'Food Babe' May Not Be a Scientist, But Sugar Really Can Be Toxic

vani hari dnc 2012Vani Hari aka "Food Babe" is under fire -- again. In case you missed it, Hari enraged lovers of Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte last year by writing about all the unhealthy additives in the popular drink. And the year before that, she pissed off fans of Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese by asking why the product that's sold across the pond has far less faux ingredients and looks than its U.S. counterpart. And just yesterday, Gawker ran a Food Babe-bashing piece by Yvette d'Entremont, an analytical chemist who calls herself "Science Babe," and who declares Hari "utterly full of shit."

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There's no doubt d'Entremont has a choir to preach to: folks who think Food Babe, who has no other credential than concerned consumer, should get off of her soap box. But for those who are interested in facts and science and care about the relationship between our food and our health, the truth isn't as simple as "this chemist lady is right, and that blogger chick is bunk."

To Science Babe's point that sugar -- even the 50 grams of it in a non-fat grande Pumpkin Spice Latte -- isn't "toxic," nutritionist Esther Blum, MS, RD, author of Cavewomen Don't Get Fat, tells us, "That's more than a 12-ounce bottle of Coke. Do I think that's a lot in one sitting? Yes. Do I think it is going to make your pancreas secrete a lot of extra insulin, which is going to get stored as extra body fat? Yes."

But that serving of sugar could do a LOT more damage than simply "making your Lululemons stretch a little farther if you don't 'namaste' your cheeks off," as d'Entremont puts it. "The [Gawker] article was very dismissive of any and all chemicals, and there are plenty of research articles on sugar being pro-inflammatory and potentially toxic," Blum notes.

More from The Stir: Sugar vs. Corn Syrup: Which Is Making You Fat?

One such example: A study published in the journal PLoS One found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates independent of rates of obesity. In other words, sugar consumption can cause diabetes, irrespective of obesity.

Blum also points out that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) -- which Food Babe also takes issue with -- is ten times worse on the liver. "HFCS actually raises your triglycerides in the liver instantly," Blum notes. "And there has been research where people have received HFCS intravenously, and they very quickly develop a fatty liver. There's a direct correlation."

Sounds pretty toxic, no? But the sweet stuff -- in any form -- isn't our only challenge by far, explains Blum, who says that globally (see: the obesity epidemic) and in her private practice, people are becoming more and more resistant to weight loss. And why is that?

"You do have to take all factors into account, like environmental toxins," Blum says. "Fish are loaded with mercury, and farmed fish have even more chemicals -- antibiotics and hormones. We do have to take a broader look at how all of these chemicals and processed foods we're eating are having an impact on our health."

For instance, while d'Entremont accuses Food Babe of peddling unfounded "GMO-free fear," the science shows we're totally justified in being wary of genetically-modified foods.

More from The Stir: Moms Want GMO Labels on Food to Be Law but Big Business Wants to Shut Us Up

"We know that GMO grains are actually soaked and grown with Roundup, which is a super harmful pesticide that is linked to cancer," says Blum. "And there have been studies on pigs and cows [who were eating GMOs], and those animals if you open up the stomach, the gut is totally inflamed and compromised, and Indian farmers who are feeding their cows on GMO corn and soy, all the cattle died. So, you tell me that there's no correlation between GMOs and early death and cancer."

Nonetheless, while third-world countries are rejecting GMOs, our own USDA just approved genetically-modified apples that don't brown. And it seems like no matter what studies show and how largely the threat of heart disease looms, people will remain hell-bent on slurping down liquid sugar with their hashtag-worthy coffee. No wonder the our dinner plates have become a battleground.

"We're all sitting [around] fighting, but the bottom line is our foods don't taste the way they should, they don't look the way they should," Blum says. "At the end of the day, just use common sense. If your food is sprayed with chemicals, do you want to eat it? If your food is made to never age, do you want to eat it? These are frankenfoods; these are not real foods. If you want your Starbucks, go for it. Just be educated, and don't prevent other people from educating the public on it."

How do you feel about added sugar, chemicals, and environmental toxins in our food?


Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty

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