Science Babe vs. the Food Babe: What should we really be eating?

What Should We Really Be Eating

[Image Credit: nvanio]

I got news: after years of being asked what to eat, I’m actually gonna start talking about the topic! But before I give you the details, let me tell you about the incidents that made me make this decision, after years of avoiding to talk about the subject.

I’ve been a big fan of the Science Babe, a blogger and also chemist, who has been focused on clearing food phobia and setting the facts straight on her blog. Her post on Gawker “the Food Baby is full of shit” debunking the Food Babe went viral.

Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, is a food blogger on a quest to remove all “suspicious” ingredients from our food. She goes after big business, organizes campaigns, and get them to create healthier options for consumers.

Now this sounds great, doesn’t it?

I was first impressed with the Food Babe. I thought “we need someone like her” and promptly followed her blog.

And then I actually watched one of her campaigns. She was on a campaign against Lean Cuisine. Skip to 4:30 for the point I’m making below.

Now I’m not a supporter of most of those packaged meals companies that market their food as healthy because I know there are healthier options than getting their packaged meals (like buying fresh produce and doing the cooking yourself).

In this case Vani was going after them because they claimed their food is “all natural” while they use GMOs that in her opinion are dangerous.

Hari questioned the representative about why they label the product as “all natural” when there’s a 70% chance that GMOs are in there.

Sounds kinda reasonable right? Especially if you’re anti-GMO this sounds like a perfectly reasonable question to ask.

Only that she’s asking those questions to a simple hotline representative, not the Vice President of Marketing! She cannot expect to get the right answers about a marketing decision from the phone representative, she needs to speak to an executive to get the facts.

The hotline representative is not qualified to answer such questions so she’s trying her best to respond, and Vani calls this attempt “backpedaling.”

She then ends the video with an anti-GMO campaign.

I did not tell you this story to discuss GMOs. I’m gonna hold this for a later post. I only told the story because this phone call is what first alerted me about Hari.

Asking the customer representative marketing questions, expecting that the representative would have to dodge the question, was a cheap move to impress her audience. But it was not fair. And it was not right.

Now this particular incident is minuscule compared to the facts that the Science Babe discusses in her Gawker article. As the New York Times report:

“Scientists splutter with frustration that to Ms. Hari, the word “chemical” is always a pejorative and that she yells fire about toxins but ignores that fruits and vegetables are full of naturally occurring toxins, and that the dose makes the poison.”

But this post is not about the Food Babe, or the Science Babe. It’s about discussing this question – what should we really be eating, and who deserves our trust? Who should we be listening to when it comes to what to put in our mouth?

Even clever people fall prey to fake claims.

A few weeks ago I received a forwarded e-mail from my dad. It was about an alleged study from Princeton University. The e-mail claimed the study proved that having magnets on the fridge’s door is harmful. Supposedly there’s electromagnetic activity that messes with the food resulting in a 87% increase in cancer incidents.

As soon as I read it, I could clearly see that this e-mail was bogus; that there was no such study and it was all a lie. Magnets with not just magnetic but electromagnetic activity? And strong enough to alter the food significantly enough to increase cancer risk by 87%?

This is totally unreasonable. I don’t even know what you need to do to actually increase your cancer risk that much. Even a simple google search for “fridge magnet cancer” reveals that this is actually a well-known hoax. But still I was concerned:

How can a smart, educated guy like my dad, fall for this nonsense?

I mentioned this incident to a couple that had invited my husband and me over for lunch. The moment I finished the story, my friend said her mother-in-law used to have a door fridge full with magnets. She took them all down after reading that fridge magnets cause cancer.

Apparently it was not just my dad who believed the lies. It’s also other people who fall prey to even obviously false claims.

If only false claims were limited to fridge magnets.

There’s an abundance of misinformation. From detox diets to miracle super-foods, people are getting obsessed about what we should really be eating.

And a new type of eating disorder came up: orthorexia.

Orthorexia nervosa is characterized by an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. It is important to differentiate between healthy individuals who choose specific diets for any number of reasons, and those who exhibit obsessive compulsive behavior that leads to an unhealthy condition or lifestyle.”

I’d normally not worry about orthorexia. But I’ve seen people close to me getting more and more obsessed about what we should really be eating. No, I’m not suggesting they suffer from orthorexia. But they do worry about food quite a bit: From evil sugar, to evil fat, to empty calories, it almost seems like a miracle some of us can actually eat without any feelings of guilt!

“What did you have for lunch today?” my mom asked.

“Pork with mushrooms” I replied.

“White mushrooms?”


“Oh I read white mushrooms are bad because they are artificially whitened”

Seriously? Instead of having a carefree conversation about a trivial matter like what we had for lunch the discussion went over to whether those were the right kind of mushrooms! For your information, there are types of white mushrooms that don’t need whitening. They’re just white on their own!

Anyway, I’m sidetracking. What I’m trying to say is that witnessing the gullibility of people along with the state of fear around food makes me change my attitude about nutrition.

For years people have been asking me to talk nutrition. Yet I have avoided the subject. I recognized there was a diet confusion but it all seemed so complicated that I doubted my ability to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

If the experts cannot agree (or so I thought) about what we should really be eating, then why would I be right?

Even a reputable and well-known doctor like Dr. Oz has been grilled for promotions he runs on his shows:

But wait a minute – who are really the “experts” who will let us know what we should really be eating for optimal health? Gastroenterologists? Endocrinologists? Licensed nutritionists? Chemists? Longevity experts? Naturopaths? A US government organization? An EU organization? All of them together in a room giving a verdict?

By deferring responsibility to the “experts” and not even researching the subject of “what to eat” I serve no one.

