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Random thoughts on the Subway azodicarbonamide nonsense from last week.

ICYMI: "Food babe" Vani Hari posted this fearmongering article about Subway using azodicarbonamide in their bread last week: http://foodbabe.com/2014/02/04/launching-petition-subway-will-finally-hear-us-loud-clear/ and petitioned Subway to remove it.

It received an astonishing 174,000 facebook likes as I write this and just about every major news outlet picked it up: https://www.google.com/search?q=subway+azodicarbonamide&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS524US524&oq=subway+azo&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l3.3239j0j9&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=93&ie=UTF-8#q=subway+azodicarbonamide&tbm=nws

EVEN BEFORE CONSIDERING THE MISREPRESENTATION OF TOXICOLOGY RESEARCH, let's look at why a simple 10 minute assessment of Hari's credibility should give pause to any reporter giving her the time of day.

-She has a degree in computer science, not nutrition or anything with a background in learning how to read research: http://clclt.com/charlotte/lust-list-2012/Content?oid=2616360

More importantly, she shows that she lacks the ability to identify credible resources:
-Thinks the flu vaccines is not efficacious and thinks it is toxic http://foodbabe.com/2011/10/04/should-i-get-the-flu-shot/

-Thinks microwaves are a risk because of radiation, destroying nutrients, and changing the structure of water (seriously) http://foodbabe.com/2012/07/30/why-its-time-to-throw-out-your-microwave/?sb

-Says artificial sweeteners cause cancer, obesity; links to Mercola who is the internet's worst health source http://foodbabe.com/2013/01/25/coca-colas-low-calorie-beverages-will-kill-you-before-they-solve-obesity/?sb

-Thinks GMOs cause obesity (same link above)

-Includes links throughout to naturalnews.com, the 2nd worst health source on the internet e.g. http://foodbabe.com/2012/04/16/panera-bread-the-healthiest-fast-food/?sb

-She has stated in the media that "When you look at the ingredients, if you can't spell it or pronounce it, you probably shouldn't eat it," http://abcnews.go.com/Health/protesters-target-subway-chemical-sandwich-bread/story?id=22373414 this is of course an absurd rule (can the average person pronounce pyridoxine hydrochloride - vitamin B6?)

There is a common theme in these and all other posts: she picks out an ingredient she thinks is scary, links to poor sources to play up a health risk by misinterpreting toxicology studies (using large doses of anything causes cancer or other health problems at high doses- even natural plant chemicals http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cpdb/MOEtext.html#cram), and doesn't look to science-based organizations. She often appeals to moms, pitting big companies against their child's health. Of course, nothing I highlighted is evidence-based: the flu vaccine works and is not toxic, microwaves are safe (and actually increase some nutrients), GMOs are considered safe by all credible science organizations, and artificial sweeteners do not cause cancer. These are some of the most studied topics in health that we have strong answers to, yet she gets them completely wrong. Reporters should recognize this and not lend her the attention they give her!

Hari links to a WHO report of azodicarbonamide, saying they "linked it to asthma and other allergic reactions."  http://foodbabe.com/tag/sara-lee-bread/

From the summary of the report: (http://www.inchem.org/documents/cicads/cicads/cicad16.htm)
_ Azodicarbonamide is of low acute toxicity and does not cause
    skin, eye, or respiratory tract irritation in experimental animals.
    Results from a poorly conducted skin sensitization study were
    negative, and there was no evidence of an asthmatic-type response in guinea-pigs in one study._

Even back in 1966 is was well studied and shown not to be a risk (http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/40abcj28.htm):

 _Azodicarbonamide has been extensively studied and the theoretical point with regard to the possible effect of unconverted azodicarbonamide was covered by experiments using overtreated flour or bread made from it. The evidence strongly supports the view that azodicarbonamide is rapidly and completely converted to biurea on wetting and that this substance is stable in bread. Biurea itself is metabolically inert, has low toxicity and does not present any carcinogenic hazard. _

Back to the latest WHO report:

There is concern of occupational exposure "at workplaces where azodicarbonamide is manufactured or used.", because exposure is much higher. This does not mean the tiny amounts from food will present any risk! In fact, the report states about beer and bread that "_It is not clear if unreacted azodicarbonamide is present in these products_"

It is notable that a breakdown product of azodicarbonamide - semicarbazide - that Hari says is cancer causing, is found naturally, for example one study found it in fish, shrimp, chicken, deer meat, eggs, and cheese (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15204530, hat tip https://twitter.com/Editor4FPD/status/431939956236222464). The EFSA concludes that the risk of foods with semicarbazide is "very small" (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/afc031015.htm) and it is only "weakly carcinogenic" - even at the high doses used. 

