Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Food Babe's Message is Broken, Corrupt, and Lacks Evidence


Stephan Neidenbach - welovegv@gmail.com

By now we have all read the Science Babe’s take down of the Food Babe, and the Food Babe’s response. There are enough responses out there from Cosmopolitan to Orac that I really don’t have much more to add. I have had many conversations with Yvette online over the past six months or so, and am extremely proud of what she has accomplished. I am honored that someone with her credentials occasionally asks me about something. Science bloggers and even some in the mainstream press have written about the poor science of Vani Hari for a couple of years now. This one seems to be having a much larger impact. It looks like Vani is losing some of the support she had.

I was planning on staying out of this one. The article hit while I was teaching my daughter about the smallpox vaccination while on a trip to Valley Forge, and I was not spending much time on the internet. (I also discovered that the Sony Xperia Z3 is not quite as waterproof as the ads of people snorkeling with it made it appear. Kudos to Amazon for the full refund, but I am taking my time picking out a replacement.) Then I saw a sentence in Vani’s response that really got on my nerves.

“I want a safer and healthier food system, and some people want to keep the food system just like it is today – broken, corrupt and full of unregulated food additives and chemicals that only improve the bottom line of food and biotech companies and not our health. “

Food is more regulated than it ever has been in human history. Food is also safer than it ever has been in human history. I am not sure what she thinks food additives and “chemicals” are doing to us. Life expectancy continues to go up. (Can one of my readers who is  better at math do a correlation graph comparing fast food restaurant openings and life expectancy?) Consumers have more information at their fingertips than ever before about the food they are eating. The nutritional information available is unheard of.

The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are eight steps one can take to prevent heart disease:

  1. Portion control
  2. Eating more fruits and vegetables
  3. Whole grains
  4. Avoiding unhealthy fats
  5. Low-fat sources of protein
  6. Sodium reduction
  7. Planning meals ahead of time
  8. Allowing yourself an occasional treat.

Sorry Vani, avoiding GMOs and pesticides just did not make the cut. Vani’s recent attack on Weight Watchers (one of the most effective weight control systems out there) negates number one. I guess she just can't stand something that is both healthy and affordable. Eating an all organic diet makes number two more expensive, threatening those who cannot afford it. She tells people to avoid store bought whole wheat bread at all costs, again telling people to buy much more expensive options. Avoiding food like butter is a great way of avoiding unhealthy fats, but not in her mind. She just wants to make sure we are all buying organic butter, actually stating that regular organic butter is more nutritious than Smart Butter (which oddly enough went non-GMO verified shortly after her article). Low-fat proteins? Her idea isn’t about avoiding high-fat proteins, it is about buying organic over conventional. She doesn’t have any articles about avoiding salt, but Himalayan Pink Salt is on her list of pantry items. Planning meals ahead she does have you covered for, just buy her monthly planning guide. (Having her own diet plan kind of explains the hatred for Weight Watchers.) Allowing yourself an occasional treat, as part of keeping a reasonable lifestyle, is the complete opposite of juice fasting. Anyone that recommends drinking nothing but juice for several days a week loses the right to call for healthier eating.

Maybe she is more worried about the second leading cause of death in the United States, cancer. Once again she ignores science and preaches her bullshit. Instead of encouraging readers to give up smoking, the cause of the leading cause of cancer death and the second most common cancer, she screams about far less worrisome chemicals in our food. She would rather you fear the chemicals in sunscreen than the sun that can give you skin cancer. Obesity increases the risk of several types of cancer, and as mentioned before, her attack on Weight Watchers is focused on ingredients regardless of its effectiveness at preventing cancer. There are even two vaccines (hepatitis B and HPV) that can prevent some cancers, but she is terrified of the flu vaccine for containing many of the ingredients that those two contain.

People like the Food Babe got a head start on social media. From anti-vaccine groups to anti-GMO groups, these social media activists learned early on that many people will believe anything stated on the internet. Fear sells. Scientists have always been busy being scientists, with little time for public engagement. The tide is now turning. From Ben Goldacre to Orac. From Dr. Offit to Kevin Folta. From Kavin Senapathy to Yvette d’Etremont. Science is fighting back. Vani could actually learn something from these courageous individuals about Facebook and Twitter. Social media relies on interaction and discussion. Vani immediately bans any and all dissent on her pages, severely limiting the reach of her messages. If she truly values transparency, she should open a discussion with the skeptics. What does she have to hide? Ken Ham has so much faith in young earth creationism that he was even willing to debate Bill Nye publicly. Does Vani truly believe? Or is she just worried about how it would impact her bottom line…..
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