Food Babe’s Tricky Treats

food babe debunked

You get what you pay for
(inspired by a Jerry James meme)

Food Babe is back in time to ruin another holiday for everyone. This time it’s Halloween, and her target: children and their candy.  It wouldn’t be a Vani Hari affair if she wasn’t promoting her own overpriced products that, as always, contain ingredients that violate the very safety standards she pulled out of her anal region from her previous writings.

I’d like to walk you through Hari’s list of recommended alternative sweets and, wearing my ever-faithful Food Babe Investigator Hat,TM apply Vani’s own bloody knife of reason to each and every candy she’s selling.1   If I sound nit-picky on any point, let me remind you we are playing by Vani Hari’s rules here.  So grab some popcorn and let’s get started.  The Food Babe Candy Massacre stars:


good vs evil

Good vs. evil. Every product sold by Hari has at least one ingredient she says to avoid. (click/enlarge)

Surf Sweets Sour Berry Bears
If Vani Hari was directing a horror movie, the Surf Sweets Sour Berry Bears would be the innocent little creatures walking, oblivious, backward into a room full of masked men who are wielding roaring chainsaws. The bears would be smiling, fingers stuck in their ears, as they nervously chant “we’re made with natural flavors!”.2

Oh no. Not natural flavors!

Educate us on natural flavors, Vani:

“‘Natural Flavor’ is one of the most deceptive ingredients on a label of any product.” 3

Food Babe swings the natural flavoring slur like a murder weapon in a slasher flick, once going so far as to imply that Campbell’s V8 Juice might include dead animal parts just because it was made with natural flavors.

The poor Sour Berry Bears also get a controversial rating from Vani because they contain malic acid, which she labeled a “questionable ingredient” on Panera’s “Hidden Menu” in a June, 2013 Facebook post.4 (Malic acid is actually a safe organic ingredient that gives a tart taste to foods.)

YumEarth Organic Lollipops
These organic lollipops are made with evaporated cane juice.5

What does Food Babe think of evaporated cane juice?  Not much.6,7  She calls it a refined sugar and disdains its use, saying “it has no nutritional value”.6

Claiming that refined sugars are addictive, make you fat, tired, depressed, age faster, give you dull skin, and are responsible for a long laundry list of evils,6 Vani channels the true spirit of Halloween by asking:

“Did you know that refined sugar is the devil?” 6

Bless her heart.  Somebody needs a hobby!

TruJoy Sweets Organic Fruit Chews
This product is a train wreck of Food Babe forbidden ingredients.8  We start with powdered sugar.  This “processed” sugar is such a Vani Hari no-no I don’t even need to give a citation for it.  Strike two for the maltodextrin in the fruit chews, even if it comes from tapioca, because it’s a “refined” product in Vani’s eyes.9  And, as discussed in the YumEarth Lollipops entry, the dried cane syrup is on the Food Babe ban list because it has “no nutritional value” and there’s a long list of imagined ills it can cause.6

Perhaps the biggest nightmare lurking in this Vani Hari affiliated product though is the brown rice syrup.10  In a September 22, 2015 blog post, Hari jumps the shark and uses the “C word”, ominously warning that brown rice syrup is

“notoriously contaminated with with arsenic, which is a “potent human carcinogen” according to scientists at Consumer Reports and classified as a group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer” 10

Norman Bates didn’t need a knife in the famous shower scene of Psycho. According to Vani’s own rules, these lollipops sound so deadly he could have used one of them instead.

YumEarth Gummy Bears
These cute little bears would horrify Vani because they contain natural flavors.11  There’s also the gross-out factor that they’re made with gelatin (crushed up animal bones–now that’s a Halloween treat!), though Hari sees some light at the end of the tunnel here:

“To be honest, when I found out what gelatin was made from (animals bones) I was a bit disgusted – however – after really looking into it I’ve found that gelatin has some redeeming health benefits.  […] 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.” 12

No word on where YumEarth gets its gelatin, but before Food Babe investigates that, she might want to take a look at the IARC group 2B carcinogen that could be lurking in this candy: caffeic acid16 from carrots11 used as a coloring.13, 14, 15

