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The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick - And What We Can Do About It Hardcover – May 5, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews

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Book Description
Robyn O’Brien is not the most likely candidate for an antiestablishment crusade. A Houston native from a conservative family, this MBA and married mother of four was not someone who gave much thought to misguided government agencies and chemicals in our food--until the day her youngest daughter had a violent allergic reaction to eggs, and everything changed. The Unhealthy Truth is both the story of how one brave woman chose to take on the system and a call to action that shows how each of us can do our part and keep our own families safe.

O’Brien turns to accredited research conducted in Europe that confirms the toxicity of America’s food supply, and traces the relationship between Big Food and Big Money that has ensured that the United States is one of the only developed countries in the world to allow hidden toxins in our food--toxins that can be blamed for the alarming recent increases in allergies, ADHD, cancer, and asthma among our children. Featuring recipes and an action plan for weaning your family off dangerous chemicals one step at a time, The Unhealthy Truth is a must-read for every parent--and for every concerned citizen--in America today.

A Q&A with Robyn O’Brien

Question: What inspired you to write The Unhealthy Truth? Have you worked in nutrition or science over the years?

Robyn O'Brien: My background is motherhood and finance (I helped manage $20 billion in assets prior to having four children). When I realized that the United States recently allowed certain chemicals into the US food supply in order to enhance corporate profitability while countries around the world either banned or labeled these ingredients, I felt an obligation to convey to American eaters what eaters around the world have known for the last 15 years.

Question: Scientists claim that these ingredients have never been proven harmful. What is your response?

Robyn O'Brien: That these ingredients have never been proven safe, either, which is why governments around the world have not allowed them into their food supply. Health data presents a different picture than the one being claimed by industry funded scientists: for example, according to the American Cancer Society, the United States has the highest rates of cancer of any country in the world and migration studies show that if you move here from another country, your likelihood of developing cancer increases fourfold. Additionally, it is important to note who is funding the scientists making these claims and whether they serve on speakers bureaus for industry.

Question: Why is the U.S. the only developed country to have allowed these substances into our food supply?

Robyn O'Brien: In the United States, we allow ingredients into our food supply until they are proven dangerous. In other developed countries, substances are not allowed into the food supply until they are proven safe--a precautionary measure that puts additional burdens on corporations in the form of testing requirements and extensive research and development. This precautionary principal protects consumers, not profits.

Question: Why would the U.S. do this?

Robyn O'Brien: I think that the answer is two-fold. Looser standards and deregulation allow for enhanced corporate profitability. On top of that, I believe that we have a flawed federal policy when it comes to health care: under our commercial health care system, there is profitability in our illness. In the U.S., almost half of all Americans have at least one chronic disease. If other developed countries had populations as sick as ours, their economies would suffer given that health care is not a for-profit industry overseas.

Question: If you could speak to our government leaders about this issue, what would you say?

Robyn O'Brien: I would grab Michelle Obama and make sure that she joined us! And then I would talk about budget allocation: If we allocate $600 billion to the Pentagon and only $2.4 billion to the FDA, how can we expect the FDA to ensure the safety of the food supply?

If we allocate government and taxpayer funded subsidies to farmers growing crops laced with chemicals and then charge organic farmers fees to prove that their crops are safe and then fees to label them, how could organic food ever be affordable to everyone?

Safe food is a social justice issue. We are a nation of 300 million eaters, and I think we deserve to have the same food standards that other developed countries have.

Question: Until there is change on a national level, what can we do as individuals?

Robyn O'Brien: Take baby steps. It’s important to remember not to make "the perfect" the enemy of "the good." We live in a real world, where kids go to Chuck E. Cheese for birthday parties and get blue cupcakes. Do what you can, when you can.

Target the 80/20 rule, as I highlight in the book: do as much as you can to try to reduce your families’ exposure to these substances 80 percent of the time, then give yourself a ‘free pass’ for the other 20. Instead of blue yogurt, opt for white yogurt and add sprinkles. Instead of using the full packet of fluorescent orange powder on your kids’ mac n’ cheese, use half of the packet. Chances are that these baby steps are going to feel so good that you will want to do more. There is a lot that we can do to protect the health of our families, we just have to get savvy about it!

(Photo © Brooks Freehill)

About the Author

Robyn O’Brien is the founder of AllergyKids. She has been featured in the New York Times and has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, and the CBS Early Show and Evening News. She lives with her family in Boulder, Colorado.

Rachel Kranz is a novelist, nonfiction writer, and playwright who lives in New York City. Her most recent novel is Leaps of Faith (2000). 


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; First Edition edition (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767930711
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767930710
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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