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Clean Eating – Horizon

TV today is all about ratings and hash tags.

Horizon describes itself as “Horizon tells amazing science stories, unravels mysteries and reveals worlds you’ve never seen before”. Horizon has done some terrific programmes in the past. Tonight’s programme “Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth” was not one of them.

There was a lot of media coverage before the programme. The programme presenter, Dr Giles Yeo, popped up on everything from Radio 5 Live, to BBC breakfast, to Radio 4 Today’s programme, to Victoria Derbyshire… The main target, in the promotional activity before the programme, was what the Daily Mail called the “glossy apostles” of “clean eating”. The women featured, to generate interest in the programme, were Ella Mills (Deliciously Ella); The Hemsley Sisters (Melissa & Jasmine) and, someone I’ve not heard of, Natasha Corrett (“Honestly Healthy”).

As far as I’m aware, none of these women have ever used the term “Clean Eating”. In the Horizon programme, Ella Mills said of the term: “I haven’t used it, but as far as I understood it when I first read the term it meant natural, you know, kind of unprocessed.” The Hemsley Sisters clarified similarly, back in May 2016, that they think “real food” more appropriately describes their approach. Despite this fact, the programme kicked off with Yeo talking about these healthy looking women in ‘shocked tones’, as if somehow we too should be shocked by them. They cook from scratch and favour real food over processed food and they have the audacity to inspire others to do the same. In a world of growing obesity and type 2 diabetes, what’s the issue?!

Notice from the outset that no men were targeted. Despite the fact that James Duigan’s book is actually called “Clean & Lean” and Joe Wicks is encouraging people to get “Lean in 15”, Horizon only picked on the high priestesses, not priests. I wonder why?

The genuine story

There was a (bad) science story in the programme. Here’s a summary. A fake doctor, called Robert O Young, has been making money out of his co-called pH miracle Diet; the worst of his crimes being giving shocking (baking soda) ‘treatment’ and false hope to cancer sufferers. He was convicted (2016) of practising medicine without a license and is facing a three year sentence.

What has this got to do with Ella Mills? Absolutely nothing.

What has this got to do with The Hemsley Sisters? Absolutely nothing.

What has this got to do with Natasha Corrett? In one of Corrett’s books, she referenced Young’s views on acidity, alkalinity and plant based diets (the passages are quoted accurately in the BBC article here.  Corrett was given the chance by Horizon to completely distance herself from Young; she didn’t take it. That did not reflect well. (As a matter of interest, it turns out that Oprah also fell for the Young con and featured him on her show).

The China Study

The programme went on to attack, quite rightly, The China Study. It did a fairly good critique, but the best dissection of this study was done by Denise Minger, somewhat ironically a former vegan/vegetarian. The China Study is a eulogy to plant-eating. It has become the vegan bible. It is far more likely to turn readers into vegans, or vegetarians at least. So, Horizon obviously cautioned about the dangers of giving up entire food groups?

No… far from it…

The ‘powers-that-be’ don’t even seem to know what constitutes a food group. I think that there are nine food groups: Meat; Fish; Eggs; Dairy; Vegetables; Fruit; Nuts & seeds; Legumes (beans, pulses, etc); and Grains.

Gluten describes (protein) component parts of some grains. Hence gluten is a sub set of one of nine food groups. Yeo told us in the programme “I’m going to investigate the messages that the new gurus of clean are selling us…. ‘Clean’ and diets like gluten-free are the latest fads…” He expressed horror at the number of people choosing to avoid gluten. How “extreme“!

People who avoid gluten are avoiding some foods in one food group. Vegans avoid four entire food groups (meat, fish, eggs and dairy) and vegetarians avoid meat and fish. Both are avoiding the most nutritious food groups. But no, Horizon didn’t want to pick a fight with the millions of vegetarians and vegans – just those avoiding one entirely unnecessary substance in one (also if the truth be told, entirely unnecessary) food group.

