Don’t call my book a ‘celeb diet’ – it’s a lifestyle medicine plan

One of the first surgical procedures I observed and assisted in as a qualified doctor was the amputation of a patient’s lower limb due to complications from type 2 diabetes. Sadly, the incidence of such amputations continues to escalate in the UK – last year a staggering record high of 8,500 patients were subjected to amputation procedures directly caused by the complications of diabetes with type 2 diabetes making up 90 per cent. When I see a patient, it is professional experience and statistics such as these that inform my work as a practicing cardiologist.

If heart disease is our biggest killer, the latest research points to the root causes of inflammation and insulin resistance (a precursor to type 2 diabetes) as the greatest challenge in modern healthcare. It is the systematic failure to acknowledge the root cause of these metabolic diseases and inform the nation expediently and effectively that has wrecked havoc with the health of the British people.

Several years ago I committed to take a firm stand against this epidemic of misinformed doctors and misinformed patients in my own quest to separate scientific fact from science fiction. In fact one of the founding fathers of the evidence based medicine movement, the late Professor David Sackett said ‘half of what you learn in medical school will turn out to be either outdated or dead wrong within five years of your graduation. The trouble is no one can tell you which half so the most important thing to learn is how to learn on your own‘.

My first book ‘The Pioppi Diet – A 21 day lifestyle plan’ which I co-authored with filmmaker and former athlete Donal O’Neill, is simply the latest chapter in a campaign to set the record straight. Since its release in July of this year, The Pioppi Diet has generated intense public debate on one side and – most importantly – better health markers and quality of life for adherent readers on the other. To be clear, I welcome both. Informed debate is the lifeblood of constructive medical and scientific progress and readers like Lynda and her husband who recently wrote a short note to thank me for ‘a life changing book’ are now ambassadors for better health in their own family and community circles. Given the chance, good health can go viral.

Regardless of the proven metabolic health benefits of The Pioppi Diet, the substance and title of the book has invited distorted criticism, so let me address that.

The book is named after the southern Italian village of Pioppi, the UNESCO anointed home of the Mediterranean Diet. Donal and myself travelled there for the first time in 2015 to research and film the documentary film ‘The Big Fat Fix’ (upon which the book is based). The film and now the book examine and critique the work of the influential American scientist Ancel Keys who conducted much of the original Mediterranean Diet research from his villa in Pioppi. That research began before England won the World Cup (soccer, not rugby!) and culminated in a skewed interpretation known as the ‘Food Pyramid’ in the USA, compiled by a government administrator in the 1970s.

The first key point to note here is that the ‘generally accepted’ Mediterranean Diet is essentially a 1970s interpretation of the traditional Mediterranean ‘Diata’. When we met Stefano Pisani, the mayor of the region, he informed us that the word diata was traditionally used in reference to the myriad lifestyle components of the region – not just the food but the work in the fields, the social bonds ‘and many other things’. It was clear to us that much had been left behind, forgotten or (intentionally or otherwise) completely disregarded in compiling the modern interpretation of the Mediterranean Diata. We set out to correct that.

The Pioppi Diet is a lifestyle plan designed to mimic the principles of a mid 20th century lifestyle in today’s urban jungle, of which food is one integral component. Just as the generally accepted version of the Mediterranean Diet is one interpretation of the diata, the Pioppi Diet is ours. We have married the additional pillars of health and longevity we identified on the ground through our local research amongst the residents of Pioppi with the latest scientific data in the fields of nutrition, exercise, movement and medicine. These principles are summarised in an editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine I co-authored with two eminent international cardiologists (both editors of respected medical journals) in a call to shift the paradigm of what causes heart disease but also emphasise that it’s risk can be rapidly reduced from simple lifestyle changes.

We conclude that there is no business model or market to spread these simple yet powerful interventions.

