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on May 20, 2009
The food industry pissed off the wrong Mommy of Four. Sarah Palin might call Robyn O'Brien (author of The Unhealthy Truth) a pitbull with lipstick. She might be blond and pretty, but when her youngest child, Tory, had an allergic reaction to eggs, she didn't take "Don't worry your pretty little head about it" for an answer. Why are allergies and asthma on such a rise in America?

The answers were largely: We don't know and we're not really studying it. Better yet, there were two competing camps that each thought the other one's strategy would harm the kids. One thought you should expose your kids to the foods they are allergic to in small doses to see if the allergy would go away, and the other thought you should totally avoid any contact to the allergic food at all to see if it would go away. Riiight. It's nice to have theories, it's nice to do research, but what happens if you have kids, they have allergies, and you have to feed them NOW?

Much of this book is a personal story of the O'Brien family and their four children, Lexy, Colin, John, and Tory. Once upon a time they were a happy family of four, complete with Kraft Mac n Cheese, blue yogurt, dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets, and colorful goldfish crackers. And then, when Tory was nine months old and the oldest, Lexy, was five, things changed in an instant.

Tory ate some eggs and her face puffed up and turned red. A few doctors' appointments later, she was diagnosed with an allergy to eggs. Life in the O'Brien house changed. Now - it didn't change overnight. Robyn was raised in so-called Red America (Houston, actually), with a military father and a conservative, Republican background. Not that that shapes one's eating habits per se, but it can tend toward an attitude of not questioning authority. Robyn had been doing everything you're supposed to do to be a good mother - including those dino-shaped nuggets - and when Tory got sick, she wanted to make her child well.

So she started researching. And researching. And the answers didn't add up. And then she found out that Kraft funded the nation's major allergy non-profit. Whoops. Maybe that was why that allergy group wasn't so thrilled to acknowledge some of the research that was out there about potential links between allergies and GMOs? (GMOs that you eat in Kraft foods, that is.)

After all that research, Robyn condenses the possible causes of increasing allergies to the following list:

1. The shift from a natural to an industrial environment
2. Excessive exposure to antibiotics, both as prescribed to our children and as consumed through antibiotic-laden meat, milk, and poultry.
3. The rise in pollutants and environmental toxins (perhaps including the fumes and residues from some of the chemical products we use to clean our homes).
4. Our tendency to eat more processed foods loaded with chemical additives and preservatives and to eat far fewer natural whole foods.

As it turned out, it wasn't just Tory who had allergies. In fact, I found her son Colin's story even MORE interesting. Tory's allergy is the sort of thing you hear about all the time, and while it's a scary thing that a child could potentially die from eating a normal and ubiquitous food like eggs, at least it's easy to diagnose as an allergy. But then there is Colin, who drank milk like it was his job for YEARS.

Colin suffered from eczema, frequent ear infections, and more. Nobody knew why. Nobody assumed food played a role. Robyn took him to the doctor and they prescribed drugs and put tubes in his ears. Then the family tried an unintentional experiment. A week without milk during a family vacation. Suddenly the eczema started to clear up. Hmmm. Turns out Colin had a milk allergy. Not only did his health change for the better, but the dairy-free Colin had a happier personality!

It was events like that that ultimately led Robyn to remove far more than the diagnosed allergens from her children's diets. What about artificial coloring? And why were other countries removing it from their food but we weren't? As it turned out, the additives in our food (like the coloring) can have an effect on children's behavior. So as a parent, it's not just about being a tree-hugging hippie if you want to feed your kids an all-natural diet. It's about fewer tantrums and getting more sleep at night.

The Unhealthy Truth goes off into subjects that I largely shy away from, like the effects of GMOs on our health. I keep waiting for more definitive science and broad consensus about them before I speak up, but as I said before, if you're a mom and you're feeding four kids, you need the answer yesterday. What was that Rumsfeld quote - we go to war with the army we have, not the army we wish we had? Right. O'Brien had to make her decisions based on the science we have. Pathetically little science, very often.

I can see readers criticizing some of the research studies she cites, in fact, because they certainly aren't of the caliber you might want in order to judge whether one particular food additive or technology is safe, but that's exactly the point. Nobody DID the comprehensive study to prove the foods safe or unsafe, and O'Brien notes that. So she advocates doing as the Europeans do and using the Precautionary Principle: A food must be proven safe before we eat it. Americans, on the other hand, typically like to profit first, and ask questions later. Our population and our children can be the guinea pigs and when somebody gets sick, or many people get sick, we'll consider taking a food off the market.