The conflicts

So why attack those going gluten-free? Yeo has (unwittingly?) put himself in the middle of the cereals, bread and wheat (starchy carbohydrates) protection racket:

i) In July 2015, the Scientific Advisory Committee produced a report promoting starchy carbohydrate consumption (and pretty much clearing sugar, other than sugary drinks, of any crime). I detailed the fake food industry conflicts for the committee here.

ii) In March 2016, Public Health England updated the eatbadly plate to become the eatbadly guide. In a peer-reviewed article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, I reported that the group that came up with the revised eating guide was a who’s who of the fake food industry and that this group had been knowingly appointed by Public Health England.

iii) If you watched social media before and during the programme, you would have seen dieticians leading the attack on the women who don’t even use the term “Clean Eating.” Here are the conflicts for their Trade Union – the British Dietetic Association.  From infant formula to cereal partners, dieticians are friends of fake food – not the real food encouraged by the “glossy apostles”.

The evidence

The Horizon programme expressed concern that there is no evidence base for encouraging real food (over processed food). There’s no evidence for our dietary guidelines: not RCT evidence; not epidemiological evidence; not then and not now. The best known nutritional slogan of all – five-a-day – has no evidence base. Not even the hydration message holds water. So, picking a fight in the evidence arena is not going to end well. I’ll take common sense (eat what the planet, not Ronald McDonald, provides) and 3.5 million years worth of evolution, thanks very much.


The Horizon programme wasn’t about Ella Mills or The Hemsley Sisters.  They haven’t and don’t use the term “Clean Eating.” These ‘pictures-of-health’ were, however, used by the programme as ‘link bait’ to generate pre-programme publicity and to attract viewers. When the programme presenter, Dr Giles Yeo, has 335 instagram followers, the Hemsley Sisters have 278,000 and Ella Mills has one million, why not harness the popularity of these real foodies to promote your so-called ‘science’ programme?

Who cares if the women’s hard-earned reputations are damaged by implication and association, because of the one con man that the show was really about?

TV today is all about ratings and hash tags. Shame on you Horizon.

33 thoughts on “Clean Eating – Horizon

  • I´ve only just seen the programme. Your attack it is nonsensical.

    The appearance of various women in it may be peripheral – or it may be because they are actually fringe players in what has become the food and diets racket. They will certainly be making a lot of money out of their involvement in this business. You yourself are in the business – and I too have a couple of websites on – surprise, surprise – losing weight. Neither you nor me nor the various women you refer to were the focus of the programme.

    The main focus was to attack the people behind various fad diets. These are diets which are making lots of money for some people, but which have very little, if any, reputable evidence behind them. The attack was specially strong against the pseudo-doctor who devised the pH diet. A shifty-seeming character, who has, as a consequence of his activities, legal problems. As well as feeding sick people with false hope, these various fad diets can be medically dangerous.

    You yourself, Zoe, I seem to remember suggested we should lay off eating fruit and even seemed to imply (I think) that there´s too much ballyhoo about vegetables too. Views that are worthy of a Horizon programme all to themselves.

    (I also “seem to remember” that another critical comment about something you had said was censored.)

  • Nice to see you agree with me (grins)

    my version is shorter and more sarcastic.

    What a storm of self-congratulatory tweeting this has produced! Proof undeniable that dieticians largely lack any understanding of the distinction between science and dogma.

    I’m not alone in noticing that for the last few months there appears to be a major fightback from the carb and margarine industries and their current allies, veg(etari)ans, so I was a bit surprised he had a tilt at T Colon Campbell.

    As regards “food groups” remember J Stanton (

    birdseed and diesel fuel are NOT food groups

    if you can put it in a truck and the truck starts it is NOT FOOD

    My 12 years of “orthorexia” have so far resulted in severely normal blood glucose and lipids and markedly reduced blood pressure. I do have some dietary deficiencies though – a total deficiency of statins, PPIs and antidepressants, and a very low level of BP meds, and my GP remarked recently that “after all this time we would have expected you to be on two or three diabetes meds”, but sadly shows little enthusiasm for how I achieved this. She is less condemnatory though since the PCT was replaced by a CCG. I pointed her towards David Unwin.

  • Re: The China Study.

