“Food Babe” Hammered by Actual Scientists for Blatantly Fear-Mongering and Misleading Public

I have to admit, I really don’t care much about the GMO vs. anti-GMO debate. The way I look it is both sides have valid points on some levels and both sides often ignore facts when it doesn’t suit their personal feelings on this issue. When it comes right down to it, I’ve known people who lived healthy lifestyles who died far too young and people who practically lived off bacon and whiskey who lived into their 80’s.

But what I do have a problem with are people like Dr. Oz and the “Food Babe” who often lie and mislead Americans on health advice. A few months ago John Oliver hammered Dr. Oz for pushing blatantly false health advice on his show, using his medical background as validation for that advice, despite knowing that what he was saying on his show was false.

If you want to give real advice to people that’s based on facts to help them live a healthier life, that’s great. If you’re trying to fear-monger or push supplements or certain foods because you’re making money by doing so, then we have a huge problem.

Which is where “Food Babe” (aka Vani Hari) comes in. While I will admit I’m not a huge follower of her many exploits, what I have seen has been somewhat alarming. Then when I learned that she studied computer science, not nutrition or anything medically related, I really began to wonder what backing this woman is using to support her claims that she’s qualified to be giving medical advice with no medical background. Not that someone must have a degree to obtain knowledge about nutrition, but I do think it’s pretty important to have some kind of scientific background when talking about chemicals that may or may not be in our food. There’s a huge difference between reading up on something, and having the expert knowledge to really know what it is and how it interacts with the human body.

And that’s what’s been bothering many scientists about a lot of the advice the “Food Babe” has been giving out that they’ve found has either been grossly misleading or just flat-out wrong.

Take for instance a recent push she had to “warn people about what’s in beer” by telling her followers that a chemical found in antifreeze, propylene glycol, is used to make beer. Except, she cited the wrong chemical. As cancer surgeon David Gorski wrote, the ingredient used in beer is actually called propylene glycol alginate – which is made from kelp.

“It is not the same chemical as propylene glycol, not even close. It is not antifreeze,” he wrote.

And as her influence grows, despite the fact she’s not qualified to give the kind of health, chemical or medical advice she’s giving, it has had an impact on businesses. As Gorski wrote, “companies live and die by public perception. It’s far easier to give a blackmailer like Hari what she wants than to try to resist or to counter her propaganda by educating the public.”

And he’s absolutely right. Heck, we see this in politics all the time. Just take a look at “Obamacare.” It was much easier for Republicans to just throw out lie after lie to mislead the public than it has been to try to properly educate Americans about what the law actually is. Which is why you see polls where the vast majority of Americans support almost everything that’s in the law – until you call it “Obamacare.”

A professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, Kevin Folta, said that Hari’s inability to properly understand peer-reviewed scientific journals has “created more confusion about food, more confusion about the role of chemicals and additives” due to her lack of background in the field of chemical science. 

Folta has also accused her of being “afraid of science and intellectual engagement.” Which is a fairly alarming claim, because if someone such as the “Food Babe” is so certain that the advice she’s giving is medically sound, then why would she avoid public debates with actual scientists over what she claims is factual information? That alone makes me doubt her credibility.

Even when she was asked to be interviewed for this NPR article she declined via her publicist, stating that she wouldn’t be doing interviews until her book came out in February. A supposed “advocate for healthy living” that won’t address an article calling into question her “expert advice” on these issues – because she will only do interviews when it’s time for her to get publicity upon the release of her new book. That’s extremely shady.

To me that sounds like someone who doesn’t want to risk being made to look like a fool publicly by actual scientists ahead of a new book launch.