People I love fall prey to big scams and live in a state of fear around food and nutrition. With every meal, they’re wondering – is this the right thing to eat?

Maybe I bear some responsibility for the fact that scammers profit by selling miracle foods, supplements, and pills.  Maybe my reluctance to engage with the subject unintentionally helps the scammers profit from people’s fears. I’ve witnessed quite a few doctors promising false cures.

Because yes there are doctors who intentionally promise things that don’t work (and no I’m not referring to Dr. Oz.) If smart people believe a fake fridge magnet study, just imagine the believability of an MD telling you what to eat (or not to eat).

And as a citizen it is my duty to have an informed opinion about public policy issues – like GMOs. Dodging the subject is only dodging the responsibility.

Now the good news: I’ve come to discover that for many issues I thought were controversial, there’s actually scientific consensus.

They’re not controversial as I used to think. The only thing that makes them “controversial” has nothing to do with science and everything to do with fear and marketing.

And that’s why I’m creating the “What Should We Really Be Eating?” blog series. In this series I plan to discuss:

  • detox diets
  • GMOs
  • common scams
  • vilified food groups
  • what’s actually “natural”
  • post a comment with what you want me to research and write about

With this series I’ll be answering some of my own questions about food, and also inform myself about public policy issues. Not having an opinion or just blindly following who “seems” to be right is no longer acceptable. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing everything I discover with you.

And I commit to back my claims with data and approaching each subject with an open mind.

So now, it’s your turn. Please post a comment and let me know what you’d like me to research and talk about. I’m really looking forward to your feedback.

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  1. Hey Maria — I’m a bit ignorant when it comes to the organic vs. non-organic debate. Frankly, my viewpoint is that if I am eating more fruits and vegetables I’m ahead of the game, regardless if they are organic or not.

    I’m really looking forward to this blog series. You’ve got the writing style that can tell a great story with the scientific backing to make it educational.

  2. Six years ago, my health got so bad, I thought I was dying. After months of anti-biotics and feeling worse, my GP didn’t have anything else to offer me. I started seeing a naturopath for 6mths out of desperation and then got my GP to refer me to “the best specialist in town”. The end result was that it seemed that nobody could help me. I was only 29 and had two small children and was worried I wouldn’t get to see them grow up. I was so scared, but when I realised that no one can help nor does any one really care more than I, I made it my absolute mission to get healthy or die trying. I gave it my all. Over the following two years I read EVERY health book on the shelf of 4 local libraries. I couldn’t get enough. They all contradicted each other when it came to diets. Ultimately I kept digging until I got my answers!

    Basically the cause of ANY illness is stress from some sort. When we eat, it uses up energy and adds stress to the body to digest foods. So to support your body, you need to focus upon foods that are easy for your body to digest. Ultimately all processed foods are not really foods at all. Food by definition should be a nutritional substance which is life enhancing. Processed foods are all dead and contain chemicals (ie poisons, not food) and do not enhance life. I live by the motto that living bodies need living foods. Dead foods are for the dying.

    So it really doesn’t matter what colour are your mushrooms, as long as they’re alive and not from a tin can.

    I went off all processed foods, started sun bathing (even though up till that point I believed the sun to be bad for me), and exercising. A book that helped me get off processed foods is called “The Raw Food Detox Diet” by Natalia Rose. I not only recovered, I went full swing and never get sick.

    There is also a lot more to health then just diet, sunshine and exercise. We also need contact with nature to relax us. Even if it’s just a 5 min walk in a local park. Our thoughts also have a HUGE impact on our health. It really is important to watch your thoughts, feelings, emotions and tune in as often they’re our first sign that something is amiss before it shows up as a symptom. Our belief systems therefore are really important. If you believe that eating something is bad for you, then it will be, if you believe that you can get better, then you will do. Meditation, and yoga have scientifically been proven to help healing times, as does positive social interaction experiences.

    With all this you can live a happy and healthy life, but if you’ve eaten processed foods all your life, know that it can take some time for you body to heal, just trust that it will. Where budget allows, organic food is superior to conventional, so go organic, go local.

    1. Out thoughts definitely change how we feel. An amazing study I recently discovered is the Milkshake study. Two groups of people were given the same milkshake. The first group was told it was an indulgent while the other group felt they were getting a low-calorie sensible shake.

      Their satiety levels were analogous to whether they thought they’d consumed a lot of calories or not! It was all about their beliefs, not what had actually happened. I’ll talk more about that in a future post. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Questions bugging me at the moment:
    1. Are eggs terrible for your health/ full of cholesterol and fat, OR are they this wonderful food with choline and B vitamins and proteins that can actually help you lose fat?
    2. Whole grains are amazing and full of fiber and nutrients VS even whole grains will make you fat?
    3. What’s this hype with protein? Why are so many people suddenly saying that protein should be our main food? I thought our body gains energy from carbs!

    1. Hi Marli,
      These are all great questions! They’re noted and I’ll be addressing them as part of this series. Thanks for commenting!

    2. 1) Eggs are wonderful, very nutritious and the whole cholesterol and fat being bad saga is false (but that’s another long story).
      2) Whole grains are bad, and best avoided altogether. They act as anti-nutrients which means they actually withdraw nutrients from you! Plus they are really hard on the digestive system and contribute to heart disease and tooth decay.

  4. I look forward to reading your thoughts and conclusions/recommendations. If I am permitted the only suggestion I might make is that you clearly reference any sources. Thanks again! 🙂

  5. Soy products please! I’ve done some light reading on this topic and have fallen into the “fear” category of consumers and I am just looking for a little bit clearer answers about its effects.

  6. I’m curious to see if you have personally researched the various MLM shakes. It seems many of the sites I visit are biased. I want scientific information on these best selling and expensive powders that people rave about!