Since Horizon Sugar vs. Fat was broadcast on the 30th January its generated a huge amount of debate and criticism, most notably from the advocates of low carb diets who perceived this programme as a biased attack on what they believe is the healthiest diet.
One of these was low carb advocate Dr John Briffa. Amongst a number of entirely valid criticisms about methodology and experimental design, he raises what is perhaps the most important one
The fundamental problem with this programme is that it essentially dressed up anecdote as science. It’s not a good idea to judge the impact of different diets by testing them on a limited number of people in this way.
I’m sure anyone interested in following the best evidence would find it hard to disagree with his stance. But is he consistent in his application of this principle to anecdotes which are favourable to low carb diets? I thought I would ask him using a well known example.
Sam Feltham is a low carb advocate who carried out a bizarre overfeeding ‘challenge‘ which he has used as part of his sales patter ever since to convince people that ‘a calorie is not a calorie’. I am not aware that Dr Briffa has ever commented on this but as it was an entirely uncontrolled n=1 experiment with many flaws it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that Dr Briffa would be quick to also condemn this anecdote dressed up as science.
So I asked him on twitter.
I got no response, so I posted on the blog and that comment has been left held in moderation ever since.
I also posted on another blog post assuming he had missed it, but it appears Dr Briffa wishes to avoid the dilemma answering would cause him.
There is of course a serious point this illustrates.
Like alternative medicine, dietary advice is a field populated by a ‘community’ of people who support and promote each other, even though they may hold diverse and sometimes conflicting views on the science and the quality of the evidence. Criticism of the views held by peers, or of their activities is something which simply isn’t done – you’re all in this together – and sometimes this means keeping quiet and being a hypocrite.
I’d be very happy however, for Dr Briffa to prove me wrong.