For this book review I read Unjunk Your Junk Food: Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks by Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer, creators of Naturally Savvy, with Lisa Tsakos. The paperback version was published by Gallery Books, copyright 2011. I purchased Unjunk Your Junk Food from Amazon.
When I purchased this book I thought it was going to contain recipes for healthier versions of snacks. I guess I did not read the description carefully enough. Rather than being a recipe book, it is a shopping guide.
Unjunk Your Junk Food is not about health food per se, but it is about choosing healthier natural options when you choose to indulge in a moderate amount of junk food. It covers:
- Healthy choices for the snacks you crave
- Savvy alternatives to conventional brands
- Tips for reading food labels and recognizing false claims
- Nutritious ingredients to look for and dangerous additives to avoid
- A tear-out Worst Ingredients chart, and more
Once I realized that Unjunk Your Junk Food was in the format of “choose this brand of snack instead of that brand” I was a bit disappointed. I am already a label reader, so I thought that I did not have much to learn. But it turned out I was wrong, I actually learned quite a bit from this book!
CH. 1: The first chapter contained useful definitions of some of the terms used on food labels. For instance, I did not know that “enriched” refers to a food which “has had certain nutrients removed, then re-added.”
CH. 2: The second chapter contained a brief refresher on basic nutrition.
CH. 3: Chapter 3 covers the worst ingredients, which should be avoided, and some other not-so-great ingredients you might choose to skip. Some of the ingredients to avoid were ones of which I am already aware, but others were new to me.
I already tend to avoid artificial flavors and sweeteners, when I take the time to read the labels. Surprisingly, there are artificial flavors in some of the brands I regularly buy, but since I have been buying them for so long I had not bothered to check.
I have never liked the taste of the artificial sweetener Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), which is used in many diet sodas, and I am glad that I have been avoiding it! Aspartame can affect the nervous system and before it leaves your body it is converted into carcinogenic formaldehyde.
I became aware that I am sensitive to some artificial flavors when I bought a roll of Pillsbury ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls. As they started to bake the house filled with a headache-inducing aroma. I checked the package and saw that they were made with artificial cinnamon flavor. Back to only making my own, much more delicious, cinnamon rolls!
I had never heard of Polysorbate 80 before, and what I learned made me a bit enraged:
This additive is commonly used as an emulsifier in foods such as ice cream. It’s been shown to affect the immune system and has caused severe anaphylactic shock, a potentially fatal allergic reaction. Numerous animal studies have also linked polysorbate 80 to infertility.
After reading this I marched over to the freezer to check the ingredients list on the Safeway Select Mocha Almond Fudge Light Ice Cream that I had been satisfying my sweet tooth with lately. Yikes! There it was on the list, polysorbate 80. Why would they include an ingredient in ice cream that affects the immune system, could cause a deadly allergic reaction, and is linked to infertility?!?
CH 4-11: Chapters four through eleven are the heart of the book, where a main stream brand of a particular type of junk food is compared with a natural and healthier alternative. I liked the intro at the beginning of each section, and the interesting facts at the top of each page made it worth reading each page. I also found that the information about dangerous ingredients soaked in more when it was in the context of a particular food.
One thing I did not like about the book is that many of the Naturally Savvy approved healthier snacks contain palm oil. I try to avoid purchasing food and beauty products containing palm oil for environmental reasons. Many of the rainforests in South East Asia are completely destroyed and replaced with palm oil plantations. This destruction of habitat is pushing many species toward extinction. The book mentions this problem on page 76 and says to “contact the company or check out its website to find out if the oil is obtained from environmentally responsible harvesters.”
Rating (4 / 5)
Unjunk Your Junk Food was an easy read and a great way to learn about artificial food additives and ingredients to avoid. The book is a bit bulkier than I would like to carry around, but the lists of Worst Ingredients and other ingredients of which to be aware are meant to be torn out of the book, and would be easy to stick in a purse.
I tend to only read the label at the store for new products that I have not purchased before. Now when I’m sitting at my kitchen table scouring the ingredients list I can look in the helpful glossary of Unjunk Your Junk Food and see what the ingredient are made from and whether they pose health concerns.
Since I actually do not buy all that much junk food at the store, this book inspired me to try making more of my own treats. I would rather freeze my own chocolate or fruit pops than settle for a natural brand that still contains a bunch of sugar (fruit juice concentrate).
Overall, I give Unjunk Your Junk Food 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to just about anyone. Even if you know a lot about nutrition, it has some good reminders and you may not be aware of all the food additives that are hiding in processed foods. If you don’t know the first thing about reading an ingredients list on a food label, then I definitely recommend reading this book. I took away one star because as product offerings and ingredients change, many of the specific products listed will go out of date. It earns four stars because reading this book and making a few changes to the foods you eat could save your life!
I plan to pass my copy on to family members who are interested in making healthier choices at the grocery store.
Where to Buy Unjunk Your Junk Food
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Unjunk Your Junk Food: Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks is available on Amazon, but be sure to compare prices under “more buying choices”.
Do you know which ingredients make up your favorite junk food? Are there artificial food ingredients that you try to avoid?