Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Nutritionist's Take on the Food World: A Text Review of Gillian McKeith's Bestseller

Hi Friends,
            Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” (Goodreads Quotes). Based on that nugget of wisdom, this ancient Greek philosopher thinks I should choose natural foods to be the cure for my ailments, and those natural foods will be nourishment enough. I’m rather certain that Hippocrates wasn’t intending for me to be enjoying Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream to ease my sore throat. Oh yes, the symptoms are back: enlarged lymph nodes, a perpetual cough to rid the tickle in my throat, and mouth breathing because my nose is stuffed. I’m prepared for round 2 of the common cold this month. Emergen-C packets, dried apricots, DayQuil, and three boxes of tissues are cluttering my room.  This would be classified as health level 5. Anyway, the general consensus is that natural unprocessed food is usually what improves the body’s health. However, with so many opinions about which health foods are the best, I researched the published material of Gillian McKeith.
            Based in the U.K., Gillian is considered an expert by the Soil Association, a charity in the U.K. that promotes organic certification, in the nutrition field. Her website emphasizes that she wrote Dr. Gillian McKeith’s Living Food For Health: 12 Natural Superfoods to Transform Your Health in 2004, along with dozens of other publications about food advice such as You Are What You Eat. In addition, the site reports she has cohosted numerous television shows including Healthline Across America, and she runs her own clinic in London. Receiving a Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Gillian continued to study at the American College of Holistic Nutrition. She herself suffered from ill health and decided to make a personal change through her diet. The result is her wealth of information she would like to pass on to her clients to improve their lives.
            However, there is a significant controversy surrounding the truth in Gillian’s claims. Her company and brand has been attacked for marketing schemes that promote health products with no scientific evidence. She also has been criticized for using the title M.D. when she is not formally a doctor. Ben Goldacre, creator of the website Bad Science, uncovers McKeith’s writing (along with that of other questionable scientists) as gibberish imitating scientific fact. Moreover, Gillian’s website ( seems to be a tacky infomercial-style money sucking scheme to draw viewers into “Gillian’s Super Club”, a poorly marketed fist reaching into clients’ pockets while disguised as the concerned gentle caress of a doctor.
            Despite the backlash, the profit numbers don’t lie. Her website, the only official source of information available to the public, insists “over 3 million copies have been sold” (McKeith). This bestseller, Living Food For Health, was published during the upswing of the natural health food craze in the early 2000s. During this time, there was sufficient evidence that many people were suffering the repercussions of obesity. As an experienced nutritionist, she had hundreds of clients coming to her because they wanted to improve their health in general, they desired to be in peak performance shape, or they were already diagnosed with a medical condition. This is one of her earliest works, so it was under fire for quite some time after that. Some of her following books are responses to the accusations of false reporting and scams.
To assess the bigger picture, this is a self-help guide for readers who are interested in Gillian’s method of improving health, while also offering the “inside” knowledge she gives her clients. The text directly speaks to readers who feel they are also frequently suffering from the common cold, or some other malady. Fans of Gillian, strict dieters, nutrition junkies, or people desperate for health advice will probably read this book. She is not a doctor, and there is a warning from the publisher that Basic Health Publications Inc. does not endorse any of the author’s methods and they should not replace a physician’s care. The author places readers into three categories and offers a basic quiz to determine if the reader is one of the many who can benefit from her following instruction. In this way, she convinces almost any tentative reader that he or she should indeed continue to read the rest of the material.
            To elaborate, I read the introduction of Living Foods For Health: 12 Natural Superfoods to Transform Your Health. I wanted to get a basic understanding of what a world famous nutritionist might write about. Although this first chapter is just an overview, she manages to provide scientific background on why human bodies’ health levels are affected by the diet. Her major claims include the spleen being the most important organ because if mistreated, a damaged spleen causes excessive mucus production. She also emphasizes that “living foods” have a higher “bioavailable nutrient value” and are thus superfoods because they improve metabolism and absorption rates (13). These include the list of The Sacred 12, which are her twelve precious superfoods that she swears will improve one’s lifestyle.