And while I’m sure this article will have little to no impact on anyone who thinks she’s someone credible to listen to about such things, my advice is simple: Ask a real doctor or nutritionist. How we deal with our health should be based upon the expert advice of medical professionals instead of “gurus” who are profiting heavily from what they’re selling.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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  • strayaway

    I never heard of “the food babe” and am not a chemist but does anyone know the difference between propylene glycol alginate and propylene glycol? The food babe’s confusion between the to seemed to be the most specific thing this article had to say about her. I did a brief Google search to find the answer to my question. I didn’t find the answer but found the following: The FDA says that propylene glycol alginate is both an insecticide and a food additive. Except for stunting growth and causing loose stools, the FDA does not consider propylene glycol alginate to be a health hazard taken in the low doses Americans take it in beer, Mountain Dew, cream sodas, salad dressings, and a variety of other food products.There are also a lot of anecdotal claims about a variety of maladies caused by propylene glycol alginate not recognized by the FDA. The propylene glycol alginate found in beer is used to stabilize foam.

    • Andy Kinnard

      So, you’re not TOTALLY convinced she’s a huckster, refuse to do your own research to make a better informed decision, and STILL manage to use that milk toast position as your entire platform to criticize this page.

      That’s astoundingly weak trolling, Stray.

      • strayaway

        As I previously mentioned, I’ve never heard of this woman so I am unable to muster a personal judgement even if I cared to. Most people are not totally anything though. I used FDA information if you would care to re-read my post. Andy, surely you must be able to cite some obscure court ruling, as you usually do, to back up what little you added to this conversation. But my question was, “does anyone know the difference between propylene glycol alginate and propylene glycol?” We know that propylene glycol alginate is derived from kelp but I wanted to find out chemically and in terms of health outcomes what the differences were. Perhaps some court has decided the difference?

        By the way, I like your new anti-TPP icon.

      • J-dawg

        One is an ester of alginic acid and one is a diol. They are pretty radically different.

      • strayaway

        That’s still over my head but thanks. I’ll take your word that they are radically different. I had been wondering if the alginate part just indicated derivation but I think you answered otherwise.

      • Andy Kinnard

        “Totally” modified your certainty of her hucksterism, not her personality/character. I saw your FDA data; it seemed inconclusive and extremely superficial (though interesting).

        My objection to your post was your using an admittedly uninformed opinion as the basis of authority upon which to base an attack on the article. That’s an absurd proposition and implicit rejection of a scientific approach (which, not coincidentally, is the crux of the article).

        You compounded this reliance on uninformed opinion by criticizing my having referenced actual Supreme Court decisions like Loving. If the ramifications and scope of a ruling are continuously relevant for decades, it’s not obscure (by definition), brother. So, if you don’t want to attend either to scientific/fact-based methods or the definitive rulings of our highest court, you seriously have nothing going to offer in a meaningful debate on public policy.

      • strayaway

        I’m not sure what uninformed opinion you are talking about. I did mention after the FDA that “There are also a lot of anecdotal claims”. You can take that or leave that but they are out there. I put no weight on them except to mention their existence. Any scientist would do the same. Some of us are not so restrained by doctrine and question things we notice. Are you sure you saw my FDA data? Why are you calling FDA information and information I gathered from other sites “uniformed opinion”? Are you the representative for the Secular Inquisition? FDA has a lot of data and I didn’t provide a link. Methinks your are being a bit presumptuous. But here is some hucksterism from the EPA. The EPA should be enough of an authority figure to comfort you so you won’t have to entertain your own thoughts if any. Try wwwDOTepaDOTgov/opprdoo1/inerts/alginateDOTpdf Go to exectutive summary.

        Just a little insecticide, if it isn’t too much, is fine with the FDA. It kills bugs but can be put in food. What a product! It can be washed down with FDA approved fluoridated water too. A little fluoride never hurt anyone either. I’m really curious what all these preservatives and bug killers, all deemed safe by the FDA in small amounts, do when they get swished around in our stomachs and interact with each other. but that is probably something outside the scope of this thread and probably won’t be studied by government leaders bankrolled by Monsanto.

      • Andy Kinnard

        The topic of the article, Allen’s beef with Food Babe, is that she offers a thoroughly uninformed opinion to the public as scientific expertise. He very quickly proves that, in at least one recent case (and I’ve heard many others), her assertions are wildly off base and not based in science.

