Daily Record Promotes Nutritionism Nonsense: There Is A Patrick Holford Connection, Of Course

Former Visiting Professor Patrick Holford and Head of Science and Education at Biocare has an outstanding PR and marketing team. A recent wheeze is to offer newspapers some free editorial in exchange for some promotion of Holford’s 100%health subscription service. Now, we’ve commented on the quality of this service on several occasions and questioned whether it represents value for money. However, in these times of repeated laments about the economic downturn and the need for belt-tightening, the Daily Record nonetheless decided to take advantage of this dubiously useful offer: Make Nutrition Your Mission. It’s sadly predictable than in amongst the stuff that your mother and grandmother have been telling you for years, there is some nonsense that is so egregious that it would make your eyes bulge if this were not par for the course with a certain sort of nutritionist. When their work is reproduced online, it needs to be accompanied by a sound file of the bassoon notes of incompetence so that irritated readers have a ready outlet for their feelings.

According to Fiona McDonald Joyce, frequent co-author with Patrick Holford and The Russell Partnership‘s nutrition expert who provided a nutrition audit to the Universities of Bath, Leeds and Edinburgh:

EAT seasonal British produce that has not incurred the same transport costs as imported food, as well as being fresher.Over the next couple of months, enjoy root vegetables, broccoli, leeks, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, squashes, Jerusalem artichokes, sprouts, kale, apples and chestnuts.

Well, that depends. It is a nice romantic thought but it is not always true that seasonal british produce is cheaper than imports (sadly) or uses fewer resources. For example a vegetable that was grown in Spain, using sunshine, and then transported to the UK might be less resource expensive than vegetables, grown in polytunnels in the UK that may be sent abroad for cleaning or even bagging, before being brought back. Nobody at HolfordWatch has studied with the ION (inevitably, McDonald Joyce’s alma mater) but it seems to us that if you are looking to save money on the price of fruit and vegetables, you might be well advised to consult one of the many supermarket aggregators to check up on special offers or to do some comparison shopping. You might even consider some of the regular offers for frozen fruit and vegetables that can be very nutritious and keenly-priced. If you are fortunate enough to live near somewhere with a regular Farmers’ Market, SPAN group (Sustainable Partnerships in Active Neighbourhods), Sustain Group or a local Food Co-Op Group then you may be able to pick up some competitively-priced, good quality, seasonal produce but comparison shopping is your friend, alongside some good menu-planning. It is all the odder as she later advises readers to shop at Farmers’ Markets to obtain “cheaper meat, eggs and vegetables that have not been intensively farmed”.

In the light of Holford’s recent recommendation that we should all be drinking Cherry Active concentrate because of its ORAC content, it is more than a little amusing to read McDonald Joyce’s advice:

RATHER than rushing out to buy the latest super food from Peru, stock up on nutritious staples like onions, seeds, beans, pulses and oats.

It is too painful to pick through the OK, unexceptional advice and much of the other nonsense. However, we must draw your attention to McDonald Joyce’s remarkable claim about the fat and carbohydrate content of chicken breast.

CHOOSE chicken thighs or drumsticks rather than breasts. Not only are they substantially cheaper, they are also leaner, have a lower GL or glycaemic load (the breast is richer in carbohydrate) and contain more minerals like iron.

What? Just what nutrient database or manual has McDonald Joyce been consulting? Again, we must advise that both Patrick Holford and Fiona McDonald Joyce should actually read rather than ‘flick through’ the Manual of Dietetic Practice or the McCance and Widdowson classic, Composition of Foods.

We would remind you that Fiona McDonald Joyce is affiliated with The Russell Partnership and heads up their crack team that provides nutrition audit services in a strategic alliance with Food for the Brain and that universities pay for this advice.

What does USDA National Nutrient Database have to say about the comparative nutritional content of chicken breast, drumstick and thighs?

USDA National Nutrient Database on Roast Chicken 100g portion (no skin)
Chicken cut




















According to USDA, and most other sources, despite Fiona McDonald Joyce’s reported wisdom on the topic, chicken breast is leaner than chicken drumsticks or thighs.

Do you see any reported carbohydrate count in the above tables? Any reason to suspect that the glycaemic load of chicken breast is higher than that of chicken drumsticks or thighs? Admittedly, it might be true if you were to compare a chicken breast with skin, marinaded in honey and basted with syrup during cooking time and compare that to plain, roasted drumsticks or thighs but, as far as straightforward comparisons are involved, McDonald Joyce (or Daily Record) has erred and, in doing so, is promoting some surprising misinformation.

