Trust Me I’m a Doctor – Don’t!

BBC2 Trust Me I’m a Doctor Series 9 episode 6

Date 20th February 2020

Dear ‘Trust Me’

I am writing to complain about and to ask some questions about the segment shown between 12-18 mins in Episode 6 of Series 9 of Trust Me I’m a Doctor shown on BBC2 on 19th February 2020 (Ref 1). This section was led by the presenter Dr Guddi Singh.

I have quoted some verbatim extracts followed by the questions that they raise…

1) Singh: “The authors list reads like a who’s who of health scientists from around the world.”

Question: The authors list was in fact a who’s who of proponents of vegetarian/vegan diets – why was this not made clear? (Ref 2)

The report was also backed by the who’s who of the agrichemical and fake food industry (see below). Why were these conflicts not reported?

2) Singh: “Red meat – like beef and lamb – is the most damaging... Eating too much increases your risk of serious illnesses like cancer, stroke and heart disease.”

Question: Where is the evidence that beef and lamb increases the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease? (Top level evidence should be systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials conducted on beef and lamb).

Question: The images shown while this comment was being made were of morbidly obese people, to establish a clear impression that eating meat causes obesity. Why was this done? Where is the evidence that eating beef and lamb per se causes obesity? Why was this misleading impression allowed?

3) Singh: “And when it comes to the environment it’s estimated that producing just 100g of beef results in 105kg of greenhouse gases.”

Question: Why was an image of a US feedlot shown in parallel with this narrative? Why was it not made clear that the environmental argument only applies to CAFO farming? Why was it not made clear that it has no relevance to grass-fed farming, which needs little more than rain and growing grass – of which we have plenty in the UK? Why was no balance provided with a farmer being interviewed?

4) Dr Marco Springmann: “Red meat needs to be reduced by about 90% placing red meat in the category of a treat – once a week. If you want a steak – it’s OK, but maybe only once a month.

Question: Why was it not made clear that Springmann follows a plant based diet and thus is recommending what he eats and what he wants the world to eat? Why was no balance provided with a non-vegan being interviewed?

Correspondence with another of the EAT Lancet authors and Director of the EAT Stockholm Centre, Fabrice DeClerck, has established that the meat consumption limits in the EAT Lancet commission were not set to have any climate/environmental considerations. Why did the BBC not research the EAT Lancet commission more thoroughly?

5) Singh: “Red meat is a good source of protein and minerals like iron. The UK government recommends an average of 70g a day.  The planetary diet would slash that to just 7g of beef or lamb and 7g of pork… instead the study recommends we get most of our protein from fish, poultry, pulses, soy and eggs. And the majority of our diet would consist of whole grains. vegetables, fruit and nuts. All good for our health and much less damaging to the planet.”

Question: Why did the programme not clarify that the EAT Lancet diet allows for no animal produce to be consumed whatsoever? i.e. a vegan diet. Even the fish intake recommendation is 28g/day and can be zero and the egg recommendation is 13g/day and can be zero. Why did the programme not clarify that the plant protein options mentioned (pulses and soy) are incomplete – that only animal protein is naturally complete? Why did the programme not clarify that the EAT Lancet diet is seriously deficient in many essential nutrients? (Vitamin D, retinol, calcium, iron, omega-3 (DHA/EPA) and more) (Ref 3).

6) The programme then took a family with an utterly appalling diet of junk and put them on a plant-based whole food diet for a week and – no surprise – they felt better. Had they been put on a whole food diet that included grass-fed red meat, wild oily fish, free-range eggs and local farm dairy; they could have felt better still.

Question: Why was the benefit of whole food, separate to plant-based, not made clear?

7) Singh: “If the family carry on eating like this – instead of the way they used to – they’ll reduce their risk of obesity, cancer and heart disease and could live up to 10 years longer.”

Question: Where is the evidence for this? Especially in the light of the next question…

8) Singh: “And if you fancy giving it a go our website….”

Question: The clip closed with an invitation to viewers to try the diet. A 7-day plan is provided on the web site (Ref 4). Please can you prove that this dietary plan meets essential nutrient requirements? Especially for omega-3 (in the right form: DHA and EPA); choline; calcium; retinol; B12; D3; K2 and heme iron?

I look forward to your response.

Dr Zoë Harcombe, PhD

References

Ref 1: The clip on BBC iPlayer (at 12-18 mins)
Ref 2: Majority of EAT-Lancet Authors (>80%) Favored Vegan/Vegetarian Diets
Ref 3: Nutritional analysis of the EAT Lancet diet and the letter that the Lancet wouldn’t publish.
Ref 4: An article on the programme with a link to download the 7-day diet.

