Book Review: “The Unhealthy Truth” by Robyn O’Brien

Immediately I offer the disclaimer that I haven’t finished Robyn’s book but I have been ingesting what she has to say as I’m three-fourths through it and can hardly read quickly enough to keep up with my eagerness to know more from her research in this work.

“The Unhealthy Truth” was not a book readily available at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore, I had it ordered and sent to my mailing address.  I encountered this book title in one of the women’s magazines I love (my personal trifecta: Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Ladies Home Journal).  The short paragraph review indicated that by journeying through her children’s allergies and food sensitivities, she uncovered more information leading to her conclusion that our food industry in America should be scrutinized more closely.

On the front cover of her book below the title reads: “How Our Food Is Making Us Sick- and What We Can Do About It.”  Cue that along with the photo image of a brown grocery bag with the skull and crossbones poison symbol that is full of specific basics being corn, milk, peanut butter, soybeans, eggs and bread–you have the simple introduction of what this book will dissect.

This is a must-read for parents that are concerned about what your family eats, that find yourselves getting stuck in a supermarket aisle because you are trying to read/comprehend the nutrition and ingredients label and so forth. My personally professed paranoia is axis of evil foods: genetically modified corn, soy and wheat.

She chronicles how she became more aware of allergies and food sensitivities after her baby daughter was diagnosed allergic to eggs, later she would also deal with a dairy issue with her son (in all she has four children, she names the children with the particular allergy/food sensitivities in the book).

The part I’m currently enthralled with although I admit is a bit dizzying reading for late at night is the chapter that begins on page 146 entitled: “True Colors”.  I have been pouring over this chapter, re-reading portions that refer to a 2007 study that came out of U.K.’s University of Southampton with findings related to the effects on children who ate food with artificial colors and preservatives. The results of the double-blind study (‘neither the subjects nor the researchers know who gets the real stuff and who gets the placebo’) were that those children that got the food coloring and sodium benzoate in their systems had specific behavioral changes like having trouble with attention span, more hyperactive and less calculated/more impulsive.

The chapter goes on to list other studies in Europe and Australia, particularly noting a food coloring that many of us American parents encounter every week: FD&C Yellow 5 or E102, also known as tartrazine.  Basically the stuff that helps your quick Mac-n-Cheese look like a nuclear orange party on macaroni.  Again, this is not easy reading through all these excerpts of various studies, however, it is most riveting and informative (and boiled-down, this Yellow 5 is NOT good for our kids, or us for that matter)…and downright humbling to our American food companies as other companies like Norway and the United Kingdom have dealt swiftly and thoroughly with questionable, unnecessary ingredients like Yellow 5/tartrazine.  For example, the following is the quote from Kraft Foods U.K. as relayed in O’Brien’s book:

  •           “Kraft Foods UK has no products aimed at children that contain the ingredients highlighted in the FSA [Southampton ] study…[W]ith our recent Dairylea Lunchables reformulation in the UK, we reduced fat and salt, as well as removed artificial colours and flavours. Without compromising quality, taste and food safety, we will continue to see where we can make changes and still meet consumer expectations.”

Without reading any further, ask yourself now if Kraft Foods in the UK made these changes to their food distribution, including removing the nuclear coloring that in some children has found to increase irritability, hyperactivity and insomnia…why wouldn’t the American division of Kraft Foods follow suit for their products that many if not most American families rely on? Your exasperation is magnified as O’Brien relays everything she learned so far.

The overall hilarious irony in this book is that O’Brien likens herself to the conservative/GOP soccer mom mold and yet through this personal journey and research has come to find that the gross ties that lie between government entities and food/pharmaceutical companies in often non-partisan.

If you get this book and find it a little paranoid in her information sharing or chunky with regurgitated research studies I do believe that it is worth the money for at least two parts of the book:

  1. Chapter 8: “This Is A Carrot” on page 225 helps walk you through how to begin reducing the amount of junk additives in your family’s menu, something I believe we can all agree is a good idea.
  2. Appendix: Organic 101 on page 271 breaks down what the difference is between “Organic” and “All Natural”, once again helping educate us in an area important to our family’s nutrition or giving us more confidence on what decisions we make.

I do recommend this book to everyone, even if you’re not a parent because food is still food and we all eat it and should know more about what we are taking into our bodies if we don’t grow and hunt our own stuff.