4-mel and caffeic acid

4-Mel (from caramel coloring) and caffeic acid (found in carrots) are both group IARC group 2B carcinogens. (click/enlarge)

Food Babe Army, you’re familiar with group 2B carcinogens, right?  Vani talked you into petitioning Starbucks over the possibility of one (“4-Mel”) in their Pumpkin Spice Latte.17  She’s also had you spamming countless corporate Facebook pages over another group 2B member, carrageenan.  Well, caffeic acid is on the very same list.16 It’s found in carrots,13, 14, 15 and Food Babe’s strict criteria is that we don’t buy such “dangerous” foods.

sadgummySorry Mr. Gummy Bear.  Off to the dumpster you go.


Alter Eco Organic Salted Truffles
altero eco organic salted truffles

I’m sorry.  $55.80 for a box of 60 chocolates?18  Are you ****ing kidding me?   Imagine an average American, living on minimum wage, doling out nearly $60 for Halloween candy.  I know families trying to buy a week’s worth of groceries for that amount of money. Suggesting this alternative Halloween treat–and earning a sales commission from it–only goes to further Food Babe’s image as an entitled, out-of-touch misanthrope.

But since I promised to debunk every item on Food Babe’s shopping list using her own criteria, here you go:  this product lists the cryptic “natural flavors”19 that drives Hari over the edge.  I’m reminded of that famous warning on natural flavors:

Castoreum (or beaver butt) is just one of the ingredients that could be called a “natural flavor.” 20 –Vani Hari

I wonder how many beaver butts you can fit into a 720 gram truffle jar?

Unreal Candy Coated Milk Chocolates
This company is proud to use organic carrots to provide coloring for their candies.21 A fact that no doubt makes hippy vegan rabbits happy, but it’s bad news for the Food Babe Army. As we just said in the YumEarth Gummy Bear blurb, carrots contain caffeic acid,13, 14, 15 an IARC group 2B carcinogen.16 Food Babe treats group 2B carcinogens such as 4-Mel and carrageenan like vampires and wields petitions like holy water against them, but somehow manages to ignore all the IARC group 2B members she’s hawking.

Before anyone gets too worried about the carrots in their fridge jumping out to attack them, also on the list of group 2B carcinogens are coffee, pickled vegetables, and the profession of carpentry. When you take the time to do a little reading, Food Babe’s scary ingredients aren’t so scary after all.

Endangered Species Organic Chocolate Bug Bites
The Endangered Species brand uses soy lecithin as an emulsifier in all its chocolates,22 which is ironic, as perhaps no ingredient is more vilified by Hari in her “chocolates to avoid list”.1

Food Babe Army inductees will quickly recite the mantra “but it’s because soy is usually a GMO product!”. And they’d do so only because they really haven’t read Food Babe’s articles.

In a “100 Days of Real Food” piece,23 Vani Hari lambastes soy lecithin as one of the cheap “junk fillers” found in chocolates we shouldn’t be buying. As always, it’s “junk” in everyone else’s products but “good food” if Vani is selling it.

Ocho Minis
Ocho Minis are made with organic dried cane syrup.24,25

In her article “How Frozen Yogurt Went Bad”,26 Vani Hari clearly refers to evaporated cane syrup as a refined sweetener.  And as we know by now, refined sweeteners are the Grim Reaper of the bakery aisle in Vani Hari’s eyes. The only difference I see on Vani’s label is “dried” vs. “evaporated”.

I’d like to hear Food Babe explain how “evaporating” is a different refining process than “drying”, but given that she is opposed to pasteurizing milk and juice32,33 but favors boiling it, I don’t think she’s going to do a very good job convincing anyone with a basic chemistry background that she’s got her brain firmly wrapped around the core concepts.

food babe boil milk

Boil but don’t pasteurize… could we trust Vani to explain evaporate vs. dried? Let’s not risk it. (screen capture courtesy Kavin Senapathy)

For the record, all Ocho Minis products are also made with soy lecithin, which Vani classified as a junk filler in a 100 Days of Real Food article.22


Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups
Vani sells both the mini cups and the full size cups.  Both have the same ingredients.27,28  One of those ingredients is her “junk” filler, soy lecithin.22


Nutiva O’Coconuts
One of the two available flavors is made from hemp and chia seeds.29  Chia seeds contain the essential amino acid phenylalanine,30 a molecule that both confused and greatly frightened Food Babe when she wrote about chewing gum in December, 2011.31   Imagining that phenylalanine is somehow “added” to the artificial sweetener aspartame during the manufacturing process, the Babe warns that it can induce harm in susceptible individuals:

“[…] mental retardation, brain seizures, sleep disorders and anxiety. All this from chewing a piece of gum. SCARY.”

