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Dr Ben Goldacre explores our past and present fascination with nutrition and lifestyle.
Mondays 24 and 31 March 2008 20:00 - 20:30

Food has become a huge cultural issues today. The public is constantly bombarded with an assortment of mixed messages from scientists, food gurus and the media about what’s good and bad for our health. But where do these ideas come from and how much is based in science? Over two programmes Dr Ben Goldacre explores our past and present-day obsessions with what we eat.

Presenter Dr Ben Goldacre
Dr Ben Goldacre

Programme 1

Diet Quacks and Snakeoil
Long before science understood anything about diet and health, a huge industry was built on the back of so-called miracle cures or magic potions offered to a gullible public by travelling medicine peddlers, adept at inventing both the disease and the cure. in the United States alone more than 1500 patent medicines are in existence, some of which are still around today.

Health Gurus
By the 19th century health gurus such as Sylvester Graham and John Harvey Kellogg (he of the cornflake) had opened specialist clinics promoting bizarre regimes and extreme diets in the name of good health. But the ‘true’ father of the alternative health movement was Bernarr Macfadden who mixed often sensible notions about healthy eating and exercise with more extreme measures and even started a religion based on his ideas.

Hadacol Boogie
By the time science had finally caught up with the faddists, medicine shows were dying out but there was one final fling in the form of Hadacol. Promoted as “good for whatever ails you” Hadacol contained 12 percent alcohol and was so popular that poor families in the southern United States would buy a bottle when they didn’t have money to buy food.

The Science of Nutrition
Not until the 1930 and 40s did the science of nutrition finally arrive as researchers discovered the micronutrients in food – the vitamins and minerals – and just how they sustained the body. Since then scientific evidence has been difficult to come by and in the lull, a new generation of self-styled health gurus have arisen promoting new diets and new pills and potions. But just how much of what they’re offering is based in science?

Listen again Listen again to programme 1

Programme 2

Ben Goldacre unravels two entwining strands of nutritionism: the science behind diet and health in modern medicine and the public’s appetite for the glamourous claims of faddy diets and miracle pills.

Good diet is important for health, but are today’s popular, media-friendly lifestyle nutritionists selling something different: attractive, individualised, over-complicated solutions that sound plausible but in reality are underpinned by little or no scientific evidence?

Dr Ben Goldacre investigates the science behind nutritional therapy and the claims made by some of its leading practitioners.

Listen again Listen again to programme 2
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