I chased for a reply to this on 1st July 2020 and then again on October 5th 2020. On October 5th, I also tweeted to request a reply. Funnily enough I then received one later that day apologising for the delay and saying “there was a typo in the email address which meant you didn’t receive it.

The reply in full was:

“Thank you for your letter of 20th February. The purpose of the short programme segment to which you refer, broadcast on Trust Me, I’m A Doctor on 19th February, was to set out briefly the key findings of a piece of published research that had been widely reported in the press; talk to one of its authors; and discover how feasible it was in practice for a British family with an unhealthy diet to adopt, for a week, the radically different diet proposed in the paper. While we appreciate you would have wished the item to look at alternatives to this diet, and to have included additional detail around some aspects of it, those were not the aims of this piece, which sought to give viewers a concise overview within the constraints of a short slot in a 30-minute programme.

“The diet in question was published in a peer-reviewed report in The Lancet, by a group of 37 scientists drawn from universities and institutions in 16 different countries – including, in the UK, the University of Oxford; City, University of London; and Chatham House. Though the diet is based on the principle that the majority of calories we consume would come from plant-based foods, it is neither a vegetarian nor a vegan diet; it specifies recommended maximum intake values for red and white meats and fish, and includes dairy and eggs. We are satisfied that the programme accurately reflects the key aspects of the diet. Trust Me, I’m A Doctor does not seek to promote this or any other diet – indeed, across nine series, the programme has explored many other dietary interventions, and has frequently advised viewers to eat a balanced diet that includes lean meat and fish, in line with the dietary advice published by the NHS.

“The claims made in the report for the health impacts of regular consumption of meat are drawn from a variety of research papers published in international peer-reviewed journals including the British Journal of Nutrition, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Archives of Internal Medicine and the BMJ. Where the programme cited the report’s findings on environmental harm caused by cattle farming globally, images were selected to illustrate relevant farming methods.

“The recipes which are available to viewers to download are not claimed to provide complete nutrition, simply to allow viewers to try the meals eaten by the family featured on the programme if they wish. The recipes include meat, fish, eggs and dairy, as well as a wide range of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and pulses.

“We hope this clarifies the purpose of this piece, and thank you for contacting us.

“BBC Complaints Team”

19 thoughts on “Trust Me I’m a Doctor – Don’t!

  • avatar
    October 5, 2020 at 10:52 am
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    This show (at least in Australia) looked very promising in the beginning. Dr Michael Mosley was presenting unconventional therapies and was conducting experiments on himself – even keto diet. However, once he started pushing plant based agenda, I got turned off…

    Reply
  • avatar
    July 1, 2020 at 12:31 am
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    Just wondering if the producers of the show ever responded to your letter? I’m guessing not.

    Keep up the great work – I’m a big fan!

    Reply
    • avatar
      July 1, 2020 at 8:18 am
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      Hi Paul
      Not yet but funnily enough it’s on my chase list. They should have replied just before lockdown and then everyone has been using this as an excuse. I’ll chase again!
      Many thanks for your kind words :-)
      Best wishes – Zoe

      Reply
  • avatar
    June 18, 2020 at 11:06 am
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    I must admit I’ve always thought Trust Me was a bit of a joke which typifies the term “infotainment”. They always seem very light on evidence and the little “experiments” they throw in are designed to titivate the viewing public.

    Occasionally, just occasionally they do come up with something which makes you sit up and take notice. I watched one a while back where they showed the reduced insulin response you get when cooking and cooling pasta and then re-heating. This causes resistant starch to form which is beneficial to the gut micro-biome.

    I do feel with this program as with any source of advice that you do have to do your own research to satisfy yourself that it makes sense. Fortunately we have doctors like Zoe who are doing much of the heavy-lifting for us!

    Reply
    • avatar
      October 10, 2020 at 12:59 pm
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      My main concern, Bruce, IS that ‘Trust Me’ DOES include some healthful & valid advice. I would actually prefer it if it were all wrong & could just be universally debunked & smashed apart. Being mostly wrong & offering conflicting advice continues to add to the confusion, which is advantageous to a pro-industrial, plant-based agenda. Similar tactics (muddying the waters; assumption-based rationalisation; cherry- picked evidence; outright denial) have been refined and deployed by the tobacco industry for decades, with great success. These tactics are lauded among other industries, namely pharmaceuticals, big-agri and the processed food giants. That the BBC is compliant, sloppy and refuses to engage with Zoe is reprehensible. It’s slightly absurd that to fund anything close to balanced news – on nutrition & health matters – you have to look to broadcasters like Russia Today! I wouldn’t trust RT News for unbiased viewpoints on matters pertaining to, say, Ukraine or Estonia, obviously (they try a bit) but they’re light years ahead of the BBC when it comes to matters of science. They even featured Malcolm Kendrick, who I’m certain would be persona non grata on ‘Trust me’ given his propensity for questioning rhetoric and advocating real evidence. I know that’s a lengthy reply, but I’m upset at the damage this causes and was not being facetious. At least if they really did say live on McDonald’s & smoke Marlboro Red it would be humorous & clear to anyone sane to do the opposite. I can’t wait to hear a response but it will be mealy and avoidant if it comes; which I suspect it won’t without significant chasing. Zoe you are the light in the darkness and calm reason in the madness – don’t stop.

