Thursday, May 22, 2014

Facts, Vani, do you have them?!?

Well, it looks like Vani Hari, The Food Babe, is at it again. In her most recent fact-free article she's claiming that Jello is nothing but toxic sludge that nobody should eat. Ever. Period. No matter what. In no case. Toxic. Bad. No good. Don't. Other percussive endings to prove my point.

But what's the fuss? I find it hard to believe that Jello is as bad as The Food Babe is saying, but let's take a look at what's so harmful about it all.

First off is this gem of a "toxin". Of course gelatin is in Jello. Jello IS gelatin. Guess what, Vani, there's tissue paper in Kleenex too. She doesn't really make a solid claim about why this is a health hazard. Yes, gelatin is made from animals. Yes, you could argue some point about it being cruel, but that's not what she's doing. She's made a claim about toxicity but only backed it up with opinion about animal treatment. If she wants to go with the cruelty to animals point then she needs to stick with it leave the word toxic alone. It's not toxic. I guess since she prefers European standards I'll link you to this study from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating just that.

Of course, by the end of the article she switches her position about this. For the catchy infographic that will be easily shared and linked to on Facebook she says that gelatin is toxic. Then, at the end of the article she says that gelatin is the "only redeeming ingredient" of Jello and that you should make your own, saying that:
"Since it is an animal product, it’s crucial that you carefully choose your gelatin and that it doesn’t come from factory-farmed animals that were subjected to antibiotics, artificial hormones and GMO feed."
Without stating any evidence, of course, that animal antibiotics, artificial hormones, and GMO feed will even pass through to your gelatin or do you any harm if they do. But who needs evidence when you have scary (albeit untrue) facts. 

Artificial Colors
TFB mentions that she's written plenty about Yellow 5 & 6. I think I'll just point out that my good friend and fellow chemistry blogger See Arr Oh has already responded to your points. I will reiterate his point that the attention effect you're talking about is seen in a small portion of the study population and the effect itself is low. It certainly isn't serious enough to call it a toxin.

Artificial Sweeteners
Ah, yes, aspartame. Everyone knows it's bad for you and causes cancer and will make you fat. Except that none of that is true. Well over 200 studies done over a time span of 40 years show the safety of aspartame. It's approved with no problems in the US, Europe, Canada, France, Australia, and New Zealand. The real irony here is that you want us to trust Europe when it's convenient to you, but when they say that aspartame is safe the EFSA is just an evil organization that doesn't care about your health.

And what about the claim that aspartame increases your cravings? Yes, there are studies that show that, but a recent meta analysis shows that the effect just isn't there. In fact, the most recent meta analysis shows that in randomized, controlled clinical trials low calorie sweeteners like aspartame actually help reduce weight, fat, and waist circumference. However, I will admit that the evidence isn't strong that it is a magic weight loss answer. Still, even if we call this issue undecided it doesn't make artificial sweeteners toxic!

Because if you're already blaming artificial sweeteners you might as well blame natural sweeteners as well, right? Sugar is not toxic, and listing sugar as one of the "No-Fun" ingredients is a pretty big stretch. Sugars are everywhere and they're incredibly important to life. Yes, the American diet probably has too much sugar, but I don't see what that has to do specifically with Jello. Jello can very easily be part of a balanced diet with an appropriate amount of sugar. It certainly doesn't make it a toxin that should never be eaten.


I'm not going to do it againEnough has been said by just about every reliable source I know.

Please, stop spreading misinformation like this!

As to the actual science, population studies have shown no increase in cancer because of BHA. Yes, it does cause tumors in rats, mice, and hamsters - but only in the forestomach (hint, you don't have that organ). BHA is an antioxidant used as a preservative because it keeps fats and oils from going rancid. An antioxidant, did you hear that? That's a health buzz word, right? So actually some studies show that BHA is an effective cancer preventative for that reason.
Also, in another blog post you should read about what chemicals aren't killing you, Derek Lowe points out that BHA has been in your food for decades while cancer rates are decreasing. 
So please, Vani, stop this fear mongering. Do some legitimate research into the chemicals you so quickly decry as toxic. 
I fully support your efforts to help people make good decisions about their food, but we can do that with real facts and without the fear. Please.

The last of the "No-Fun" ingredients is BHA. In the article she does mention that BHA is short for which is short for butylated hydroxyanisole, though I suspect that she adds this information to scare, not to inform. A long chemical name is sometimes all it takes to prove your point (or at least she seems to believe). 

So this brings me to the end of the list. I find nothing in Jello that warrants the alarmist view that The Food Babe presents. I'll say it again, though, the real danger of chemophobia is not that Kraft might have to go and change the formulation of Jello. Even if Kraft were forced to completely remove Jello from the shelves my life wouldn't change very much. The real danger behind this chemophobia is that it creates a culture of fear. Fearing chemicals does not lead to better health. Just the opposite, in fact. A fear of chemicals leads to fear of vaccines and real medical intervention. The real damage of chemophobia comes when little by little the word "chemical" becomes a bad thing.