    Denise Minger’s thoughts on The China Study have long ago been debunked.
    Try not to think of eating for health as eliminating food groups. Think of it as eliminating Lobby groups from Big Meat, Dairy, AG and Pharma from our meal plans. We are being corporately steered with purposefully contradicting science, depending on what corporations are funding the studies, and we are dying because of it. Sick people are great for the bottom line…no $$ in healthy people.

  • So glad you wrote this Zoe. I only watched it last night and was appalled. The sinister music and ridiculous post-it stickers on the wall… like it was a terrorist-hunt on Homeland, for goodness sake. As if people are dying from cutting gluten and eating more fresh veg! Although I’m a health coach now, I worked in PR for 20 years (mainly for the food industry) and completely agree with you that this was very clever marketing to gain publicity and viewers, pegging the whole thing on Deliciously Ella et al. As a student of functional medicine, it makes my blood boil when I hear a doctor go on national TV and suggest that the “food is medicine” approach is bunkum and only “proper science” should be trusted. Hippocrates knew better thousands of years ago. Keep going Zoe – and can we see you on TV soon please? Best wishes, Suzy

  • This is brilliant Zoe, seems the carb lobby is getting its retaliations in early. Stark reminder of the difficulties in getting the LCHF message beyond the web.

  • I agree that too much emphasis was placed on the exploits of Robert Young who was clearly exploiting what could be a very interesting development in balancing your Ph level. I recently returned from an Ayurveda center in India where your Ph balance takes more prominence. There are many good reasons for keeping your Ph levels at 7 to 7.5. The Horizon program has just rubbished the whole idea. I would urge people to consider making their systems more alkaline.

  • I was disappointed that, when talking to Bill Davis about wheat, there was no mention of its effect on raising blood sugar and insulin resistance .
    I agree with his general points that evidence based medicine is important but he doesn’t seem to realise that his support for the “western, balanced diets” is not based on scientific evidence.
    I saw him on another video stating that the world obesity crisis was caused by eating too much fatty food, and by the movement of populations in China and India into the middle classes. I would like to see scientific evidence for either of these claims.

  • Interesting critique. I am trying to find a way of viewing the show from Australia – keen to see. I may be off track, not having seen the show, but why are these debates always so extreme? Why can’t medicine accept there is something in diet and wellness, rather than look for the horror story or labelling everything a dangerous fad? The alkaline diet has been around for a century and the chemistry of the gut microbiota is so complex, I would not be making definitive statements about the bunkum of pH levels and cancer and chronic illness just yet.

    • Hi Greta
      If you google “Horizon clean eating” and click on videos there are a number of copies already on youtube. They’ll get taken down quickly. The BBC is working towards making its content available world wide – that can’t come soon enough. It’s sat on an absolute treasure trove!

      You make a good point on the extremes but that’s the start and end of this blog – that’s how you get ratings! It’s like the red and green/like and dislike arrows all over sites nowadays – everything seems to want to polarize people into black and white, good and bad. It’s not healthy.

      On the pH – I don’t think there can be any magic in the acidity or alkalinity of what we eat because the body regulates our pH so closely around 7.4 stomach at all times and stomach acid is akin to battery acid, so it can’t matter much the pH level of what goes in. If you read the list of foods recommended on alkaline diets – fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, legumes – these are all real foods. If people followed a typical recommended alkaline diet they would be ditching processed food and that alone would be a good thing. The fact that they may also avoid nutrient dense meat and dairy would not be a good thing (in my view).

      Hope you find the prog!
      Best wishes – Zoe

      • Thanks so much Zoe! I found a copy on YouTube just now and will watch. I really appreciate your comments. I agree alkaline works because the food it recommends are *ahem* clean foods, or real foods.
        I am still interested in the pH of foods and drinks and our health. I have heard the gut chemistry masks the impact of pH so makes it difficult to detect and would like to learn more. In the literature there is certainly a majority view nothing we eat or drink will affect the pH of our blood and there is still some debate whether pH is impact can even be measured in our urine. I think there is more to learn from gut microbiology on this but ultimately you may well be right. Not sure about meat and dairy, but moderation is the key.
        I congratulate you on the blog. My comments about extremes was mainly directed to science, which is supposed to be impartial. I think a number of your commenters here have made some good points.
        I look forward to reading the Trump obesity post I just received from you. Best regards.