The Pioppi Diet encourages an increase in habitual movement, an optional but highly effective exercise and mobility protocol, better sleep, stress reduction techniques and social activity – all of which are proven to benefit health outcomes independently. We also advocate high quality protein sources, abundant vegetables, a lower intake of refined carbohydrates and a higher intake of fat (2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a handful of nuts daily are foundational fundamentals) than the generally accepted version of the Mediterranean Diet. Why? It has of course been proven that the generally accepted Mediterranean Diet is superior to the standard UK or American diet for metabolic health, but studies including a higher fat Mediterranean Diet option actually outperform the ‘generally accepted’ version.

In its totality, The Pioppi Diet is an up to date evidence based, superior version of what is already considered a good diet. It is a change for the better. That is why the book enjoys endorsements from the chair of the medical royal colleges, the former personal physician to her majesty the Queen, eminent Cochrane researchers, dieticians, and nutritionists. It has received a number of resoundingly positive reviews in a number of medical journals including one from the former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners. That is why readers like Lynda see real results. That is why the book has been a bestseller in the UK. That is why the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, has said that The Pioppi Diet has the ‘power to make millions of lives healthier and happier and help sustain our NHS’.

I would rather sell 10,000 copies and have an influence on policy than sell a million and have none. As we make clear in the book the evidence reveals that policy changes that curb the obesogenic environment – and make the healthy choice the easy choice – will have a far greater impact on population health than education alone.

That is why the most vocal and influential politician in the past few years advocating for sugar reduction in the UK, Keith Vaz MP, himself a type 2 diabetic in parliament called on 100 MPs with the highest prevalence of the condition in their constituencies to follow the plan over the summer.

And the financial toll of failure to deal with high sugar diet (we advise going cold turkey on all added sugar for the first 21 days) has been predicted by one investment bank to reach close to 0 per cent economic growth in OECD countries by 2035. An unhealthy population is an economically unproductive one.

It is therefore puzzling that last week That Pioppi Diet was named by the British Dietetic Association in a list of Top 5 worst celeb diets to avoid in 2018.

In response one leading GP publicly called them out on twitter for their criticism of the book as ‘disgraceful and inexcusable’ and ‘an attempt to mislead the public’. One prominent Psychiatrist, member of the BMA board of science and chairman of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin Dr. JS Bamrah said ‘The BDA have shown their ignorance attacking anyone for trying to reduce risk of diabetes’.

Business Insider referred to the British Dietetic Association as being a ‘top authority’ in their ripping to shreds of the Pioppi Diet amongst others. I hadn’t realised the BDA were experts in the causes of heart disease and type 2 diabetes?

As Albert Einstein once said ‘a foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth’.

In their press release The British Dietetic Association made a blatantly false statement that we imply coconut oil is part of the Mediterranean Diet when it featured in a section of Aseem and Donal’s top ten foods, it was never part of Pioppi and we never come anywhere close to claiming it to be so. In keeping with the evidence we identify what foods that have been consumed in the Mediterranean are ones that are likely to have anti-inflammatory properties that would explain the decades low incidence of heart disease in the region. We encourage as we do to make that the base of the diet which includes preferably lot of non-starchy vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, a handful of nuts and oily fish and for the first 21 days to completely avoid the foods which not only have the least nutritional value but also whose excess consumption of has the greatest adverse impact on metabolic health. These include all refined carbohydrates such as added sugar, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes and for those who are insulin resistant, overweight or obese to then make these foods the occasional treat, not a daily staple.

In fact such a diet plan has already been advised by a free website which we reference, Diabetes.co.uk, whose own recent data on those reversing their type 2 diabetes and coming off medications without calorie counting is quite extraordinary and contradicts what we learnt in medical school that type 2 diabetes is a chronic irreversible condition.

As made crystal clear In the book the villagers of Pioppi never ate pasta as a main course, it was always a small starter, bread was freshly baked in the home and this of a much lower glycaemic index than modern bread. Pizza was eaten once a fortnight and sugar as dessert only on Sundays. For someone who is not insulin resistant, this dietary pattern with no processed food or snacking and an active lifestyle is unlikely to be harmful and clearly wasn’t for these southern Italians.

