There’s no denying that Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, has ignited a clean-eating revolution—along with a lot of controversy. Hari is known for lobbying companies to remove ingredients she believes are toxic, including the “yoga mat chemical” in Subway’s bread, class IV caramel color in Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and “antifreeze” in beer.
And while getting people thinking about what’s in their food is good thing, many experts point out that her science is, well, off, which can cause an unnecessary fear of food and other everyday products. (Look no further than this recent New York Times profile or this Gawker takedown written by a scientist who dubs herself the Science Babe).
“She’s well intentioned, but there’s a problem when she scares her readership by giving them misleading information,” said Joseph Perrone, PhD, chief scientific officer for the Center for Accountability in Science. “Almost every chemical sounds dangerous when you pronounce it.”
So with that, here are 5 more Food Babe myths to forget:
Microwaves destroy food’s nutrients
Hari herself has said “my microwave blog post was not my most impressive piece of work,” and it’s since been taken down from her site. (Though it still lives on in the bowels of the Internet.) There’s no reason to avoid zapping your broccoli for fear that it will remove all the nutrients—or worse, that you’ll be exposed to potential cancer-causing radiation.
Microwaves use low frequency radiation, which doesn’t damage your DNA or make food radioactive. Says the American Cancer Society: “When microwave ovens are used according to instructions, there is no evidence they pose a health risk to people.”
As for the idea that they kill all nutrients? Research, like one study in the Journal of Food Science, suggests that microwaving may actually preserve antioxidant values far better than cooking methods like boiling.
Canola oil is toxic
Hari takes issue with the fact that cooking oil, particularly canola, is processed and treated with a solvent called hexane. It’s true, canola oil does go through a refinement process—if it didn’t it would look cloudy and would go rancid on store shelves quickly—and, yes, hexane is used.
“This is done to extract more of the oil from the seed itself, but [it] is evaporated off during processing,” Perrone said.
That means virtually no hexane winds up in the oil, but in the event trace amounts remain, know you’d have to consume more oil than you ever could to experience neurological problems. As numerous articles about the Food Babe have pointed out: the dose makes the poison.
If hexane is still a concern for you, seek out cold-pressed oils. Canola is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and has a high smoke point (making it great for cooking), so there’s no reason to ditch it completely.
Raw milk is superior
If you’re going to sip cow’s milk, Hari says you should go raw. The problem is, raw milk is unpasteurized.
“The importance of pasteurization has been well documented,” Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told Health.
As Siega-Riz wrote in a recent review of Hari’s book: “Raw milk, which means unpasteurized, can carry dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and listeria, which are responsible for numerous foodborne illnesses, especially among people with weak or developing immune systems, young children, pregnant women and older adults.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says raw milk is one of the riskiest foods you can eat, since it can cause severe, life-threatening diseases. Pasteurization doesn’t greatly change milk’s nutrient profile, it only makes it safer to drink. Go raw at your own risk.
Antiperspirants can cause breast cancer
Hari claims that the aluminum used to control sweat in antiperspirants is linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and she suggests using a natural stick instead. Going natural is a totally fine choice, but don’t toss your favorite sweat-blocker just because of the aluminum.
According to the American Cancer Society, there is no clear link between aluminum-containing antiperspirants and breast cancer, and they point out that this fear was fueled by an email rumor. Same with Alzheimer’s: Studies have not confirmed that aluminum causes the disease, and exposure to aluminum in everyday items is safe, says the Alzheimer’s Association.
If you’re pregnant, beware of the glucose test
Doctors ask pregnant women to take a glucose screening test (which is used to diagnose gestational diabetes) when they’re 24 to 28 weeks along. Hari’s beef with the test is the solution women have to drink, calling it “essentially sugar water with hazardous artificial colors and preservatives” and says there’s no way she’d drink it.
Let’s face it, consuming the drink isn’t fun (it often causes nausea), but “it’s a one-time drink during pregnancy, and it’s unlikely to cause any long-term effect,” said Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an ob/gyn with the Mount Kisco Medical Group and author of “V is for Vagina.”
“I agree with her that the drink is less than perfect, however, missing a gestational diabetes diagnosis has much more dire consequences in pregnancy including fetal growth issues and stillbirth,” she added.
Hari points out that there are alternatives, including eating 28 jellybeans (really! But she suggests “a non-gmo variety, free of artificial colors and other nasties”). The candy works, but is often just as tough to tolerate as the glucose drink, said Dweck. Bottom line: there’s no reason not to take the standard test, and saying otherwise is fearmongering.