Is the food on our plates making us sick?
Yes, argues a new book released this week. Part memoir, part would-be expose, "The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick – and What We Can Do About It" reveals author Robyn O'Brien's journey from regular old mom to "allergy detective" and children's health crusader.
After her youngest child suffered a severe reaction to eggs, the mother of four and MBA launched a campaign to uncover what she believes are "hidden toxins" in our food supply.
Based on her research and consultation with pediatricians and allergists, O'Brien concludes that these toxins "can be blamed for the alarming recent increases in allergies, ADHD, cancer, and asthma in our children."
"Since when did a PB&J and a carton of milk become such a loaded weapon on a lunchroom table?" she remarked to ABCNews.com.
But despite back-of-the-book endorsements from such luminaries as Oprah contributor Dr. Mehmet Oz, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and well-known activist Erin Brokovich, some health experts caution that the book seems to rely on studies that are not entirely credible and lets philosophy trump hard science.
One thing is sure, however. Kids' allergies are on the rise.
Between 1997 and 2007, the number of young people with a food allergy increased 18 percent, according to an October 2008 U.S. Centers for Disease Control report.
In 2007, about 3 million U.S. children and teenagers were reported to have a food allergy in the previous 12 months. In 1997, that figure was just over 2.3 million.
Allergists are split over the reasons why this number appears to have soared. Some say it's because awareness is up, others suggest it's because we live in a more antiseptic environment that leaves us more susceptible to allergic reactions.
But O'Brien is convinced our genetically engineered and chemically enhanced food supply is to blame. And, she maintains that the allergy epidemic is just the "tip of the iceberg." Asthma, autism, cancers and behavioral problems can all trace their roots back to the food we eat, she says.
Among the foods O'Brien suggests we avoid:
* Diet colas and sodas that contain aspartame.
* Bright orange macaroni and cheese mixes with artificial coloring.
* Low-fat ice cream because the additives in it are worse than the ingredients in full-fat ice cream.
* Milk and dairy products that contain rBGH (look for products with labels that say they are free of this).
* Strawberry ice cream and blue yogurt that contain artificial dyes.
* Flavored oatmeal packets with artificial flavor.
* Fruit juices with high-fructose corn syrup and/or coloring.
"The most important thing is to step back and realize that a lot of these ingredients have been added to the U.S. food supply in the last 10, 15 years [but] not in foods around the world," she said. "Why have developed countries around the world, removed, banned or labeled these ingredients? Because they've never been proven safe. We have different standards in the U.S."