        You come here and offer that you don’t know he science, have no experience or familiarity with Food Babe. Never the less, you still offered (and continue to defend) an opinion based in only the most cursory Internet search of only the one fact Allen (successfully) challenged. Then you variously accept and reject the authority of the FDA on such matters as food safety depending upon how it fits your narrative and level of paranoia about food additives (even to go so far as to question the value of fluoridated municipal water supplies [have you spoken to ANYONE who grew up before WWII to see what the massive impact on dental health was?]).

        Now you’re try to pile the weakest sort of anecdotal evidence upon that heaping pile of drew you already attempted to pass off as informed opinion. That is the very essence of a non-scientific argument about a scientifically approachable subject matter. I will point out but otherwise ignore the deplorable ad hominem about “doctrine” as it’s either a pathetic attempt to discredit me or a further rejection of the scientific method (and statistics). And the dig onme you wrapped up in casting aspersions at the FDA was just. so. special.

        Please, understand that insect and mammal biologis are quite divergent. What is deadly for one may have no impact on the other. Take a look at the various household chemical recipes for bug killer.

        I can not believe I’ve had to explain this all to you. Most of this stuff is pretty basic science likely first taught to you on elementary school. That you’ve forgotten it or rejected it is cause for concern (since you are SO stridently confident in your non-scientifically derived opinions).

      • strayaway

        My comments and question can be found in my first post although your twisted revisionism is of some interest. I posted a link to an EPA source. Choose to refer to the EPA link as “uninformed opinion” if you wish.

        My favorite nugget in you last post was, “understand that insect and mammal biologis are quite divergent. What is deadly for one may have no impact on the other.” I’m glad you included the word, “may” to allow yourself a little wiggle room. After all, maybe combining your FDA approved safe intake of Round-up, propylene glycol alginate, fluoride, and potassium sorbate 80 might not be as healthy as just the acceptable dose of one or the other. I don’t know but am sure not going to get bent out of shape like you are when someone asks questions.

        Unlike you, I didn’t go to an elementary school that taught me the difference between esters of alginic acid and diols. At least I picked up the habit, somewhere along the way, of asking questions instead of acting like a pompous pharisee.

      • Andy Kinnard

        No, I referred to your admittedly uniformed opinion as “uninformed”; it was your own description that indicated its being uninformed. You posted FDA material, some of which was interesting but none of which spoke directly to the issue, and, where it did, indicated that the Food Babe was in the wrong (counter to the point you were trying to make).

        I wasn’t inserting “wiggle room”. Some things poisonous to humans will also be poisonous to insects (and vice versa). On the other hand, some human poisons are innocuous to insects (and vice versa). The point was that YOU were trying to extrapolate from one of the chemicals being poisonous to insects to ANYTHING related to humans, and that’s just not valid. You simply cannot draw a wide external validity like that.

        You weren’t asking questions. You were begging the question that leads to an unfair critique of this article.

        Very classy act, that parting ad hominem of yours. As this further evidences, your decorum here is deplorable. I only reply to you to answer to your distortions so other people don’t pick them up as facts.

      • strayaway

        Andy, Obama appointed former Monsanto VP and head lobbyist Michael Taylor as Deputy Commissioner for the FDA — tasked with regulating Monsanto. How could you even think I’d question FDA motives?

        My my first post is still up for anyone interested. I wasn’t out to get the Food Babe and said as much. Thank you for the assurance that whatever government and Monsanto tells us is safe in tiny doses, is worth eating. However, you need to reread what I wrote before claiming. “you weren’t asking questions”. Do you work for Monsanto or the government?

      • Andy Kinnard

        I didn’t claim you were “out to get” the Food Babe; I claimed that you used a very shaky understanding of the Food Babe and her claims as the foundation to attack the legitimacy of the article and, in turn, the page. I’m totally ignoring this diversionary BS about the FDA. Stop with the ad hominems.