        • Hi again –
          Many thanks for your kind words :-)

          I was having a debate with a journalist yesterday, for whom I have high regard. He is interested in the pH area too. I remembered a comprehensive article I wrote for our club when Wheat Belly came out ( The section on pH from Dr Davis’s work is below – hope it’s of interest.
          Best wishes – Zoe

          I found Chapter 8 quite fascinating. I have helped a journalist recently with some comments about “The Alkaline Diet”. The journalist had tried the diet for a fortnight – fair play. It involved having all meals delivered to the door (she described it as a fruit & veg delivery, because it’s not much else!) The diet claims that eating alkaline foods is ‘right’ for the body because acidic environments are unhealthy. Health claims for the diet range from a cure for cancer to the answer to obesity.

          The points I made were:
          a) The body needs to maintain a pH balance of 7.4 at all times. Moving even 0.5 points away from this can be fatal. Hence the body manages this perfectly for us and will do so, no matter what we eat.
          b) The alkaline diet is vegan and, by definition, does therefore not provide retinol, vitamin B12, vitamin K2 or heme iron. Additionally, many vitamins and minerals are extremely difficult to get in a vegan diet e.g. vitamin D, unless the person eats 2.2kg of sunshine grown mushrooms, in a fat delivery mechanism (e.g. olive oil) daily.
          c) Any diet that cuts out all processed food is good – The Alkaline Diet has this in its favour. However, it also cuts out the most nutritious foods – meat, fish, eggs and dairy – and it has no means of delivering complete proteins as a result.
          d) The natural diet to which we evolved – hunter/gatherer – would have delivered acid foods in the form of meat/fish/animals and alkaline foods in the form of any vegetation available and this would have given us natural balance. Interestingly, most nuts and seeds are also acid based foods. Hence, during cold periods with no vegetation, all of our food intake would have been acidic – this has not been a problem for the body (indeed the main acid in our stomach is hydrochloric acid – a pretty corrosive substance!)
          Having read “Wheat Belly” on the day that the journalist called was very timely, as I had not realised the extreme acidity of wheat, as a food. Here’s a useful colour chart (part way down the page) to show the alkalinity vs. acidity of different foods ( Sugar is described as “acid” and wheat, white flour and pasta as “most acid.”

          It was the description given by Dr Davis, as to how the body deals with our extraordinary and unprecedented consumption of wheat that shocked me. When confronted with this load of acidity, the body draws from any alkaline stores available to compensate. Such stores include bicarbonate in the blood stream and alkaline calcium salts such as calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate in bones. “Because maintaining a normal pH is so crucial, the body will sacrifice bone health to keep pH stable.”

          Carbonated, sugary, drinks are another significant dietary source of acid. “The constant draw on calcium from bones is associated with fivefold increased fractures in high school girls who consume the most carbonate colas.” (Chapter 8, ref 1)

          Davis also explains that animal foods, although on the acidic side of the food table, are not as harmful to pH balance as this would suggest. Protein rich meats have other effects that partially negate the acid load. “Animal protein exerts a bone-strengthening effect through stimulation of the hormone insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which triggers bone growth and mineralisation.”

          A university of Toronto study examined the effect of increasing gluten consumption from bread on the level of calcium lost in the urine. “Increased gluten intake increased urinary calcium loss by an incredible 63%” (Chapter 8, ref 15)

