The Unhealthy Truth

In a Nutshell

Alarmist books about our food supply are the non-fiction equivalent of young adult novels with vampires--a dime a dozen lately. I'm as freaked out as the next thoughtful eater by debeaked chickens and mysterious chemical compounds in our food supply, but there's only so much to say about it.

It being About That Time again, however, I picked up Robyn O'Brien's THE UNHEALTHY TRUTH: HOW OUR FOOD IS MAKING US SICK--AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT. Some of the ground O'Brien covers will be review for readers of Michael Pollan or Nina Planck, but because of her four food-allergic children, she has her own unique spin on things.

O'Brien details the remarkable rise in childhood ailments, including autism, allergies, asthma, ADHD(!), cancers, and obesity, and finds connections to changes in our food supply. These changes include:

  1. A decrease in micronutrients as Americans switch from real to processed food.
  2. Excessive exposure to antibiotics
  3. Possible allergic reactions to genetically-modified organisms, especially soy and corn. A possible connection between soy exposure/allergy and peanut allergies!
  4. Isoflavones in soy that boost estrogen levels
  5. Growth hormones in dairy products (including one of my favorite ice cream brands, Breyer's)
  6. The use of artificial colors and preservatives
  7. The use of artificial sweeteners

I was particularly interested in the discussion of soy and other genetically-modified crops. In most cases the crops have been genetically modified to survive being sprayed with pesticides marketed by Monsanto (which conveniently also markets the GM seeds). O'Brien believes the genetic scrambling that takes place might be causing the jump in allergies, since soy might trigger other allergies and is found in just about every processed food.

Takeaways on genetically-modified food:

  1. 92% of U.S.-grown soy is GM, as is 80% of the corn.
  2. Top 10 GM crops in the U.S. are: corn, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, rice, flax, squash/zucchini, papaya, and radicchio.

Takeaway on the takeaways: the food world is going to hell in a handbasket, and our farmers market can't open soon enough. I'll have new questions for the farmers as well--are they buying seeds from Monsanto (which O'Brien probably mis-typed as Monsatan-o as she worked on her book)?

After reading I considered going on a frantic pantry purge, but O'Brien ends on a realistic note. Processed foods are almost impossible to avoid, especially since kids will eat what they want to eat and what is offered, so shoot for an 80/20 ratio of  80% real, healthy food to 20% death-by-a-thousand-soy-derivatives.

Works for me.