All in all, I like this book. I think it's a terrific contribution to Americans waking up to the realities of their food and its problems. Robyn provides MANY tips on how to wean kids off of their blue yogurt and dino-nugget diets to healthier foods, and she does so in a non-intimidating way for people who may have never strayed far off the industrial food path ever before. However, she does not advocate for purity, nor does she intend to. And I don't see that as a pont to criticize her for - she's focused on reality and for some people, going from totally processed factory farmed chemical laden junk to less processed factory farmed meat is a great step up. I believe that people make changes when they are ready, and I hope that this book will engage new people into this dialogue who may have never questioned their food before. When people are ready, they might seek out a farmers market or get a pet chicken. Or they might not. But at least they aren't serving up blue yogurt anymore.
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on January 19, 2011
I wanted to like this book and in many ways I did like it. The author has a very engaging writing style. But what is "shocking" to me is that the author sort of stops short. Preservatives are bad for you! So is artificial food coloring!! GM Corn and Soy too! Actually, soy is really bad for you!

Is this news to anyone? Perhaps you didn't know that agribusiness was peddling different food (sans offending ingredients) to our European frieds. Maybe you didn't know that doctors whose entire existence depend on people being sick may have conflicts of interest. Maybe you didn't get the message that soy is fairly close to poison. But then the author stops. She offers ridiculous "recipe" suggestions then pads the book out with references. End of story.

No discussion about the actual food supply. How does food get to your table? She doesn't really get the connection between feeding GM Corn and Soy to Cattle/Chickens/Pigs and how this is actually making our meat unhealthy by changing the fat profiles of the meat and eggs.

No discussion about the pitfalls of refined carbohydrates and their prevalence in our diets. If you read her recipes in the book, her family eats a pretty solid low fat/high carb diet. No discussion about whether this is, in fact, "healthy". No discussion about how the food pyramid and school lunches are based on zero scientific evidence.

I was looking for more. I don't seriously think advocating mac and cheese (but the white cheddar kind) is really protecting your family from unhealthy foods. This book is for someone who has never, ever researched food issues and wants to get started. Otherwise, it's a pedestrian effort. The title is quite misleading, if the author really wants to be shocked, she should read Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories".
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on May 9, 2009
As someone with a corn allergy/intolerance I'm already disillusioned with the "system". FAAN isn't what they seem to be and the people who feed us are in it for the money.

But, somehow, I've always believed that it couldn't be "that" bad. I mean, the government DOES have regulations. Right?

This book, written as a description of the author's research discoveries and journey out of food ignorance bliss, is even more alarming from it's first person tone. It isn't written by an expert. It's written by a Mom who just started out looking for answers for her child and found herself in the middle of something bigger.

This is a wake up call for all of us. We know about GMO, and petrochemicals and hormones in our food supply. Many of us worry about them, but let them take a back burner to little league and homework and deadlines. Reading some of Robyn's discoveries makes one realize that we need to re-evaluate our priorities, and vote with our personal choices. She also offers good advice on starting the journey away from "norm" with simple steps on getting started on life without GMO or additives, and a low pressure reassurance that no one is perfect...all you can do is aim for improvement.
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on May 12, 2009
As a research scientist with a doctorate in the health care field, I will admit that I read this book with skepticism. Robyn O'Brien has no scientific training, and I didn't understand what made her qualified to write such a book as this one - a book that, in order to be plausible for its claims, essentially required an in-depth critical review of the current research on food allergies. After reading the book, I was glad to see that she recognized her limitations as a scientist and that she collaborated with some experts in the field - although not to the level that I would have liked to see. She writes in a very non-scientific way, which probably appeals to more audiences, but there is a lot of repetition of her thought processes, events, and even some facts. Having said that, I believe that her background in business was extremely beneficial to the plausibility of this book, particularly as she uncovered the links between big business and the food industry. While I am still skeptical that she was really able to critically examine the medical articles that she uses to back up her arguments, I do believe that she makes some very interesting - if not extremely obvious - linkages between the manufacturing and processing of food in the US and the current chronic medical epidemics (such as autism, food allergies, obesity, ADHD, asthma etc..) that can not be ignored.

At the very least, this book is a call for action from researchers to recognize that there is a tremendous need for more rigorous studies examining the effects of the chemicals used in the manufacturing, processing and, well, growing of the foods that we eat and the foods that we feed our children. This book shows that there is indeed enough evidence to support further examination of the relationships between the more recent changes in our food and the many medical epidemics we are now facing as a country - particularly food allergies.