    • Ben Wilkins

      Or, the beer companies could use oats to stabilize the foam as we home brewers do. Still chemicals…still poison.

    • Steve Vallancourt

      I read that article about her advising people about what beers not to drink. She did say propylene glycol, and it is used in the brewing process – it’s used in chilling plates to cool down beer. It never comes in contact with it, but if it does, USP Grade Propylene Glycol is used. It’s a food grade product.

  • Judy Rae Jackson

    This woman is a menace because a lot of people listen to her & NEVER do any further research. I have a friend who swears by the advice that Dr. Oz dishes out on his idiotic television show. She is sick all the time & I think part of the problem is that she doesn’t eat properly.

  • J-dawg

    Drink German beer. None of these unnecessary additives in the first place.

    • surfjac

      In this country, well, the USA, I can’t stand Heinekin. In Paris, France (not Paris, Texas), it tastes great!

    • Gregory Brown

      Craft beer, which is ubiquitous now, won’t have all that crap. It’s in Bud, Miller and other mass-brewed p!ss

  • TripleMoon

    I’ve kept an open mind about the GMO vs Anti-GMO debate. However, when my neighbor, who is a cattle rancher started telling me about the evils of GMO agriculture, it gave me pause. He won’t feed his cattle any GMO feed nor will he or his family eat any GMO food. This man is ultra conservative and not someone you’d think would be anti – GMO. Now it makes me wonder how safe this is.

    • strayaway

      Nobody knows but we are all supposed to be incensed at whatever she says.

      • Pipercat

        Actually, after reading her (probably a they) stuff, one can’t help but be amused.

  • The Reader

    Food Babe is an amateur in the war on processed foods, but she’s not entirely wrong when one takes the time to read the ingredients on labels. There are often more strange sounding additives than actually food, and why would anyone want that unknown stuff in their food is beyond me. If funny sounding additives were from natural plants, it would be one thing, but many of them are chemicals produced in labs and therefore unfamiliar to the body. Therein lies the argument for questioning today’s food and drink products. I’m no expert, far from it, but I remember when food was food and not a combination of preservatives, additives, taste enhancers, artificial coloring and who knows what else.

    • Steve Vallancourt

      She is far less credible than she is credible. She does not know what she’s talking about – plain and simple.

      • The Reader

        And what qualifies you to decide she is credible or not? Most of us are built on opinions and I gather yours is she is not credible, but it does not make it so. No one is all wrong nor all right and that’s my opinion.

      • Steve Vallancourt

        And you can keep your opinion. I based mine on facts – she is an opportunist, and right now she is making money by posting things that are nowhere near correct. Go ahead and do a little research on what she has written. Did you read this article, or do you just want to start a debate with me because I think that this person is a clown and an unqualified alarmist?
        When you have no qualifications on the subject and advise people what to do and not to do, do you listen and do what they say? I don’t get your point.

      • The Reader

        Debates only exist when one person responds to another’s opinion which you did. Yes, I read the article. Facts come from all kinds of sources and often they are self-interest spins designed to sell a product. I live surrounded by Pfizer and their employees and have listened to their “facts” forever. Nothing I’ve heard has encouraged changing my opinion, but since you deal in your facts, I’m sure you won’t agree with me. Final opinion: Food Babe’s name sort of says a lot about her, but as I said originally no one is all wrong even if scientists want to claim otherwise because too often official opinions from the professionals are bought and paid for by invested parties. Her goof on using the incorrect name for the chemical she was talking about only shows she is a concerned observant of our country’s health issues and questions the food that is becoming more and more artificial. She is not educated in science or chemistry, and it has given her opposition an opportunity to discredit her. Love America, the land of freedom of speech.