Well, yeah. When you put it that way, it does sound scary.  So where’s the warning label on your O’Coconuts candy, Vani?  Oh, there isn’t one?


I delve more deeply into the Food Babe phenylalanine scare here if you’re interested.


Of course, none of the candy sold by Food Babe is actually dangerous. None of the candy she says to avoid is dangerous either.  All I’ve done here is use Food Babe’s own tactics–and words–against her.

The only significant differences between the sweets Food Babe wants you to avoid and those she wants you to buy is that she earns a sales commission on the latter.  And… her brands are typically far more expensive.

If you can afford to shell out $55 for 60 organic chocolate truffles and don’t mind Vani Hari getting a cut of the action, I wish you joy in it.  Otherwise, ignore the Food Babe hyperbole, act like a nice rational human being, and hand out some of the candy she hates.  The kids will love you, your pocketbook will remain a little fatter, and you won’t have fallen for one of the most obvious Vani Hari Halloween tricks to have ever hit the Internet.



Image Credits
All Food Babe, screen snapshots and product image captures are used in strict compliance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

Food Babe “Lucy Psychiatry Booth” parody by Mark Alsip, inspired by a Jerry James “Banned by Food Babe” Group meme.

Food Babe pasteurization post screen capture courtesy Kavin Senapathy.


(1) How To Stop Poisoining The Neighborhood Children On Halloween

(2) Surf Sweets Sour Berry Bears Ingredients

(3) Vani Hari Natural Flavoring Archives

(4) Food Babe Panera Hidden Menu

(5) YumEarth Organic Lollipops Ingredients

(6) Food Babe Refined Sugar Archives (Cane Juice)

(7) Food Babe Evaporated Cane Juice (Facebook)

(8) TruJoy Fruit Chews Ingredients

(9) Food Babe on Maltodextrin

(10) Avoiding Common Gluten Mistakes (Brown Rice Syrup Reference)

(11) YumEarth Gummy Bears Ingredients

(12)  This Childhood Favorite Has a Warning Label In Europe Why Not Here?

(13) Phenolic acids in potatoes, vegetables, and some of their products.
Journal of Food Composition and Analysis
Volume 20, Issues 3–4, May 2007, Pages 152–160
Pirjo Mattila, Jarkko Hellstrom

(14) Chlorogenic acid biosynthesis: Characterization of a light-induced microsomal 5-O-(4-coumaroyl)-d-quinate/shikimate 3′-hydroxylase from carrot (Daucus carota L.) cell suspension cultures
Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics
Volume 258, Issue 1, October 1987, Pages 226-232
Thomas Kühnl, Ulrich Koch, Werner Heller, Eckard Wellmann

(15) Food Colorants: Chemical and Functional Properties
Carmen Socaciu
CRC Press, Oct 24, 2007
ISBN 9781420009286

(16) Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Volumes 1–111

(17) Food Babe 4-Mel Archives

(18) Alter Eco Organic Caramel Salted Truffles (Pricing)

(19) Alter Eco Organic Caramel Salted Truffles (Ingredients)

(20) Do You Eat Beaver Butt?