          • Cudos to you for a cogent article, teasing out especially the notion that the BBC show pitted hard working women making healthy modest claims against the real con man, and thank you for an intelligently laid out description of the sort of points that should spark discourse about vegan diets and gluten, and at least brought up a few science based factoids. Both issues are more complex than either his report or your page report, and neither point out that studies involving meat, grain and dairy generally use CAFO, GMO and non-organic materials, rendering much of the research field suspect. Nonetheless, this short page is far more revealing and educational than the promo program parading as “open-minded, unbiased” scientific inquiry, by a notably cheeky jeweled pscientist who is an obesity researcher. (No bias/denial there, eh?) The appalling inability of the obesity “treatment” industry to effectuate any lasting healthy changes in this epidemic, along with the invested interests in obesity of the agricultural and pharmaceutical and sometimes neutriceutical industries, is the very driver of alternative approaches. I wanted to think his program was rational and balanced, if misinformed; it was evident from the outset that he had an agenda, and clear by the end that the agenda constituted Dr. scare tactics to keep people thinking whatever they are eating, if it is in line with government regulations, is fine and has no relationship to health. Reinforcement of that meme is the implicit ending. His show was any but a rigorous, balanced, or even cursory look at the research or even with any legitimate researchers in the field, resulting in an appalling, if visually appealing, infomercial for Big Ag and Big Pharma.

          • Hi Barrie
            Many thanks for your comment. I caught an interview with the ‘cheeky chappy’ where he seemed to have no problem owning up to industry funding. I’m pretty sure it’s pharma, rather than food money and indeed Cambridge is massively ‘in bed’ with pharma (as is Oxford). I think we’d be naive to think that complete cures for our major ills would be good news for pharma companies. The best scenario is the present one – growing numbers of obese and diabetic people needing life long meds for blood pressure, blood lipids and blood glucose.
            Look after oneself is my motto!
            Best wishes – Zoe

  • Great article Zoe, I thought clean eating meant not eating processed rubbish. Nobody can argue that real, natural food, as nature intended is good for you. It is not a “fad” diet, or an obsession, it’s just the way people ate normally before the big food companies set out to make massive profits and to creat a load of pseudo foods. It means eating food that is as close to nature as possible.

    Just one observation, should your sentence “They cook from scratch and favour real food over unprocessed food and they have the audacity to inspire others to do the same. In a world of growing obesity and type 2 diabetes, what’s the issue?!” read They cook from scratch and favour real food over processed food and they have the audacity to inspire others to do the same. In a world of growing obesity and type 2 diabetes, what’s the issue?!

  • I agree in part with your assessment of the Horizon programme. However it is a shame that you have used your analysis as a quasi attack on veganisn/vegetarianism. Denise Minger’s “dissection” of the China Study has been discredited by many. Disappointingly there are as many predjudices underpinning your response as there were in the Horizon programme.

    • Denise Minger discredited by ‘many’.. Well, check your facts..

  • These reads like a rant against things either not attributed to the programme such as the daily mail article, and government policy, perceived sexism, and a possible insinuation that the presenter is somehow a shill of “big bread”. I am sure Ella etc al would have happily described their approach as “clean eating” prior to the programme, and even if they didn’t it’s a widely used phrase that a lot of the public would use to describe the approach that they prescribe.

    If you think the entire approach was a boutique he one man con show, you missed the bit where the author of the China study said people shouldn’t just eat vegetables, where the author of wheat belly was shown to be talking rubbish. Not as extreme as the alkaline idiot but still showing the use of “fake science” to promote very narrow views.

    Criticising giles Yeo for criticising gluten free is just nuts. People enjoy gluten containing products, if they go gluten free they often try to replace these products with GF equivalents. These are often offer significantly worse nutrient densities and are often higher in fat sugar and salt than gluten containing equivalents. To accuse him, or at least try to tarnish his arguement, with your implications doesn’t caste you in a good light. I have no idea who you are beyond having just read this blog, but you don’t put across a good impression in this article. Maybe you are disappointed the BBC didn’t call you to present?

  • Thank you Zoe. You don’t mention the part about William Davies and Fassano, I wonder what you made of that?

    • Hi Andrea
      That part was being used to attack the “extreme” of going gluten free, so I focused on food groups and how absurd it is to think of giving up one part of one good group as “extreme”. It doesn’t much matter where that debate went (and it wasn’t well explained – ditto The China Study ‘surrogate end points’ would have confused many people).

      Separately, I have read Wheat Belly and found it very interesting.

