and it’s time that more and more people viewed this endeavor as that responsibility.

“Renewable” sources of energy are so important to the future of this planet.  Again, it can’t be a one sided relationship.  In my marriage, my husband and I are partners.  As a mother, I give my children their basic needs as well as love, guidance and nurturing.  They give me love and respect in return.

The earth works the same way.  If we continue to just take from it, there won’t be anything left.  Already, we are seeing so many animal species who are endangered and rain forests (another priceless R word) on the verge of extinction because of greed and an unwillingness to give back.

It’s time to stop.  Think.  What legacy do you want to leave to your children?  Your grandchildren?

The “resources” that we have are for our use, not our destruction.  It doesn’t matter how much you accumulate because you can’t take it with you anyway.

Use what you need, share what you have, and give back.  I promise that if you do, you’ll be all the “richer” for it!

Earth Day 2013

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that today is Earth Day.  Although I truly think that EVERY day should be Earth Day, it warms my heart to know that there is a day set aside to bring awareness to our planet…its beauty, its resources, and its resiliency.

Now I have spoken to people who have said “I’m not really into being green”.  I’m not really sure what that even means, but the bottom line is that the planet belongs to ALL of us.  We share it and it’s our responsibility to take care of it if we want it to continue to take care of us.  And it really isn’t that hard.

You have undoubtedly heard the term “reduce, reuse, recycle”.  More than a clever catch phrase, this really captures the essence of what being green is all about.  Use only what you need, use it again when you can, and give it to someone who can use it for something else.

My hope is that as parents we will give our children plenty of guidance in this area so that they will grow up with the notion of not only “going” green, but “being” green.  If we teach them early, this will be all they know to do.

Here are some things you can TODAY:

1.  Get your kids outside.  Whatever type of weather you’re having, discuss it.  Look for shapes in the clouds, catch rain water in a container, talk about how water turns to snow, enjoy the sun and the wind.  Talk about how what we do each day ultimately affects our weather.

2.  Take a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood.  Besides the benefit of fresh air and exercise, talk about what you see.  Look at the grass that is waking up from its winter nap.  Look at the buds starting to emerge on the trees.  Admire the tulips and daffodils that are sprouting from beneath the earth’s surface.  Watch the squirrels scurrying about looking for food and listen as the robins busily prepare nests for the babies.  See if you can spot any earthworms, ants or beetles making an appearance.

3.  See if you can have a ZERO trash day.  Create a compost bin with your table scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds.  By adding to it each day and watering it down, you will be creating an amazing source of nourishment for a new vegetable or herb garden.  Try to recycle or upcycle everything else.

4.  Even if you’re a city dweller, you can start a tiny little garden on a patio or balcony with a small container, a little soil and some seeds.  Try some beans to start and see your child’s face light up as they grow!

5.  Unplug (even for a few hours).  Take the time that you would normally spend online, watching TV or allowing the kids to play video games and just unplug.  Talk with each other, play board games, enjoy your backyard or a neighborhood park.  Dry your clothes on the clothes line, open some windows.  It will help our planet and your soul.

This earth is one of the greatest privileges ever bestowed on us.  But with great privilege comes great responsibility.  Lucky for all of us, it really isn’t that hard.

Enjoy your Earth Day and here’s hoping that these few little steps will engage you in coming up with ever greater steps in the future.

Are You Constantly On The Go?

Woman Practicing Yoga StretchI live in a relatively small town in a tiny suburb in the Midwest.  Although I can walk to some of the shops and restaurants here in town, there really isn’t much to offer.  Because of that, I have to use my car a little bit more than I would prefer.

My car is an older model.  In fact, it’s slightly older than my teenage son.  But it’s in wonderful condition because I take really good care of it.  It is always tuned up, the fluids are always at proper levels, the tires always contain the proper amount of air, I keep the filters cleaned, it always contains high quality fuel and I make sure to warm it up properly before I use it.  Because I take such good care of my car, it has always been very reliable and I can trust that it will get me where I need to go.

Now, imagine that I didn’t do all of those things to my car.  What if I never allowed my mechanic to peek under the hood?  What if I ignored warning lights and sounds and just kept on driving?  What if I chose to save a few bucks rather than updating filters and fluids?  Very likely, my car would overheat or break down and I would be in trouble.

