Wildflowers for Jade: Taking Annatto Seriously

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Taking Annatto Seriously

I want to do a quick follow-up to my Annatto post last November, lest anyone think I've forgotten about it. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's on my mind almost daily. 

I was very slow to treat the issue like a serious allergy. I mean, it's food, and it's natural and it's in everything. My son has Autism, and it just didn't occur to me that a majority of his behaviors could be coming from something he was eating. I didn't realize (or obviously I would have done this years ago) that eliminating that one ingredient would be a life-changer for us. 

It is. 

Whenever I hear someone talking about how their child exhibits extreme irritability, head banging, screaming, irrational behaviors, huge meltdowns, I think "it could be annatto". I don't always say it. I don't want to annoy people by being repetitive. I'm not an evangelist. I'm not even some kind of expert. I'm only a mother who figured out something that still shocks me. 

But it can leave me breathless sometimes, the thought "how many children, how many adults even, are on behavioral drugs because of annatto? How many may have even been institutionalized because of violent behaviors possibly brought on by this unnecessary ingredient?" 

And I have to say, it's worth a shot. Isn't it? It's worth a two week elimination of something small to see if this is the issue for the person you love. Or yourself. If it changes nothing, you can move on without having lost anything. If it makes a difference, your child can have a different life. 

To do this though, you have to understand that it's really in almost everything that's processed. Treat it like a serious allergy and don't assume without seeing the ingredients. If you don't know, call and ask. Get on the internet and look it up. That's how I found that Duncan Donuts uses annatto in their donuts. That's how I found that Annie's Pretzels don't use it for their pretzels. Yes, I typed and scrolled on my phone to be sure before I said "yes" to a pretzel in the mall. Purity ice cream sandwiches - yes, they have annatto. So do Pepperidge Farms frozen cakes. Damn it. 

We did have some trial and error. I am able to detect an "oops" now by what happens in the days after, then had to go over in my mind what he had eaten. I've eliminated some brands (especially flavored chips) that did not have it listed in their ingredients, but fully assume that it's hidden somewhere because of his reaction. 

My son, who is only 6-going-on-7, already understands. He doesn't like the way it makes him feel either. Someone recently gave him a bite of something, but when he realized it had yellow cheddar in it he spit it out. 

It pains me to know that somewhere, a child is having another preventable annatto freak-out. Please share these posts, and if you've had the same experience, please leave a comment! Let's get the word out. 



  1. got here randomly. I have had reactions to annatto in supplemnts. (The first time was a food i believe.) and i was so angry when my dr who gave me the supplements said, "it is just vitamin e" which isn't even close to the truth. anyway.. i'm off to read some of the links.

  2. Just stumbled onto this as well
    My daughter had an allergy to it. Trying to figure out what it's in is a nightmare!

  3. My daughter has a severe allergy to annatto...she goes into anaphylaxis. It is horrible...life threatening. Where the heck do you start???

    1. Joni, I'm so sorry! Though my son's annatto allergy isn't life-threatening, he has some allergies that are. I'm sure you have already, but get an epi pen and use the practice pen to know what to do.
      (This is advice for anyone who is reading this. I read a story where someone almost lost their child because they hesitated too long to use the epi pen, then realized that they didn't even know how to use it!)
      We haven't had an accidental annatto consumption in years, so I can say that while it's difficult it's not impossible! My son has learned not to eat anything that I haven't given him or explicitly approved. It seems that he's constantly offered food or sweets of some type, so it's an important key. If your child is too young to advocate for herself I'd recommend an allergy bracelet.

      Make your own pie crusts, biscuits, and cakes, or check the Gluten Free versions as you can find some frozen that don't use annatto. Use real butter. Say no to any cracker type foods and be careful with ice cream... btw if this makes me sound the least bit domestic, believe me I'm not. :)

      Wishing you the best!

  4. My daughter has a severe allergy to annatto...she goes into anaphylaxis. It is horrible...life threatening. Where the heck do you start???

  5. My four year old son is the sweetest boy ever but ever since he was 1 (when he started eating snack foods) he has outbursts where he is so wild and hyper he can't control it and he has a glazed over look in his eyes and he tells me his head and neck hurt! He kicks his legs and jerks and these outbursts were starting to make me research autism and behavioral disorders and for some reason by the grace of god I believe, I related his outburst to what he had just eaten....mac and cheese. I started reading labels and seeing annatto...wth is that?! I googled and researched all night and decided to eliminate annatto and sure enough my sweet boy was back! I am relieved and saddened and mad all at once! Why is this in food? Today I gave my son his gummy multivitamin because we went to church and I am paranoid about my kids getting sick so I gave them the vitamins not thinking and within five minutes my son was banging his head on his pillow and complaining of a head ache. My heart hurt for him and I was so mad at myself the dang vitamins had annatto of course and I threw them away! I am now going to take this seriously and read everything! I'm also going to write a blog and I'm going to raise awareness of this! So many kids could be taking medicine and being punished for uncontrollable behavior caused by food their parents gave them! Makes me so sad and angry.