Registered Dietitian Nutritionists Review The Magic Pill


Registered Dietitian Nutritionists Review The Magic Pill

18, June 2019 12:43 PM

In May, the Silicon Valley Registered Nutritionist Dietitian's Book Club reviewed the 2017 Netflix documentary, The Magic Pill. The documentary, featuring celebrity chef Pete Evans, promotes a high-fat, low-carb diet more commonly known as the Paleo or Keto diet, and recommendds this way of eating as the solution for many modern day ailments. The film makes this claim based on the premise that processed food is not "natural" and our dietary intake should align with our history as hunter-gatherers.

The documentary opens with a disclaimer stating that the personal stories depicted in the film are anecdotal; they make no claims that the results featured are typical.

The people shown in the film have very serious health issues, such as diabetes, autism, seizure disorders, ADHD and more. Before changing their diet, their food choices were very high in added sugars, processed foods and low in fresh foods. They were also taking many medications. The premise of this documentary is that food is the magic pill and by changing your eating pattern, you can live a healthier lifestyle and stop taking so many medications.


Where We Agree

  • Consuming fewer sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and salty snacks benefit health since these food choices tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.

  • Eat whole and minimally processed foods. For an example, a raw apple (whole food) includes more fiber than apple sauce (minimally processed), and while they both can be a healthy food choice, a person is less likely to overeat the less processed version. This consumer handout describes which foods are minimally versus highly processed.

  • For some people, eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates helps with weight loss and satiety. In fact, some individuals with type 2 diabetes are unable to eat unprocessed grains like oatmeal without a big rise in blood sugar. For this reason, diets should be individualized based on personal needs and lifestyle preferences.

  • Healthy eating patterns and a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity can reduce the need for medications. However, it is important for individuals to always check with their primary care provider before changing their medical routine.

Where We Differ

  • The film claims there is very little evidence to support the dietary recommendations we are normally given and that lots of evidence has been largely ignored. This simply isn't true. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are based on a Scientific Committee's report that includes an extensive list of current scientific evidence from studies with rigorous study designs. This paper, Shifting through Nutrition Science: Separate Hype from Scientific Research, describes accepted study designs.

  • It is an incorrect inference that we are biologically identical to our Paleo ancestors. Both the foods available to us and our bodies have adapted and changed. For more details, read a previous book club blog on the Paleo Diet.

  • As for the Ketogenic diet also featured in this film, it certainly has its place in treating epilepsy (a case study in the film) since this is an accepted medical nutrition therapy. While some clinicians have success treating individuals with type 2 diabetes with a ketogenic diet, this treatment is considered controversial since it is based on very little evidence. More details can be found in a previous book review of the Keto Reset Diet.

  • The case study about the woman that cured her cancer with the Ketogenic diet is potentially dangerous. Though the woman in the film had a cancer remission, we do not recommend such a dietary change without the approval and supervision of a health care provider since this is not a standard medical practice.

Bottom Line

The Magic Pill is entertaining and includes elements of truth; however, we cannot recommend it since it also includes too many inaccurate or misleading statements that are not based on consensus science.

The three plant-based eating patterns recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans include nutrient dense foods from all of the food groups: Dairy, Vegetables, Fruits, Grains and Protein.  These healthy eating patterns aid in optimal growth and development and reduce the risk of chronic disease.


Maureen Bligh, MA, RDN

Program Director, Resource Development and Marketing

Maureen is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Tags: Food Healthy eating healthy eating patterns Keto Diet Maureen Bligh nutrition Paleo Diet Pete Evans registered dietitian book club The Magic Pill

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