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Monday, April 21, 2014

book - The Unhealthy Truth

The Unhealthy Truth - How our food is making us sick and what we can do about it 
by Robyn O'Brien (2009)

This was an amazing book! Amazing. Like I could not put it down type of amazing. I already feel like I need to read it again, it was so full of valuable information. 

Written by a mother just like us, of four children, O'Brien started researching the food she was feeding her kids after one of her children developed an allergic reaction to food. (Later she learned all four of her kids have food allergies) She used to feed her kids fast food, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and other convenient yet not totally healthy foods. Through her experience with a child with a food allergy, she had many questions she wanted answered. She talked to many people, started her own company helping other parents in her shoes, and researched for months. Her information was shocking and so important to all of us with children. 

I HIGHLY encourage you to read this book. We all need to learn more about what we are putting into our own and our children's bodies. 

The best part about this book to me was how normal this author seems as she wrote it. She is a regular mother. Not some fancy, high-powered, too smart of our own good type of author. She knows what it's like to need to feed kids fast, and how when you attend birthday parties on weekends you aren't going to sit on the sidelines and not allow your child a cupcake despite knowing it's not great for her. 

She writes this book for you, the average, regular, normal mother who is just trying to do better by way of feeding your child. She wrote it to encourage you to make one small change in your child's diet and then go from there. It's not pushy or judgmental. I honestly am in awe of how simply truthful yet impactful this book is. 

  • "The more I learned, the more overwhelming the problem came to seem," O'Brien wrote on page 2. She was shocked herself at how interested she'd become in her kids' dietary ailments. 
  • At the time, she found that 1 in 17 children under the age of 3 suffers from food allergies (page 2). This number was increasing at about edible what it was years ago. 
  • Milk, wheat and eggs are three of the top eight major food allergens (page 9).
  • Asthma impacts at least 1 in 4 Americans (page 21)
Common Symptoms of Food Allergies (Immediate Reactions) (page 20)
  • rash or hives
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea
  • itchy skin
  • eczema
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • swelling of the airways
  • anaphylaxis
Common Symptoms of Food Sensitivity (Delayed Reactions)
  • fatigue
  • gastrointestinal problems, bloating and gas
  • itchy skin and eczema
  • brain fog
  • muscle or joint aches
  • headache
  • sleeplessness and sleep disorders
  • chronic rhinitis (runny nose), congestion and postnasal drip
The author encourages parents to assess the typical symptoms they see from their kids that usually lead them to seeing the doctor, and determine if it could be a food allergy that is the culprit.  She found that chronic ear infections can be caused by food allergies.

Paying attention to skin rashes and bowel movements can help parents identify if there is a food issue going on. 

O'Brien wrote a lot about how milk is infused with growth hormones that the cows ingest. It's not safe and causes a wide variety of issues for our bodies, primarily children's bodies. She struggled herself with paying extra for organic milk at the time. She thought maybe of only buying the one year old the organic milk... but then thought, why would I knowingly give my older kids' non-organic, non-safe milk? So their family cut out other things to consistently purchase the more expensive but better for you milk.

Recently my husband and I double checked and found that all the milk around us that we typically purchase at the store is already without hormones, thankfully. This is one important thing to assess though. 

O'Brien found many hidden agendas and truths not outwardly told to the public in the midst of her research. Big companies connected to the suppliers of food, for instance. The several chapters dedicated to the research she did is astounding. 

The author wrote a lot about how soy was told to the public to be safe, healthy even. She ate it a lot while pregnant with her children, thinking it was the best thing to provide her body and babies while pregnant. She learned that soy is genetically engineered and not healthy really, especially for women. It has hormones that do not do well with our bodies. (page 72)

Soy and peanuts share the same base protein, which means many kids who are allergic to peanuts are also allergic to soy. It's not 100% of the time, but in many cases. A British study found babies given soy formula as infants were about 3 times more likely to have a peanut allergy later on (page 84).

"According to the Breast Cancer Fund, one in eight women now has breast cancer. But only 10 percent of those cases can be linked to genetics. In other words, 90 percent of breast cancers being diagnosed today are being triggered by factors in our environment." (page 102). 