Not to be curmudgeonly, but although McDonald Joyce is correct about the relative iron content of the different cuts of chicken, the difference is not so startling that it would always justify serving the relatively fattier cuts in preference to the breast (depending on the nutritional needs of the individual). Young women need 14.8mg of iron a day and men need 8.7mg. So, your mileage may vary, but it is difficult to be excited about 0.26mg of iron difference, approximately, per 100g of meat.[a]

HolfordWatch would prefer to believe that the error lies with Daily Record rather than Fiona McDonald Joyce but we have documented so many errors in Holford’s work and in the 100%health newsletters and subscription reports that it is more likely to be true than not (update, see note, it was Fiona McDonald Joyce’s error). All too often, we have shown that Patrick Holford reproduces readily-accessible information incorrectly, from news items, press releases, academic papers and other sources. It is, sadly, not implausible that Holford and his researchers have been unable to repackage commonly available nutritional information correctly.[b]

If Daily Record had wanted to provide some helpful, economical, advice on eating well to their readers, then they could easily have approached the BDA and obtained some appropriate advice from genuine experts in nutrition.

So, yet another media outlet with a substantial audience chooses to spread misinformation. Daily Record has promoted yet more misunderstanding about nutrition when they could simply have approached the BDA if they had wanted some helpful, factually accurate copy, from appropriately qualified Registered Dietitians. Somehow, nutritionists such as Patrick Holford and Fiona McDonald Joyce promote themselves as intermediaries between the public and genuine experts, confuse the public, and then blame scientists and genuine experts for causing confusion. And, to cap it off, there are universities in Britain who are paying for nutritional audits and accreditation from these nutritionists and their self-erected institutions. Precisely what is taught to ION students by these self-appointed experts if this is the standard of advice from one of the alumnae who is a collaborator and colleague of the founder? I think we should be told.


10.01.09 A kind person has forwarded part of the newsletter in question and Fiona McDonald Joyce did write that nonsense about chicken breasts, it is not something that was introduced by Daily Record.


[a] We should note that the rate of absorption of dietary iron is very low, however, it can be increased by other dietary modifications, such as making sure that you take some vitamin C at the same time as you eat something rich in iron. E.g., a small glass of fruit juice or an orange with a bowl of fortified breakfast cereal; an appropriate salad or vegetable with a portion of meat, or an egg. If you habitually drink tea or coffee with meals, you might want to delay that drink until later because substances in those drinks can prevent the absorption of iron.
[b] We mention this because we hear that several people in Bath enquired about the FFTB accreditation and were told that their catering people had contacted the Russell Partnership and the response was that Fiona McDonald Joyce and FFTB provide advice “based on very basic, widely accepted nutritional cornerstones”. However, as we have previously discussed, they really don’t as the advice is scarcely recognisable by the time that they have put their own, value-added spin on it, such as ‘sugar causes wrinkles’.




Filed under Food for the brain, glycaemic load, institute of optimum nutrition, ION, nutrition, patrick holford

18 responses to “Daily Record Promotes Nutritionism Nonsense: There Is A Patrick Holford Connection, Of Course

  1. Wulfstan

    I will be profoundly grateful to anyone who can point me towards a sound file or ring tone with “the bassoon notes of incompetence” as I regularly come across material or situations where playing such would be a great stress reliever.

    Is there anybody (apart from nutritionists) who hasn’t heard that chicken breast has less fat than other parts of the chicken – unless this is such a non-standard use of the word “leaner” that it needed to be glossed.

    Universities pay money to be told this rubbish?

    Why does ‘old rope’ come to mind, and not just as a recommended source of fibre?

  2. Even the decidedly odd Nutrition Data service doesn’t claim that chicken breast is fattier than drumstick or thigh, or that it has any appreciable glycaemic load (drumstick data, thigh data).

    I’m even now trying to obtain a copy of the newsletter to verify the Daily Record account for myself – it’s just that the newsletter and subscription service has such a track record for publishing error that this isn’t at all difficult to believe.

    Bassoon, tuba – either of these would do and it would be useful, wouldn’t it?

    NYT has an item about some interesting sounds recorded from endangered species, I don’t know if they might have some useful sound files. Failing that, there is always Scooby-Doo’s famous Ruh Ro.

  3. Wulfstan/dvnutrix

    Is this what you are looking for?


  4. brucehood

    I thought you might appreciate looking at this book when it comes out in June as it has bearing on the nonsense of homeopathy


    No matter whether you are a believer or a skeptic, it has something really important to say from the world of child development about the origins of adult belief.



    Admin edit: can’t really see that this relates to nutritionism or the topic of this post except at a remarkable tangent. We’ll let this stand for now but future comments should be more on-topic or related to the discussion.

  5. Wulfstan

    Thank you for the Sad Trombone, I hope that at some point it will be joined by the Bassoon of Incompetence and the Tuba of Exasperation. (Was it Reggie Perrin who always imagined a hippo and some tuba sounds when thinking of his Mother in Law?)

    I still haven’t found anyone who thinks that chicken breast is fattier than the drumstick or thigh when prepared the same way.