And even if all of her arguments and claims of these relationships turn out to be false, her message is still useful. Continuing to eat foods filled with additives, preservatives and pre-modifications that have controversial evidence (if any evidence) for their health effects - AND that are generally banned or excessively labeled in other countries - just seems ignorant. It wouldn't hurt for any of us to educate ourselves on what we are eating and to improve our diets with more natural, less manufactured products. I would definitely recommend this book.
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on August 3, 2014
Confused by Robyn's conclusions. The book is easy to read and has good information. Robyn explains allergic reactions, how companies and government are connected, the flow of money, the unknowns surrounding gmos. It is a good book for an introduction on these subjects, however her food recommendations are flawed. Robyn'd reactions to learning all this information confuses me. Robyn seems unusually attached to Kraft Mac and Cheese and Goldfish. If all her statements about Kraft are true, why is she still supporting the company? The solution she offers to all the concerns about gmos is to switch from colored goldfish to non colored goldfish, then to pretzel goldfish. How about eating organic bunnies instead or making your own crackers? Unless it is organic, it has gmos. That message was not clearly stated on page 233, where she starts to list her good choices. Something appears off where the recommendations are 7up, Kraft Macaroni &Cheese white cheddar and Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix. With the severity of her children's food allergies and all the information from the 1st part of the book, why is Robyn not going 100% gmo free? Why is the 80-20 acceptable? The book made me question her credibility and her motives.
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on April 10, 2013
I'm very interested in this topic and have read several books about the US food industry, big pharma, big food, etc so I bought this book for Kindle with high hopes for a new perspective. The author presents little new information, though I can appreciate the marketing to parents - mothers of small children may pick this book up as opposed to others based on the cover and tagline. That said, the author is pretty annoying. She mentions her MBA at every opportunity and repeats a few key ideas throughout the book. It seemed she was more interested in using the book to toot her own horn than presenting as many facts as possible. If you are a mother that is feeding your young child one of the five foods she mentions 100 times (milk, blue yogurt, goldfish crackers, Kraft mac 'n cheese, diet pop) you may benefit from reading this from cover to cover. If not, pick up a book by an actual scientist or researcher with clear action items aimed at an average citizen.
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on July 19, 2009
The first 7 chapters are pretty good. She spends them giving the information she found during research about GMO and manufactured foods. She gives a lot of information about GMO products and a lot of information about how our government is involved in this scam. Although her "mamma bear" references kind of make me sick after a while, we get it your a mom who cares about your kids. I find her meal plan severely lacking in the healthy whole natural foods that are healthiest for us.

The last chapter is a HUGE let-down when she goes through her "meal-plan" that she recommends for getting your family on the healthier eating road. It's just like her pre-enlightenment meals only she switches conventional processed food for organic processed food. I'm sure organic processed food contains fewer chemicals than conventional, but this doesn't really get to the root of our screwed up country-wide eating disorder. We no longer eat "REAL" food. None of our food looks like it does in it's original form and most of it is processed, comes in a box and is shipped for thousands of miles. Are organic processed packaged granola bars really a healthier option than an apple from a local farm?

She seems to have bought into the marketing hook-line-sinker that mom's just don't have time to make healthy "real" food for their kids and that making "real" food takes so much time and that your kids won't eat "real" foods. When did chicken nuggets, mac & cheese and french fries become kids food anyways? There is no such thing as "kid" food, we all eat food, it's for nourishment and enjoyment and it's not age specific. If your kids are hungry they'll eat the food you give them (barring one or two dislikes, but they should learn to eat those as well - I always had to and it didn't kill me). Perhaps all the snacks we are feeding kids in between meals are what's making our kids the picky eaters that we think kids are. Did our grandparents have the option to not eat what they were served for dinner because they didn't like it? Did their mom make them something special because they didn't like the zucchini they picked from the garden that day?

I completely disagree with her statements that eating organically and healthfully are more expensive than eating conventional boxed crap. Buying a bag of organic apples is a better investment nutritionally than buying a bag of chips. And I can guarantee that they'll last longer and you'll get more servings out of it. A better cheaper option is buying locally produced fruit and veggies in season. A .50 zucchini from the farmers market that will serve 5 really is so much cheaper than that bag of organic baby carrots you buy each week at the grocery store.