Wow. That is scary.

Genetically Modified foods
This was a crazy part that I rarely thought of before... how our foods and corn and other items are genetically engineered... not natural, normal, not like our grandparents used to eat. We have no idea what that food is doing to our bodies long-term. 

Corn is highly genetically engineered and used with chemicals to grow it. Corn is also in EVERYTHING we eat... cereals, peanut butter, snack foods, and other things like aspirin, toothpaste, deodorant, cosmetics, etc. (page 119). 

The author explained how she gave her kids Goldfish crackers instead of potato chips thinking they were safer.. but then wondered if they have GM corn and soy in them. She gave them tortilla chips instead of Doritos wondering if they were safest, then realized the chips have corn in them... It was a confusing time, trying to figure out how to best feed her kids. 


80-20 Rule
The author is so realistic (I love it!) and down to earth. She knows perfection is almost impossible, especially as a busy mom of several children. She decided to start slowly, make small changes, one at a time, doing it slowly also so the kids could get on board instead of being angry at the changes. She decided on the 80-20 rule, she'd feed her kids 80% healthy items, and 20% would be leftover for treats, birthdays, one day a week of school lunches, etc. 

In the 80% it's the goal to be MSG, additives, preservatives, artificial color and aspartame- FREE. 

"I had to accept that though I couldn't do everything, I could certainly do something... So I accepted that I had to start somewhere and move slowly." (page 145)

O'Brien wrote that she's doing all she can to make the world - and food - better for her four kids. 

"Simply put, I now believe that we are responsible for our health and the health of our children. Not the president, not Congress, not the Monsanto Corporation, not the FDA. We are, mothers and fathers, citizens and consumers, all of us who are capable of learning what the problem is and doing something about it - we're responsible to do it." (page 215)

Do it your way
She encourages you to try various methods to change your children's food habits, she offers great suggestions in the second half of the book. Yet she says you have to do what works for you. Again, LOVE that! It's so real. She knows there is not steadfast way or one method that will work for everyone. She just hopes every parent decides to change even just one thing for the better. 

She wrote that it can be difficult when others are naysayers and don't agree with how you change your child's diet, but she said to keep on trekking along, because it's what's right for your kids. 

"Take a deep breath and remember that food is an intimate thing. You know you're not doing this to make a point, or to put anyone down, or even to convince anyone else of the rightness of your actions. You're only trying to protect your health and the health of your loved ones. Keep reminding yourself of that central fact, and that will help make all the changes seem worthwhile. You just want chemical-free kids, like the moms in Europe have." (page 230) 

Tips to be healthier:
On page 233, she offers a GREAT list of things you can supplement other items for. For example, if you can't give up Kraft mac n' cheese entirely, switch to the white powder macaroni instead of the orange (to avoid the color dye). Instead of fat free or low fat items (that have added preservatives for taste) use the regular of the same item, it's actually healthier. 

She encourages buying fresh baked bakery breads instead of loafs on the shelf that are full of preservatives. 

Another simple thing to try is cutting the colors. 
We tried this months ago with our son, we still do it, of course allowing some freedom at parties, but overall at our home we don't give him any dyed foods. It's hard! Colors are in EVERYTHING. We found it in his granola bars, yogurt and peanut butter crackers he'd been eating for years. Who would think those are unhealthy items? You really have to look at everything. 

Avoiding artificial foods is key, too. The fewer ingredients in something, the better. If you can't pronounce what you're eating, don't eat it, she said. 

Frozen fruit versus packaged store preservative fruit is better. Make smoothies! 

Overall, no, we can't be perfect parents or know everything about every tiny morsel that goes into our kids' mouths. But O'Brien's book makes you want to try your hardest to avoid certain things that we know aren't great, to make even small improvements. 

I greatly admire this author for being SO courageous to print the research she uncovered about big companies and name brands. I am in awe of her passion to share these truths with all parents, just like you, around the country. I definitely think she has great information to share and will help any parents looking to improve their child's health or symptoms, and get more information about food allergies, too.


Follow Robyn O'Brien on Facebook at:

For more information about kids' allergies, check out O'Brien's Web site:

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