On the other hand, I was shocked to read that she encourages the use of the alternative form of superfoods as “living food powder”. Powders and other supplements found at drugstores are usually enhanced with artificial chemicals, so wouldn’t that be unnatural? Surprisingly, these “living food powders” are created in perfect health balance and harmony of digestion. I’m skeptical when she writes, “Once we understand these energy fields, we can better manipulate and balance our foods for medicinal purposes with great therapeutic impact” (16). I was not aware that the hot or cold “delicate internal balance” of food matters. At least she provides evidence by citing Dr. Anthony Cichoke and Dr. Gonzales, demonstrating a rhetorical form of ethos. In addition, she discloses that she had over 900 patients waiting to see her, so she can no longer see patients. This implies that her medical practice is successful. She provides the numbers and statistics for her customers who have improved their health, but is it really due to her method? It seems as if adding organic foods and removing all processed gunk would improve anyone’s wellness.
            I am not entirely convinced by “Dr.” Gillian McKeith. Reading her introduction, I felt as if she was patronizing to a non-health guru. True, she is the expert in this relationship, but her tone is condescending, not to mention she unnecessarily repeats material in the introduction itself. Perhaps if I continued to read the rest of the book, I would find her information more helpful. However, after this little promo, I am not enticed to keep reading. The opposing argument is that this “Living Food Program” is not any more significant than adding more greens to one’s diet. She does nothing to refute this, yet. Should someone who isn’t willing to make drastic life changes, like most people, bother to read this? Gillian advocates that clients eat only the twelve listed foods for a given period of time. Although she directly addresses the reader and sympathizes with his/her ailments through her own story of suffering, her ethos is corrupted by the wealth of information available online: about herself and alternative research. She has no credibility and is often called a “quack” in the scientific world because her evidence is considered outrageous and false. There are also reported issues with her responses to other scientists’ allegations about her work. She frequently resorted to legal battles and misleading statements (Goldacre), suggesting that she has something to hide: her secretly flawed “studies”. She has no formal education, so why should people listen to her and not a real doctor?
            So, this could have been the golden book of answers to my questions about my mysterious illnesses. Should I start incorporating the Sacred 12 (listed below)? I would agree with eating more natural foods. But it is not completely possible for me to start adding “wild blue-green algae” into my everyday diet. In fact, I probably won’t like it. I decided to review Gillian’s book because she is the most talked about nutritionist in the U.K, often making headlines. Perhaps the U.S. is not so lenient. It’s true that I am researching the affects of superfoods, but the more I discover about them, the more I am starting to believe that it doesn’t matter specifically which superfoods I eat. People have known for centuries that as long as one eats vegetables with nutritional value, he or she will receive health benefits. All in all, this insight into McKeith’s writing is useful for my project because I recognize the abundance of nutritional literature, and I cannot be so gullible to believe in all of it.
            Do you think you would read her book? Have you read anything similar? Have you even heard of Gillian McKeith? Let me know. Don’t forget: wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay away from germy people.

The Sacred Twelve:

1. Sprouted millet
2. Sprouted quinoa
3. Alfalfa
4. Aloe vera
5. Green barley grass
6. Flax seeds
7. Parsley
8. Dulse
9. Nori
10. Stevia
11. Sunflower
12. Wild blue-green algae

Works Cited

Goldacre, Ben. "What's Wrong with Gillian McKeith." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 Nov. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.
"Healthy Eating | Weight Loss | Health Profiling." Gillian McKeith. McKeith Research Ltd 2011, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.
"Hippocrates Quotes." Goodreads. 2013 Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
McKeith, Gillian. Dr. Gillian McKeith's Living Foods For Health: 12 Natural Superfoods To Transform Your Health. London: Basic Health Publications, 2004. Print.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy how you write about both sides of the spectrum regarding Dr. McKeiteth (MD or not). It really sounds like she has a lot of controversy surrounding her. I hold the opinion of her other doctors and colleagues in high regard, thus I'm wouldn't be inclined to believe everything she says. Though everyone is different. So could it be a possibility that her method could work for certain people but not all?