      Best wishes – Zoe

  • I understand that the story around Robert O Young is a little unsettling, however, I would be interested to know what the other patients he has used the protocol on have to say, if there have been any successes? The show was only interested in discussing the one case, which was of course extremely sad, but she had been told by the NHS that she had a limit on her life so it could have happened anyway or was there specific evidence to suggest that it was the protocol that was the issue? I didn’t feel it was that clear cut and it was a way of pinning something on him… I believe he was actually trying to help them and believed that what he was doing would help, a lot like the NHS when they dish out drugs left right and centre, they believe this is the best option, I disagree but then I’m no Dr either. I have however seen evidence to suggest these alternative protocols have many success stories, (this one I can not comment on as I have no idea what the protocol was) plus there are many stories of people with cancer dying under the care of the NHS, which no one seems to bat an eyelid at!! This in itself makes no sense to me, who funded the documentary? It was a very one sided approach and if you have seen any of The Truth About Cancer it clearly shows an argument opposing that of the one in this program. How can anyone dispute that natural food is better for you? They seem to deliberately miss this point and are trying to shame people for promoting healthy living and eating? Why???

  • Can you fill in a few missing bits I am not sure of from the above (i need to catch up on the show!)?

    1. Did Dr Yeo promote the guidelines and specifically say people needed to eat ‘x’ amount of grains a day or did he just say there wasn’t an evidence base for healthy people to go gluten free?

    2. Are you suggesting it is okay to promote gluten-free to the general population despite not having evidence of public health benefit because the current guidelines are based on flawed evidence? As much as I may believe many of the current health promotion campaigns to be flawed, this seems a very cyclic approach to dietary advice that constantly leaves it open for critique.

    3. Big believer in disclosing CoI in research and professionally but need clarity on the ‘protection racket’….is Dr Yeo a member of the board you mention or a dietitian? It seems the implication is he is guilty of conflicts of interest/industry influence by holding a similar belief. We need to be careful on how we use this term a) as scientific critique always trumps it and b) if you extend the links somewhere in our pensions or by attendance at a university we can all be linked to industry. Not to defend dieticians but for example, just looking at labour voting figures we can see many TU’s do not represent the political views of their members; though no doubt they have the opportunity to influence their members :-).

    I may just be repeating whats in the show as need to catch up but ‘clean eating’ for me is about how food is talked about and/or presented as much as it is, its content and claims. We could argue this is the fight back against food industry advertising by social media savvy individuals but on the flip side I can understand concerns that a ‘fire with fire’ approach could have unintended consequences through certain portrayals of diet/food.

    p.s. while the Hemlsley’s don’t use ‘clean eating’ themselves their publishers (penguin) are happy to cleverly use the two words to drive google traffic their way. I suppose they have also never, until this last month, denied or distanced themselves from the description as the ‘Queens of clean eating’ as used by the standard, daily mail etc some of whom they have written articles for. I don’t think this documentary is the first to link them to clean eating but the first they’ve distanced themselves from……i’m not sold on the benefits of ‘bone broth’ they talk about either but I need to read the science and happy to be proven wrong.

  • I didn’t watch this because just what I read in the radio times had me realising that I’d want to throw something at the television. Thank you for this article Zoe, I’ll be sharing it on facebook and twitter to try and catch those who were taken in by it.

    • Why bother to watch or read the original – just read views you agree with on social media

  • Excellent article, Zoe. And quick off the bat. You rock! As ever…..

  • Your critique is full of errors – I have counted 13 that I can see. You claim to debunk, however as with all those you criticise you are supporting your own misguided agenda.

    • Your comment is not complete with a bibliography and references, nor a reasoned conclusion. What do you think her errors are?

    • Alana, if you can’t write two sentences without making numerous errors of punctuation and grammar, I don’t think many people will take you seriously.

      If you allege that Zoe has made thirteen errors, aren’t you obliged to tell us what they are and allow her to reply? Perhaps you can find a literate friend to help you.

  • Fabulous critique of the BBC Horizon programme. Keep up the good work! This programme could have been so much more and sadly fell short of the mark.

  • Great critique Zoe. Years ago I lost trust in the Horizon program when they covered the Atkins diet using pseudo science. Back then my opinion of the program was if they could do that to a subject I knew a little about, how could I trust their science on stuff I did not know – so have not watched them with any confidence since then. This program has done nothing to provide confidence that they may have improved.

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