On page 234, when she introduces the list of things to choose instead of overly colored chemical laden food, I was appalled at her recommendations. Here are a few examples:

Instead of: Fat-Free Miracle Whip choose Original Miracle Whip? What - why not choose real whipped cream, 1 ingredient - cream.

Instead of:Hawaiian Punch choose Minute Maid Fruit Punch? how about water, or iced tea, or real fruit juice, or a piece of fruit.

I do love that she mentions getting your kids involved in the process of healthier eating, which is very important. Here's an idea: instead of buying all the expensive organic processed food at the grocery why not load up your kids and head to the farmers market. Let me each pick out one new veggie they want to try each week and get them involved in choosing their own healthy food. Not only is this local food much healthier because it's fresh and local, but it's much cheaper than grocery store food. You could also try growing a few veggies in pots on your front/back porch. It's amazing how willing kids are to try something new if they're nurtured it from a seedling.
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on May 10, 2009
This remarkable book by Robyn O'Brien with Rachel Kranz is an excellent read.

The Unhealthy Truth tells the absorbing story of Robyn and her family's experience with allergies. But it is more than that. There has been a disturbing jump in allergy statistics, which led Robyn, using her research background, to become an "allergy detective." This book reveals what she found out about changes in our foods that appear to have a connection with the rise in allergies.

Comments of praise by national personalities convinced me to buy this book. They include popular physician Dr. Mehmet Oz, Erin Brockovich, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Nell Newman. For added credibility, the foreword was written by Kenneth A. Bock, MD, who has impeccable credentials and is author of Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies.

The Unhealthy Truth has an eye-opening section on GE foods. Few of us (about 25%) know that we may consume GE foods often. Our processed foods and soft drinks, for example, may contain ingredients from GE corn and soy and other GE crops. GE Bt corn, for example, is regulated as a pesticide and not as a food. While many factors are involved in allergies, this book contains a thought-provoking discussion of the possible links between GE foods and food allergies.

This book's explanation for the layperson of the genetic engineering process is the most understandable, interesting one of the many I have seen.

President Obama has indicated interest in labeling for foods with GE ingredients, and the U.S. Congress may consider GE food labeling. It would be well if we consumers are informed for this possibility. We can gain much useful information from this book.

The Unhealthy Truth is an important book that promises to make a valuable difference for us and our families.
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on May 8, 2009
Everyone who is concerned about the quality of the food they eat -- and feed to their loved ones -- ought to own this book. With painstaking detail Robyn O'Brien deconstructs and demystifies the ways in which American food-related corporations are lining their pockets with savings based on nutritional shortcuts. Unfortunately, these shortcuts have a verifiable connection to increased allergies, escalating incidents of asthma, and, possibly, autism. The really scary thing is the absence of challenges from institutions that are supposed to protect us (the FDA, CDC and EPA, for example) but aren't. Ingredient label details required in other countries are not required stateside. This book is a wake-up call to Americans who care about what goes into their bodies. And while "Unhealthy Truth" espouses adherence to organic and natural foods, O'Brien is realistic enough to know many people can't afford these foods. The obvious solution, she notes, is to make ALL food safe to eat. This is a must-read for those who want to understand why a lot of our food is bad for us. It contains valuable information told in a non-hysterical, rational way.
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on May 17, 2011
The Genetically Engineered crops in the USA are: Corn, Soy, Cotton, Canola, Sugar Beets, Crook Neck Squash, and Zucchini. GE Alfalfa is on the way to animals near you. Check the websites Robyn lists for the most current information.

Unfortunately I found this book after I'd already done the same research with most of the same sources myself. That said, I am very grateful to Robyn for putting her journey together in such a great package and listing all the sources and sites in the back of the book. As I've come out of my GMO induced stupor, I've looked back at my own notes and they are too jumbled to decipher.

It has been a year now since I learned about this issue from reading Jeffrey M. Smiths books on the same subject and many others by various other authors. The health of my family has improved tremendously. I've dropped 35 pounds without even changing anything else in our lives, my husband lost 15 and my kids lost 5 pounds each. My husband and I feel 10 years younger.

I challenge anyone who doesn't believe this is an issue to go off GMO laced foods (pretty much anything processed that doesn't say ORGANIC on it) for one month and then you just see how you feel. The longer I stay off the GMO stuff the better I feel. They are making it harder and harder because more and more things are getting past the FDA and the USDA and put on the market without any fan fare. We are the test cases. Well, not me and mine anymore. We have opted out. Read up on this and then you decide. Do you want to be part of this massive experiment or not?
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