The Magic Pill, a 2017 documentary narrated and produced by celebrity chef Pete Evans, advocates the Paleo lifestyle as a treatment for autism, asthma, and even cancer and the Australian Medical Association has urged Netflix to pull the film from its streaming service noting “the risk of misinformation is too great.”1
In the film, people suffering from different chronic illnesses are followed as they adopt the high-fat, low-carb diet and drastically reduce their symptoms. In one instance a woman reports that her breast cancer tumor shrank as a result of transforming her diet. And another shows a four-year-old girl with autism who was previously non-verbal, able to speak for the first time after avoiding processed foods and carbohydrates for 10 weeks.
But is the diet really too difficult? Why is it that we can’t trust people to research diets (and vaccines for that matter) and yet we trust them to drive a two-ton vehicle? Or have a child? Or move across the country for a new job?
The philosophy behind the paleo diet is:
“…the idea that our bodies have not evolved to cope with our modern diet, so we must eat the way our hunter-gatherer paleolithic ancestors ate more than 10,000 years ago.
This means focusing on fresh vegetables, fruit, lean meat and healthy fats, and excluding highly processed foods — and more controversially — legumes, dairy and grain products.”2
And once you do that you can:
“… change the way your body turns food into energy, by replacing the body’s typical go-to energy source, carbohydrates — which get converted to blood glucose during digestion and metabolism — with fats.
By drastically lowering your carbohydrate intake, your body is pushed into a metabolic state known as ketosis, whereby ketone bodies (or ketones) are produced by the liver from fat, and used as fuel source to produce energy for the body.”3
However, not all nutritionists and experts agree that traditional diets were low in carbohydrates: Amanda Lee, a nutrition and public health expert from The Sax Institute, says “There’s something protective about having whole grains in our diet that reduces our risk of cardiovascular disease, that can help us control our weight gain, and that can help control diabetes.” She takes issue with the paleo diet’s exclusion of grains, legumes, and dairy. (Grrrrr, dairy and whole grains in the form that 99% of people consume them are NOT healthy.)
(It’s also worth noting that the use of coconut oil, which has lucrative reputation as a “superfood” and is promoted widely through the film, has previously been discouraged because of its high saturated fat content.4 And one expert even went so far as to say that the people could become malnourished eating paleo.)
But the most controversial part of the documentary is Sara’s story (who reported that her breast cancer tumor “started shrinking” after she began eating a strict ketogenic diet); “Sara claims cancer cells need sugar and refined carbohydrates to proliferate: “If you don’t want them to reproduce, stop feeding them.”5 Something that Darren Saunders, a cancer biologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of New South Wales, takes issue with as “the notion that tumor cells rely on sugar is overly simplistic and not entirely correct.”6
The takeaway message that most people get from watching this movie is that you can use diet to cure your cancer, and you don’t need to have chemotherapy and other things,” he says.
The truth is you can modify your risk of getting cancer by modifying your diet, but that’s not the same thing as trying to treat cancer by modifying your diet.”7
However, Evans hit back at the AMA, suggesting the peak medical body had an interest in keeping Australians unhealthy, saying:
“Does the head of the AMA believe that eating vegetables and fruit with a side of well sourced meat/seafood/eggs to be a dangerous way of life? Perhaps the bigger question to ask would be, ‘Is the head of the AMA fearful of people in Australia becoming healthy? What would this mean to their industry?'”8
The Magic Pill is currently available to watch on Netflix in the U.S. and we know many in our field who fully support a Ketogenic diet and lifestyle, under the direction of a health professional.