Our bodies work the same way.  We must always make sure that we fuel them properly, replace the fluids that are lost, care for the muscles and stay away from bad habits that could hurt us.  But it’s equally important that we allow our bodies to rest and relax.  While food is fuel for the body, relaxation is fuel for the body, mind and soul.

Recently, I discovered that I was “on the go” way too much.  Besides my duties as wife and mother and responsibilities around the home, I have a job, do the writing and research for this blog, and I write at another blog as well.  Life can get pretty hectic sometimes, especially if I don’t recharge my batteries.

When we don’t give ourselves permission to rest our minds, spirits and bodies, the results can be a disaster.  All of that stress builds up and at some point, usually when you least expect it or would least like it to occur, it blows.  Just like a car will overheat and stop you in your tracks, your body can do the same thing.

I recently started engaging in yoga relaxation techniques that have been very beneficial to me.  Not only do I find them useful for mental stress relief, but I have found them to be useful in relaxing different muscles in the body.  This has helped my posture, my general disposition and my sleep patterns.  This is something you could do with your kids or even your grandparents. And I only need 20 minutes a day.

One of the things I like to do is create what is called a “breathing bed”.  This is done by simply folding a blanket so that it’s 8 inches wide and longer than my body.  I then take another blanket and fold it about 3 times so that my head rests firmly on it and my chin is not higher than my forehead.  Usually, I have another blanket handy because when you get into a relaxed state, your body temperature tends to drop and it’s difficult to relax when you’re cold!

Once I am comfortable, I just begin to breathe consciously.  I picture each breath being drawn in through my nose and I very slowly allow the breaths to leave my body.  It’s important that the breathing stay slow and rhythmic and I imagine the outgoing breaths circling over my body, revitalizing me with energy.

One of the things that I have learned is to surround myself with a glowing white light.  My yoga practice has taught me that this helps you to protect yourself from that feeling of being pulled in many directions and being drained of your energy.

If you have back issues, you can roll some blankets to place under your knees.  You can also bend your knees and spread your feet just wider than the width of your body.  Lean your knees in and this will help to relieve any lower back tension.

Another great tension relieving pose is called “child pose”.  You sit on your knees and fold your body forward, touching the floor with your forehead.  Your arms can drape around your sides.  If touching the floor with your head is too uncomfortable, you can put your arms out in front and rest your head on your fists.  This helps to relieve all of my muscles that tend to “carry” my stress.

Discovering yoga has been life changing for me.  Not only does it contribute to a body that is toned and flexible, but it helps you to get to know your body, relieve stress and become more energetic than you ever thought possible.

There are many yoga classes, DVD’s and books on the market right now.  I encourage you to try one and see the difference!

The Cost of Permanent Press

mom laundryNobody would argue that people are busier than ever these days.  Between work, spouse, children, home and other commitments, there is more and more competition for our time.  And those companies that manufacture goods understand this and cater to the demands of convenience and ease.  But at what cost?

After WWII, many modern “conveniences” were invented so that Mom would have an easier time getting all of her household tasks done.  And one household task that most of these moms were all too eager to omit from their day was ironing.  But how could any Mom worth her salt send her darling husband and children off to work and school with clothes that weren’t freshly pressed?  Enter the age of permanent press clothing!

It used to be that you had to really read the tags to find “permanent press” on the label.  Today, these clothing items are readily available and, as long as clothes aren’t left in the dryer too long, most items don’t require any ironing whatsoever.

But while people are very happy with the convenience and the time savings, they rarely even question how it is that these clothes are permanent press in the first place.  The answer may surprise you.

According to Green Earth News, there are 2 methods currently employed to create the “wrinkle free” clothing.  Sadly, both of these methods involve formaldehyde.

The first process involves soaking the clothing in formaldehyde and then rolling it between 2 extremely heavy rollers to squeeze out any extra resins.  Then, the clothing is baked at 300 degrees Fahrenheit so that it is basically cured, ensuring that the formaldehyde doesn’t wash out.  According to the article, some manufacturers will even treat the formaldehyde baked clothing with liquid ammonia to prevent shrinkage.