      Reply
  • avatar
    March 10, 2020 at 12:46 am
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    Thanks once again Zoe. This show just aired on Australian TV & I too watched in dismay!
    “Science … what science”? I have read several damning critiques of said diet from various other reputable quarters. I expected MUCH better from this programme & Michael Moseley in particular. Actually embarrassing that their reporting of the science/topic was so hopelessly inadequate & inaccurate. I won’t bother watching again. Doubt you’ll get a response but please publish if you do. I have also made a complaint on their website.

    Reply
  • avatar
    March 1, 2020 at 7:47 pm
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    Also I didn’t think that the Eat Lancet report was peer reviewed so doesn’t have 100% credibility.

    Reply
  • avatar
    March 1, 2020 at 2:20 pm
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    A while back I watched the same team running down Homeopaths as nothing more than quacks. This was just after The Royal Society of Medicine declared homeopathy as being well researched and scientifically sound. The problem is that this is where most people get their information and ideas. It makes changing peoples habits very difficult.

    Reply
  • avatar
    February 29, 2020 at 4:01 pm
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    I watched this episode with growing incredulity. Used to think it was a well researched unbiased programme . Ha ! May well be that a lot more if the popularity stuff they put out is in a similar vein of false science. Trust them ? Never again.
    Will be very interesting to see if they even reply to your letter Zoe .

    Reply
  • avatar
    February 28, 2020 at 11:20 pm
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    The menu is just perfectly labelled Seven Day Menu instead of Weekly Menu. Perfect for the origin, Seventh Day Adventists.
    I have checked the energy content of first day. It turned out to be about 2 800 kcal per day, including fiber. 16 E% protein, 30 E% fat, 50 E% carbohydrates an 4 E% fiber. So this is just the very same diet as the SAD (Standard American Diet)

    Reply
    • avatar
      February 29, 2020 at 7:56 am
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      Hi Bjorn
      Many thanks for doing that. At a glance it looked to be deficient in omega-3 (DHA/EPA), vit D3, calcium, probably retinol …
      None of this having been warned about – on a doctor programme!
      Best wishes – Zoe

      Reply
      • avatar
        February 29, 2020 at 11:06 am
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        Hi Zoë,
        And of course too much omega-6 . . . .
        Too little sataurated fats too, It’s a perfect inflammation generating diet leading straight to a premature death due to mitochondrial dysfunction
        All the best
        Björn

        Reply
  • avatar
    February 28, 2020 at 9:42 am
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    last night we called in to a pub for some fish only for me and fish and chips for my wife they have stopped them and in process of having a vegetarian only menu

    an interesting discussion with the landlord who has beenvegan for 20plus years took place who said emphatically that we NEED carbohydrates and the sugar they contain for life I asked how many grams of carbs a day would be enough ? he didn’t know He believed that eating saturated fat causes heart disease and obesity and even argued that Ancel Keys was right I could go on The misinformation from vegans IMHO is appalling but at least he wasn’t promoting animal rights

    Reply
  • avatar
    February 27, 2020 at 5:28 pm
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    I quite agree with Zoe Harcombe on every aspect of her complaint. It is very sad that I used to enjoy “Trust me I’m a Doctor” programs and believed they could benefit my health, however I now know that this cannot be true after seeing such a blatantly one sided and poorly researched report .

    Reply
  • avatar
    February 27, 2020 at 4:47 pm
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    Very poorly researched and presented. I hope your points are addressed Zoe – of course they won’t be though – this is just popularist ‘entertainment’ TV . The doctors involved should be better informed and not voice such utter rubbish.

    Reply
  • avatar
    February 27, 2020 at 2:20 pm
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    Quite right. For a programme that claims to ‘get to the science behind the headlines’ it singly failed to do so and went with poor popularist propaganda.

    Reply
  • avatar
    February 27, 2020 at 9:27 am
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    My husband has banned me from watching the similarly fact free ‘Food Unwrapped’ on C4 on the basis that he thinks the excessive shouting involved in getting through a show. makes it detrimental to the entire family’s mental health.
    This endless trotting out of poorly (if at all) researched nutritional ‘science’ programming is a public health risk in and of itself.

    Reply

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