It wasn’t ‘The Truth About... Healthy Eating’


The Truth About… Healthy Eating (First shown on BBC1 at 9pm 2 June 2016) failed miserably; the reporting was biased and the conclusions misleading – it was more like an advert for the egg and dairy industries!  

At the start of the programme they took on so-called superfoods by comparing them with cheaper, more everyday versions.

In the goji berry versus strawberry comparison they only measured vitamin C ignoring other important nutrients such as vitamin B2, vitamin A, iron, selenium and other antioxidants. Throwing a few goji berries in your smoothie or on your cereal is not a bad idea now and again.

They don’t have to cost the earth; you can just buy them when you see them on special offer and use them when you run out of fresh strawberries! 

They compared quinoa to pearl barley but again only measured how fast energy was released ignoring protein which quinoa is a better source of than pearl barley as it contains all the essential amino acids. Quinoa is also gluten-free which is why some people pick it. 

Coconut oil versus rapeseed oil they said was the same – ignoring the high saturated fat and relatively low smoke point of coconut oil (that’s when the fats in the oil break down or oxidise, creating harmful free radicals). In the chia seeds versus linseed (flaxseed) they failed to mention the high omega-3 content of flaxseeds and finally, kale versus as the programme said ‘good old’ white cabbage. I have to say, the ‘kale’ didn’t look like any kale I’ve ever seen! It looked more like some limp salad leaves… 

The programme said, analysis of the ‘scientific data’ revealed a very poor result for the superfoods, The Food Standards Agency’s nutrient database tells a different story for kale versus white cabbage (see table). 

Nutrient Curly kale (raw) 100g White cabbage (raw) 100g
Protein (g) 3.4 1.4
Fat (g) 1.6 0.2
Carbohydrate (mg) 1.4 5.0
Energy (kcal) 33 27
Fibre (g) 3.1 2.1
Sodium (mg) 43 7
Potassium (mg) 450 240
Calcium (mg) 130 49
Magnesium (mg) 34 6
Phosphorus (mg) 61 29
Iron (mg) 1.7 0.5
Copper (mg) 0.03 0.01
Zinc (mg) 0.4 0.2
Selenium (mg) 2 Trace levels
Vitamin A (Carotene) (ug) 3145 19
Vitamin E (mg) 1.70 0.20
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)  (mg) 0.08 0.12
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) (mg) 0.09 0.01
Vitamin B3 (niacin) (mg) 1.0 0.3
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) (mg) 0.26 0.18
Folate (ug) 120 34
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) 0.09 0.21
Vitamin B7 (biotin) (ug) 0.5 0.1
Vitamin C (mg) 110 47

Kale wins hands down scoring higher for every important nutrient including calcium, iron, folate and vitamins A and C. It’s difficult to see why the programme said they were equivalent…

The programme then compared three calorie-equivalent breakfasts:

  • Yoghurt and banana
  • Boiled egg and grilled bacon
  • Cereal  (Weetabix)

They said the three breakfasts contained the same amount of calories… I would like to see the breakdown of that! They must have had three Weetabix biscuits with half a pint of full fat milk to match a whole egg and two rashers of bacon!

The blood glucose test was the same for all three, suggesting that all three release energy at a similar rate. Calories burned were the same. But the ‘fullness’ test was higher for eggs and bacon and this group ate fewer calories at lunch. The programme concluded the eggs and bacon breakfast was the healthiest!

They said there is some evidence linking processed meat to stomach and bowel cancer but the risk is lower than driving a car so the odd bacon breakfast probably isn’t going to do you any harm. This is not what the research shows – the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the World Health Organisation say processed meat does cause cancer. The WCRF say we should avoid eating processed meat – that means no bacon, ever.

The results would have been different if the cereal or fruit and yoghurt breakfasts had contained nuts and seeds – a rich source of protein, minerals and vitamins as well as healthy polyunsaturated fat. Most people would regard muesli (with nuts, dried fruit and seeds) as one of the healthiest breakfast options – this should have been included in the BBC experiment. Alternatively, scrambled tofu and beans would provide plenty of protein as well as healthy fibre which combats bowel cancer. This test was poorly designed and the conclusion that the great British breakfast could be the healthiest (in terms of energy release, fullness and staving off hunger) was misleading and does no service to those looking for a healthier way to eat.

Then the programme ran a piece suggesting that fried eggs are healthier than scrambled! Unbelievable! Research shows that people who consume as much as one egg a day have double the risk of developing diabetes compared to people consuming less that one egg a week1. Men consuming 2.5 eggs per week increase their risk for a deadly form of prostate cancer by 81 per cent compared with men who consume less than half an egg per week2.  

There were some sensible moments; they did say that steaming veg is better than boiling it and the detoxing piece was fairly good busting the myth that off-the-shelf products can help us detoxify our bodies when our livers and kidneys spend all day doing it for us for free. The piece on multivitamins was good overall with warnings about potential harm of needless pill-popping.  

However they then said that the saturated fat in cow’s milk may be good for us! There is no credible scientific evidence to support this. There have been a limited number of flawed studies or reports in the last three years saying saturated fat is good – all have been discredited to an extent3. The most recent report (from the National Obesity Forum) led to the resignation of over half of the members of its board just last week, outraged at the report's recommendations to eat more fat.

This is irresponsible journalism.

They shifted their attention to cow’s milk – that important source of iodine! They showed us that you can find 425ug/L in regular cow’s milk and 287ug/L in organic cow’s milk, 13ug/L in soya and 8ug/L in almond milk. Who drinks milk by the litre? The Food Standards Agency database says cow’s milk contains around 30ug per 100ml (equivalent to 300ug/L, a bit lower than the BBC's estimate).

They failed to say that it’s only higher in non-organic milk because the cows are given iodine supplements, you could cut out the middleman and take a supplement yourself. They ignored the hormones in milk – dairy products increase production of the growth factor IGF-1 in the blood, IGF-1 is linked to a range of cancers.

Overall this piece presents a very biased view towards the dairy industry because it doesn’t represent the product as a whole and only presents a very limited view focusing on one aspect of milk in this case – iodine. There is a huge body of scientific evidence showing the harmful aspects of dairy4 which may be why Public Health England recently reduced the dairy component of their Eatwell Guide by almost half (down from 15% to 8%).

The BBC should be encouraging a diet rich in complex carbs, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds and discouraging meat, eggs and dairy which is actually what the new Public Health England Eatwell Guide5 says. Keep up BBC!

  1. Spence et al., 2010. Dietary cholesterol and egg yolks: not for patients at risk of vascular disease. Canadian Journal of Cardiology. 26 (9) e336-9.
  2. Richman et al., 2011. Egg, red meat, and poultry intake and risk of lethal prostate cancer in the prostate specific antigen-era: incidence and survival. Cancer Prevention Research. 4 (12) 2110-2121.


About the Author

Justine Butler

Dr. Justine Butler is the senior health researcher and writer at Viva! She joined as a health campaigner in 2005 after graduating from Bristol University with a PhD in molecular biology. She also holds a BSc in biochemistry, and a Diploma in nutrition.