The second process, which also involves formaldehyde, involves putting the clothing in airtight containers and steaming it.  Once the items have been steamed, they are exposed to formaldehyde gasses and then baked.  In addition to the formaldehyde gasses, the clothing is exposed to sulfur dioxide to make sure that the bonds between the fabric and the formaldehyde stay cohesive.  In some cases, the clothing will also be treated with either ammonium chloride or phosphoric acid to ensure these bonds.  As you can see, waging a war on wrinkles is anything but easy.  And it’s also costly!

Formaldehyde is highly toxic and, at the very least, can cause respiratory issues and allergic reactions in those wearing the clothing.  But it goes deeper than that.  Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and becomes even more toxic when heated.

Think about it: you are wearing the “wrinkle free” clothes against your skin, which is filled with pores that lead right to your bloodstream.  You are using “wrinkle free” sheets where you sleep several hours every night.  This is all direct exposure.

And formaldehyde is also harmful to the environment.  The manufacturing process alone is a chemical nightmare, but when you are laundering these items, you send those gaseous elements right into our atmosphere.

So what should you do instead?  Try to look for organic clothing and bedding as much as possible.  Opt for natural materials such as organic cotton, hemp or bamboo.  Not ready to start wielding an iron?  No worries.  According to Green Earth News, bamboo fabrics are lightweight, smooth and the wrinkles can easily be shaken loose.  For some great choices in organic bedding, check out The Honest Company who not only uses natural, untreated materials, but their designs are created with non-toxic dyes.

The more you know, the better choices you can make for your family.

Why Cleaners Are More Harmful to Your Children Than to You

If you’re like me, when kids came into your world you wanted everything in your home to be as clean as possible.  You probably went to great lengths to disinfect everything because you wanted your child to live in the cleanest environment.  And you may have even safely assumed that as long as the cleaning supplies you were using weren’t bothering you, they weren’t bothering your baby either.  Sadly, that’s not true.

Here are 4 of the most toxic ingredients that are found in almost every popular cleaning product:

Formaldehyde:  this is a colorless gas found in many household products (including personal care products that are marketed to children).  At the very least, it can cause watery eyes, eye and/or throat irritation and nausea.  It’s especially harmful to asthma sufferers.  Some people have suffered from skin rashes and other severe allergic reactions.  According to the EPA, formaldehyde has been proven to cause cancer is animals and is strongly suspected of cancer in humans.  Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required to list this as an ingredient.

O-Phenylphenol:  this ingredient is found mainly in disinfecting wipes.  This ingredient appears on California’s Hazardous Chemical List.  While more and more companies are moving away from inclusion of this agent, it pays to read the labels and ensure that your product does not include it.  This dangerous ingredient has been shown to cause damage to the heart, lungs and kidneys.

Benzene:  this ingredient is a solvent that has been shown to cause tremors and attack the bone marrow.  This means that those who are exposed are at higher risk for leukemia.

Several studies have shown that these ingredients are toxic due to inhalation.  However, the gasses that are present during the cleaning process evaporate and then redeposit themselves mainly on furniture and soft objects like pillows, blankets, stuffed animals and soft toys.

Children spend a majority of their days putting objects into their mouths.  Therefore, they are taking in far more toxins than adults in the first place, even though adults are using the products directly.  In addition, adults have the ability to excrete toxins or store them in fat cells.  They also have immune systems that help protect against any potential side effects.

Children don’t yet have the ability to excrete toxins or store them away in their fat cells.  And because their immune systems are not yet fully developed, they are at greater risk for the inevitable side effects.  It’s important to note as well that expectant mothers who are exposed to these toxins are storing them in their fat cells.  And those fat cells are being utilized by the unborn baby for nourishment.

But not all “green” cleaners are created equal.  Some of the big box companies are using words like “green” or “natural” on their labels as marketing ploys.  As a responsible consumer, it is important that you read labels or create your own healthy alternatives.  Because believe it or not, it is possible to have a home that is clean and toxin free.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Batter Hitting BaseballAs my beloved Chicago Cubs celebrate their Opening Day, I thought I’d talk today about making healthier choices at the ballpark.  As a baseball fan and someone who used to work in professional baseball, I can tell you that part of the overall experience is the food and drink.  It probably isn’t realistic to expect anyone to just drink water and stay completely away from the concessions – not with all the delicious smells that permeate the air!