(21) Unreal Candies Ingredients

(22) Endangered Species Organic Chocolate Bug Bites Ingredients

(23) Food Babe 100 Days Of Real Food (Soy Lecithin)

(24) Ocho Minis Peanut Butter Bar

(25) Ocho Minis Ingredients

(26) How Frozen Yogurt Went Bad

(27) Justin’s Mini Peanut Butter Cups Ingredients

(28) Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups (regular size) Ingredients

(29) Nutiva Ococonuts Ingredients

(30) USDA Statistics Report: #12006, Seeds, chia seeds, dried

(31) Why Chewing Gum Destroys Your Health

(32) Food Babe Organic Milk (Pasteurization)

(33) Food Babe Juice Labels (Pasteurization)


6 thoughts on “Food Babe’s Tricky Treats

  1. Reblogged this on Honest Abe's Blog and commented:
    Definition of Conflict of Interest (source Merriam-Webster): “a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust”.
    If someone tells you something is bad, unhealthy or toxic for you and ask you to spend your money on their merchandise (premium susbcription, DVD, book) or to buy from their sponsors, this is a red flag that you are facing a modern snake oil seller. Since when a reputable expert and doctor rely on selling you books and DVDs for a living?
    A real expert will give you the information you need and ask, free of charge, with its best competency he/she can.


  2. Vani Hari is not perfect, but the criticisms in this article are, with few exceptions, very weak.

    Hari never said that all “natural flavors” are bad, only that the term is a catch-all that companies often use as a fig leaf for questionable additives. To show that she’s a hypocrite on this score, you’d need to do more work: You’d need to show that the “natural flavors” in these products are actually ones that Hari would find objectionable. But you haven’t.

    It seems you’re creating a straw man with regard to Hari and evaporated cane juice. In the Food Babe post you linked to, Hari doesn’t say that she never eats evaporated cane juice; she points out that it’s probably not that great for you (though better than more intensely processed sugars), and says she doesn’t eat a lot of it. Selling a candy as a “treat” intended for occasional consumption seems entirely consistent with her position there. There’s only a hypocrisy if you put words into her mouth, as you do in this post.

    The phenylalinine “gotcha” you’ve posted is similar: To my knowledge, Hari never wrote against naturally-ocurring phenylalinine or caffeic acid, but only against the industrially-processed versions. Hari isn’t being crazy here: There are lots of examples of substances that seem to work great in whole foods but lose protective effects or become dangerous in isolation. For example, the antioxidants that are abundant in fruits and vegetables seem to have protective effect against cancer, but antioxidants synthesized or isolated via industrial processes instead seem to feed cancer cells. The entire supplement industry is littered with stories like this: omega-3 capsules, Vitamin A and E capsules, etc. Another example: The sugar in confectioner’s sugar is technically the same kind of sugar found in pears, but the first gives you diabetes while the other doesn’t. But your equivocation here doesn’t allow for this kind of nuance.

    What you’re doing here is equivocating between two very different things: the chemicals in food, and the chemicals created or isolated by industrial means. Treating these as exactly the same in all contexts, as you do here, is scientistic and could easily form a basis for dangerous eating behaviors. “Hey, sugar’s all the same, and as a diabetic I can eat whole fruit, so why not eat processed sugar too?”

    Out of all this post, the only thing that lands even halfway squarely is your point about Hari and soy lecithin. Yes, she admits that soy lecithin is “junk filler”. But junk filler isn’t necessarily something to be avoided at all costs; it may just be something that could nudge people to superior alternatives, such as chocolates that don’t have soy lecithin. Unless Hari is advocating a guru-like life, these kinds of grey areas are bound to be explored, and met with some kind of compromise. So I think your criticism of Hari here, as are your other criticisms, is pretty unreasonable.


    • Thanks for reading and commenting Robert. Lots of points to address, I’ll try to hit the highlights. If I miss something important, please call me out on it.

      Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid. It isn’t added to products as Hari claims. It’s simply a molecule, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. Saying otherwise is the appeal to nature fallacy.

      I think the natural flavoring argument you make is shifting the burden of proof. Vani’s objection to the use of natural flavoring is exactly what you said. But she has her followers avoiding products that say “natural flavor”. That’s it. Full stop. That IS her criteria.

      Hari never wrote about caffeic acid at all. I’m not sure she knows what it is. The point is, it is an IARC group 2B carcinogen. Her argument against 4-Mel and carrageenan is that they are IARC group 2B carcinogens.

      I try very hard not to put words into Hari’s mouth. That’s why I link to her full articles in everything I write about her.


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