      • Steve Vallancourt

        The only thing that she is concerned about is putting money in her pocket at the expense of those lesser intelligent people that will listen to and believe her. That one chemical name is definitely not her only “goof”. She has no idea what she is talking about,but that doesn’t stop her from spreading her word. Anything for a buck. Take advantage of the sheep while you can. She is no better than those charlatan “preachers” fleecing people on a weekly basis. If you had done any research on her you will find out quite quickly that when interviewed, she will get rather nasty when her actual credentials are questioned. She has been known to walk away when asked simple questions that she has no answer for. You are more than welcome to believe her – it matters not to me. Enjoy the misinformation the she spreads, if it makes you feel all warm inside. I don’t care. You can believe in unicorns with rainbows coming out of their asses too – they’re both just about as real.

      • Steve Vallancourt

        She is a fake. The problem with that is that people will listen to her, and not know this. People could get hurt by doing this. It’s not right.
        The biggest problem that I have is that she will ban anyone from het site if they have the gall to disagree with her. It happens frequently. If she were truly wanting to get her message out as accurately as possible, as she has stated, then she would take information from anywhere that she could, and verify it if need be. But no – she’d rather toss out anyone that knows anything more than she does because they upset her plan. She’s probably afraid that they might ask for a cut of her business.

      • Gregory Brown

        Allow me to enlighten you with some facts, not opinions, about her. Food Babe is the imbecile who wrote that flying in an airliner’s pressurized cabin puts the body under great pressure, when in fact airliner cabins are pressurized to about an equivalent altitude of 7,000 feet — less than one atmosphere at sea level. So less pressure than usual. She also said cabin air was “recycled” from outside the plane, and that up to 50 percent of nitrogen is mixed with the oxygen. Cabin air does get mixed with outside air, which at 35,000 feet is pretty darn clean, and is in addition highly filtered, but the really stupid part is the nitrogen statement. The air you and I are breathing right now contains 78 percent nitrogen. Always has. She’s an idiot.

      • Gregory Brown

        In addition to her other airliner idiocy, she seems in her made up “50 percent nitrogen” remark to be implying that a pure oxygen atmosphere is desirable. Pure oxygen would make an airliner a flying bomb. Feel free to google Apollo I.

    • JMZ

      You’d be surprised how many of those ” strange sounding” additives are actually derived from organic (plant/animal) sources. Making large quantities of many complicated chemicals by chemical synthesis is often prohibitively expensive (though not all, e.g phosphoric acid, made from rocks, essentially). It’s much more cost effective to find a plant that makes a lot of whatever you want, and then purify it from there. Doesn’t mean its necessarily good for you, but it could still be “natural”.
      The FDA guidelines for labeling things are weird.and often result in really innocuous things being labeled with full chemical names, and other, much more chemically intricate and synthetic chemicals being allowed to fall under the oddly wide umbrella of “artificial spices”.

      • LMB

        Except food dyes. Chemical food dyes are very cheap which is why they are used so widely in the US. They are banned in Europe. Chemical food dyes are derived from crude oil, you know the stuff they make gasoline out of and are basically food paint. They are also proven to cause hyper activity and behavioral problems in children. Then there is carageenan, which is natural, comes from plants and is found in organic foods, but it can cause inflammation which can lead to cancer. Growth hormones given to animals are as also proven to have adverse effects on people, especially children. I think it’s very important to not only know what’s in your food, but how your body reacts to it. We don’t buy products with any of those things in them. I’m on the fence about GMOs, so I try to avoid and limit them, but being on tight budget, there are some products, like cereal or salad dressing, I just can’t get around. It costs to much for us to be 100% organic.

  • Gregory Brown

    Food Babe is the imbecile who wrote that flying in an airliner’s pressurized cabin puts the body under great pressure, when in fact airliner cabins are pressurized to about an equivalent altitude of 7,000 feet — less than one atmosphere at sea level. So less pressure than usual. She also said cabin air was “recycled” from outside the plane, and that up to 50 percent of nitrogen is mixed with the oxygen. Cabin air does get mixed with outside air and is highly filtered, but the really stupid part is the nitrogen statement. The air you and I are breathing right now contains 78 percent nitrogen. Always has. She’s an idiot.