  6. The USDA National Nutrient Database is a brilliant resource. I’ve seen, for example, claims that you need to supplement fish oils to attain sufficient omega 3 fatty acids as you can’t get sufficient from diet- and claims that Apple Cider Vinegar is a good source of vitamins and minerals. USDA’s database gave a more accurate reflection of the nutritional contents of these foods than the wootritionists whose websites I’d been reading.

  7. catherine collins RD

    Thanks, Holfordwatch, for drawing attention to further inaccuracies from a FFTB IONista.

    For the record, all chicken has a Glycaemic Load/ Index of zero due to its absence of carbohydrate. Cheese also has the same zero value for exactly the same reason – although of course its high saturated fat content makes it a less healthier protein source than chicken (but a rich source of calcium – a mineral virtually absent from chicken)

    The GI/GL concept has been frequently and incorrectly explained by nut therapists. Basically, eating a combination meal that includes protein and fats as solid foods reduces the GI/GL of the overall meal. So eating a fattier chicken portion (whether derived from the darker meat or deep frying a lean chicken breast, even) along with your jacket potato or other carb source will reduce the overall GI of the meal. Does this make the meal a more desirable choice? Not particularly – whatever an IONista suggests.

    It is worrying that such factually incorrect information can be given such credibility in the media.

  8. jdc, it’s a matter of some regret to us that the Widdowson and McCance isn’t available online but it is great that USDA is and is free to use which in some way mitigates the clunky interface.

    Catherine Collins, thank you for that. We have no idea what was going through the mind of Fiona McDonald Joyce when she penned that part about the glycaemic load of chicken. I can only think that she somehow looked up the nutrient information for chicken nuggets (with bread coating) and got confused.

    Yes, it is worrying that whoever reproduced this for the Daily Record didn’t even pass it through their own commonsense checker. It would be more worrying if people believed it and thereby deprived themselves of a good source of lean meat.

    ETA: even the Daily Mail in their latest pro-Atkins piece doesn’t claim that there is any carb content in chicken breast.

    @Wulfstan, I have no idea about the Reggie Perrin but I, too, like the Sad Trombone (thank you, Gimpy).

  9. Re. the sad trombone, I like the simple two note computerized / robotic / metallic “beep-baaw” (second note lower) that you used to hear on TV quiz shows when someone gave a wrong answer.

    At one point years back one of my sidekicks and I were writing a review and consequently had to read a vast number of the papers from a research group in our field who were given to mis-citing (or at least selectively citing) their own work rather extensively. We used to read through the Intros to their papers, and and as each new questionable statement came up we would “Beep-baaw” it. The record was double figures for successive phrases / sentences / statements which were, er, highly questionable to say the least.

    I find the same approach is remarkably effective in avoiding getting too depressed when reading Alt.Health literature and websites that make pseudo- scientific claims. Although the “one-dozen dodgy statements in a row” record for analysing real scientific literature would probably be gone by the end of an average webpage.

  10. PS Wulfstan is quite right the hippopotamus standing in for the mother-in-law inReggie Perrin, BTW. Can’t remember the sounds, though

  11. Hm, Dr Aust, if one were to use that method when reading some nutritionistas, it would come out as a low, mournful, continuous threnody. In fact, in a sort of Big Brother meets other TV formats move, imagine the fun if a group of Bad Science people were allowed to press the buzzer and challenge explanations when a Woo-ster or Alt.Reality (TM respected) person is being interviewed on The Wright Stuff, GMTV or suchlike. That’s sounding very like Call My Bluff. In fact – that’s a whole new programme format.

    Never seen Reggie Perrin but it is one of those programmes that people refer to on a surprisingly regular basis.

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  13. imagine the fun if a group of Bad Science people were allowed to press the buzzer and challenge explanations when a Woo-ster or Alt.Reality (TM respected) person is being interviewed on The Wright Stuff, GMTV or suchlike.

    Didn’t know about the Detox in a Box debacle at the time I wrote that – but, really, wouldn’t that have been fun and interactive radio/TV at its best?

  14. Pingback: Patrick Holford Is Selling Gluten-Free Rice - Eh? « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  15. Fed up nutrition student

    Patrick Holford really has blighted the reputation of the teaching of nutrition in the UK. It has got to the point where even if you have a degree from a ‘proper’ university (ie, not Uni of Beds or, arguably, Uni of Westminster) people assume your qualification is from courses offered at places like ION.

    He is making nutrition out to be this flaky, meeja-friendly, life-style fluff rather than something with real science behind it (for all his affectations of scholarship).

    Admin edit: this must be tough on you and other students who are studying ‘proper’ nutrition. Ben Goldacre argues, however, that this might not have happened if the more senior figures had spotted the dangers of this nonsense and done something about it in earlier times.

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