I am not normally an angry person, but at two o’clock in the morning when I am sitting up with my eight year old daughter who is sobbing because she can’t sleep, then I get very angry indeed. I am angry at the food industry which sees fit to stuff food with toxic additives, and then market it to parents as healthy for our children. I am angry at the government body whose job it is to prevent harmful substances getting in to food in the first place. Just. very. angry.
The problem? A group of chemicals called excitotoxins, which include MSG, aspartame (artificial sweetener), and a natural food colouring, annatto (160b), all of which affect the neural pathways in the brain, interfering with the way the brain sends messages, and causing, get this, brain lesions. Yes, they destroy brain cells irrevocably. And they are in oh, almost all processed food. Do you begin to see why I am angry? All of these chemicals cause poor Rosy to lie awake at night for hours, unable to sleep, because her brain is so wired. As well as insomnia they cause terrible migraines for my husband. And all of my children, up to the age of seven or so, turned nastily aggressive and took to slapping and kicking whenever they ate anything coloured with annatto. The smallest one still does.
At home I bake almost everything we eat, apart from a few products that I know won’t affect anyone, but really, shopping is a minefield. Nearly everything that screams ‘No artificial colourings’ has 160b in it. Well, it is all true – it is natural, but then so are caffeine, guarana and cocaine, none of which I choose to feed to my children either. Aspartame is in almost everything sweet labelled ‘diet’ (can’t say I have ever bought any such thing). Almost everything savoury and highly flavoured has MSG in it in some form. You will find it under numbers 621 and 635. It is also called ‘flavour enhancer’and 'hydrolysed vegetable protein'. It is in chips, soups, pies, ready made meals, sausage rolls, sausages, meat marinades, sauces, 2 minute noodles, all the junk food ever invented, rice crackers – in fact it would be quicker to list the foods it isn’t in. It is only there, of course, because flavour enhancer is cheaper than actual flavour, like herbs, spices, salt etc. Because God forbid there should be actual food in food.
And the really awful thing? While my daughter struggles with insomnia and my husband suffers with migraines, they are not the real victims. It is children with already compromised neural pathways who are really implicated in this commercial outrage – children with autism, schizophrenia, ADHD. And older people with dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Imagine the effect of the ‘crazy chemicals’ in their sensitive brains. In a sense we are lucky. The two sensitive people in our family are like canaries in the mine shaft – they are letting us know that what we are eating is not doing us any good. Much to my consternation I am forced to cook almost everything we eat. I have learnt a lot about food, and about what makes my body feel good. Not surprisingly, if I add a few decent salads to my grandparents’ basic diet of porridge, meat and three veg, and the odd steamed pudding, with a sponge cake for special occasions, we all feel happy and calm. Except after going to children’s birthday parties. When I end up staying up until two in the morning. Which makes me very angry indeed.