But ballpark food is not exactly at the top of the list of healthy foods.  So if you’re concerned about eating healthy, or worried about staying on your diet, here are some methods you can employ that won’t make you regret heading to the ballpark.

Beverages:

If you don’t mind drinking water, this would be the first choice.

Consider water too bland, at least for the ballpark?  Try unsweetened iced tea with a lemon wedge.

Are you craving a soda?  Rather than going for the diet option (which are filled with unhealthy artificial sweeteners), go for the “regular” option instead.  The trick is to fill the cup with as much ice as possible.  Your soda craving will be met, but you will be consuming a lot less than you would have otherwise.  Although personally, I’d like to see you forego the soda completely!

If you feel that a beer is in order, try to limit yourself to no more than two 12 oz. servings.  The best option is Guinness, which is naturally lower in calories.

Food Options:

If you must eat a hot dog, find out if turkey is an option.  I would stay away from ketchup, which is mostly sugar, as well as cheese or chili.  If you can’t go plain, stick with mustard and a little relish.

My son likes deep dish, personal pizzas.  These are a Chicago favorite, but they are filled with calories and fat.  If you must have pizza, try just having a slice without sausage or pepperoni.

Avoid cotton candy, Cracker Jack and other sugary snacks, nachos and pretzels with cheese.  If you must snack, ballpark peanuts are a good option.  But understand that a bag of ballpark peanuts is enough to feed four people.

Believe it or not, more and more ballparks are trying to cater to those who seek healthy options.  If your venue offers salads, go for it.  Just make sure you going easy on the dressing.

Baseball is the American pastime.  But it doesn’t have to be a reason to throw off your diet or risk your health.  Plan ahead and you’ll be ready to watch your favorite team play ball!!

Let’s Leave the Colors in the Crayon Box

Colorful CrayonsRecently, I did a post that included a recipe for homemade Macaroni & Cheese.  In that post, I was discussing the backlash that Kraft is receiving because of its refusal to eliminate artificial dyes in their American version of Macaroni & Cheese.  The reason I say “American version” is because they have eliminated the artificial dyes in the European version because those countries refused to allow it on store shelves otherwise.  That begs the question:  if the artificial dyes can be eliminated from the European version of the same product, why can’t they (or won’t they) be eliminated from the American version?  Therein lies the controversy.

There has been a petition circulating for some time now, a petition that I gladly signed, requesting that Kraft do the right thing.  Now, if you’re new to this blog or to the dangers of processed foods and artificial dyes, let’s talk about why this is such a hot topic.

Artificial dyes do absolutely nothing to add to the nutritional value of a product.  They are there simply for aesthetics.  These dyes are derived from the same base that is found in candles, tar and the fuel you put in your car:  petroleum.  I’m going to assume that you wouldn’t knowingly give your child the sludge at the bottom of a fuel barrel as a snack.  But in essence, that’s what thousands, if not millions, of unsuspecting parents are doing.

Besides just being gross, consumption of artificial dyes poses a variety of health risks.  According to Dr. Mercola (www.mercola.com) these dyes cause a variety of behavioral problems in children.  These dyes have further been found to increase the risk of cancer.  And yet the FDA continues to allow them in foods, especially those marketed to children.

And if you think that by eliminating Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese from your family’s diet you’ll be safe, think again.  Besides the obvious products such as cake mixes and frosting, artificial dyes can be found in a variety of popular “foods”.  They are lurking in cereals, snack chips, drink mixes, yogurt, snack/breakfast bars, hot dogs and even children vitamins and OTC medicines.

What to look for?  Read the labels for specific colors (red 40 or yellow 5 for example) or terms such as “artificial color”.  Avoiding processed foods and eating “real” foods instead will always be the best idea for you and your family.  But if you find yourself in those middle aisles of the store, at least read the labels and avoid those foods that clearly list the dyes.

It’s unfortunate that the FDA is not doing enough to regulate these ingredients and that food companies are not doing their part.  Maybe if enough consumers become more conscious shoppers and refuse to purchase these products, food companies will be forced to do the right thing once and for all.  We can only hope.