Here is a more coherent take from food scientist John Coupland http://johncoupland.tumblr.com/post/75935663638/the-food-babe-and-sudden-change-in-our-food-system

More later, perhaps...
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11 comments
 
It really is astonishing that they take her seriously.
 
http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html I think this is a good explanation why people get scared when they hear of an unknown (to them) chemical, but they don't know what that chemical is and they think the information they're getting is from a reliable source.
 
She obviously doesn't science. I can't believe people listen to this bitch :/
 
I'm surprised she goes so far out of her way to keep her educational background hidden that we have to look at a 'Lust List' to see what she studied and where. Though that's a mute point to her 'the sky is falling, buy this product instead' talk. She is making some serious money off of website ad revenue and marketing partnerships, it's sad. I've tried respectfully challenging her assertions on her Facebook page, only to have every thing I've posted erased. It seems she likes to whitewash dissent as much as she whitewashes science.   
 
I appreciate your commitment to scientific standards. However, I believe you're missing the point. Food Babe, while certainly not a certified or peer reviewed expert, is trying to find foods that naturally nourish. Not simply foods that the FDA has empirically proved our bodies can tolerate. 

"(can the average person pronounce pyridoxine hydrochloride - vitamin B6?)" I take issue with your logic here. While your statement is correct, the point I would make is: The reason the manufacturer has to fortify their product with vitamin B6 is due to the fact the something else in the product deplete's the bodies' supply of this resource. 

"The EFSA concludes that the risk of foods with semicarbazide is "very small" and it is only "weakly carcinogenic" - even at the high doses used." I'm sorry, but this is just silly. One only needs to look at the many reports of INCREASED terminal illnesses in this country to conclude that we should be doing EVERYTHING possible to eliminate carcinogens and other risks from our diet. A "very small" risk by eating a "weakly carcinogenic" food is not justifiable when the only benefit is an increased profit margin.
 
No, you're creating a false choice between things. She even advocates eating other foods with semicarbazide in them, like eggs and cheese, thus making your point about her being some educator about natural nourishment toothless, on top of the fact that natural isn't better by any means. What I assume you mean chronic illnesses increasing has a large part to do with  awareness, modern diagnostic equipment, longer life spans and a large population contributes to that; rather than just shaming everything unnatural. 
 
I'm not out to shame everything unnatural. But, I am interested in the reasons why certain additives are used.  And, in my opinion, using an ingredient which adds no nutritional value, or even takes away from the nutritional value, just because it increases profit is irresponsible.

There are plenty of unnatural things that I still enjoy to eat/drink occasionally. But, now I am able to do so after making an informed decision. I realize I misspoke when I said "naturally nourish." What I should have said is simply "nourish."

I have no need to defend Food Babe, and I haven't read more than a couple of her blogs. But I'm sure that she is NOT advocating eating eggs with semicarbazide present. Seeing as it is a result of administering medicine to poultry most likely in poor living conditions.

Also, in my experience, it's not a false choice. I recently had to give up drinking coffee (which I love) because I was getting headaches far too frequently. So I switched to tea. The tea that I'm drinking now has caffeine in it too. Since I've come to really enjoy it, AND because my headaches have completely disappeared, I'm drinking more tea than I ever drank coffee. I've done the calculations, and my caffeine intake from tea at least equals but more likely exceeds what I had from coffee. In one respect they are the same exact natural chemical stimulant. But, for some reason my body treats it differently.
 
Every time I read some of her pseudoscience, It almost ruins my day. Then remember I can use it on my students, and make them tear her arguments apart. 
 
+Frank Skov This headline on her blog yesterday made me want to cry: "Food Babe Voted Dr Oz’s “Healthiest Facebook Page”!"
 
Dr. Oz's is also top grade BS supportive of pseudosciences such as faith healing, homeopathy and psychic communication with the dead. So the Food Babe is just up his alley
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