Gillian McKeith is the star of a recent television series, You Are What You Eat. You may well have seen it. If not, I have to say that the programme is something of a freak show, exhibiting for our entertainment some enormously fat and unhealthy people. These monstrously unfit and unattractive souls have their health dramatically improved by the star of the show as a result of her persuading them to eat something sensible instead of the incredibly fat-soaked, early-death-inducing processed junk food that they have been greedily stuffing into themselves at every conceivable opportunity. And even at a few opportunities which were not conceivable.
There is, of course, a book to accompany the series. I haven’t read it, but I have read one of McKeith’s earlier books, Living Foods for Health.
First, what of the author? Well, her book mentions ‘qualifications, degrees and a doctorate (PhD)’, and also lists such institutions as the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Edinburgh, and the American College of Nutrition, amongst others. The wording was suspiciously vague to my eye (I have a most cynical turn of mind), particularly in that it failed to tell us where she got her PhD. So I googled the lady to see if I could find out what came from where.
Turns out that someone has been there before me. A website called Precautionary Tales has a contribution on McKeith from ‘Robert’, dated 27 July 2004. According to Robert, McKeith’s management – he provides a link to NCI Management – claim that she has a first degree from Edinburgh, which is a university of some standing; the subject was reportedly Neuroscience Linguistics and Language. She has an MA in Health Systems Management from the University of Pennsylvania. And the PhD is from the American College of Nutrition.
So, as Robert points out, McKeith’s first two degrees, though awarded by excellent universities, are not wonderfully relevant to her website’s claim that she is ‘the World’s Top Nutritionist’. (He reproduces the claim from the home page of the site.) And the PhD turns out, on the basis of her own management’s evidence, to come from one of those places which, to put it as tactfully as possible, have an extremely modest academic reputation. ‘Could it be,’ asks Robert, that the “World’s Leading Nutritionist” got her PhD from a postal course? And what is the value of such a course?’
Robert’s criticisms seem to have struck home. As of today, 10 August, the NCI Management page on ‘Dr’ McKeith contains none of the details of McKeith’s qualifications which Robert evidently found there. Neither does the page claim, as it apparently once did, that she is the world’s leading nutritionist. Today she is a ‘world-renowned nutritionist.’ Similarly, McKeith’s own website today provides no details at all of her qualifications, and contents itself with quoting the Daily Mail, which described her as ‘the World's most acclaimed nutritionist.’ (Note to American readers: the UK Daily Mail is not widely regarded as the journal best placed to assess the value of scientists' achievements.)
Incidentally, there is further discussion of McKeith's ideas etc on later editions of the Precautionary Tales site, 3, 4 and 5 August.
All of which is a shame, because for a minute there I thought we had a genuine high-class academic in the field of nutrition writing a book for the illumination of the masses. But it turns out not.
Never mind, the question at issue is this: does Living Food for Health contain any useful information? And I rather think it does. For example, McKeith explains clearly the theory about potentially clashing food groups. I have often heard about this in the past but never previously understood it. (One suggested rule is, don’t eat protein at the same time as carbohydrates.)
As for the rest of it – well, I doubt whether most people will want to eat seaweed, as McKeith advocates, and the lady doubts it herself. But as she says in the book, it is her job to set before you what she has learnt and what she believes. The rest is up to you. You can either take it or leave it. As for me, I shall use bits of it and see how I get on. At my age I need all the help I can get.