Another of many distortions of the book was made in an article by Christopher Snowdon, who said that he is yet to meet a dietitian who ‘endorses Malhotra’s message’, failing to acknowledge two eminent international Dietitian lecturers, both with doctorates who also peer reviewed and endorsed our eating plan.

In the end, The Pioppi Diet is a story of wisdom, tradition and science with a happy, healthy ending for the adherent reader. Clearly it is not enough for some to know that this book can save limbs, lives or both, but as a cardiologist, it is enough for me.


  • For a review of the book, see HealthWatch UK’s latest newsletter: https://www.healthwatch-uk.org/images/Newsletters/Number_106.pdf#page=6

  • Readers may be interested in this review of the book in the latest newsletter from HealthWatch UK:

    https://www.healthwatch-uk.org/images/Newsletters/Number_106.pdf#page=6

    • This review suggests that dietary guidelines are not responsible for the massive explosion of sweetened low-fat foods that has happened over the last 30 years.

      You only have to remember the Food Standards Agency film about clogging your arteries with saturated fat to know that this is not true.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_183WF_DEY

  • lolexplosm

    “Staggering 8,500” whilst conflating T1 and T2? 3.8 million with T2 in 2016 means 7650 is not even 0.25%. “Standing against misinformed”, in Malhotra’s opinion, doctors yet already misinforming the reader with slightly exaggerated figures. Speaking of misinformed, why is the single, somewhat emotive, anecdote of Lynda even
    mentioned? Is this supposed to be evidence? Proof that only 21 days of a diet produces significant changes? Seriously “proven metabolic health benefits of The Pioppi Diet” is again a somewhat misleading statement given that long term evidence of its efficacy is likely lacking.

    I thought it was frowned upon to reference oneself?

    “These principles are summarised in an editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine
    I co-authored with two eminent international cardiologists (both editors of respected medical journals) in a call to shift the paradigm of what causes heart disease but also emphasise that it’s risk can be rapidly reduced from simple lifestyle changes.”

    An editorial which the authors conclude that everyone is wrong, and that risk is reduced from lifestyle changes? I find this an odd statement given that basic medical advice tends to revolve around lifestyle changes. No business model or market to spread simple advice on diet and lifestyle changes? Malhotra has published a book, he is essentially has a business and then there’s the whole diet market selling plans and books from the faddy to the rehashing of basic dietary and lifestyle advice. Do we need such a model? We are bombarded by health and
    dietary advice; people just don’t want to follow it. A higher fat Med diet outperforms regular version? Based on his editorial which has several references but also several assertions.

    The book may enjoy endorsements such as from the chair of the MRC, who doesn’t appear to have any dietary qualification, but it has received condemnation from the BDA, the professional body representing dietitians in the whole of the UK. Malhotra welcomes informed debate but your link to a GP and a psychiatrist denouncing their criticism as disgraceful, inexcusable and an attack. Malhotra then has the audacity to effectively denounce the BDA as experts in type 2 diabetes and heart disease but seems to paint his views as authoritative and infallible. He says lifestyle changes are important, this includes diet so I’m pretty certain that dietitians are pretty much experts in dietary factors involved with those conditions as well as prevention, treatment and management. Certainly more so than a GP, who I’m frequently reminded by citizen scientists have apparently no nutritional
    training, and a Psychiatrist (sic). Malhotra’s rebuke of the BDA revolves around their mention of coconut because he only mentioned it yet there are recipes that use coconut oil; nothing else is addressed by him.

    I don’t think the endorsement of one eminent dietitian has much weight because both Malhotra and Dr Deakin
    are members of the PHC, an organisation with a somewhat LCHF agenda, which in my opinion is a slight conflict of interest, in terms of bias, being peer reviewed by Dr Deakin.

    I find it odd that someone can say they welcome debate yet essentially proclaims themselves as an irrefutable expert in several areas somewhat outside their field and dismisses other experts in the field as wrong when they
    have a clear conflict in interest in doing so.

    Then there’s the grammar, I know mine’s not perfect but I’m not publishing an article. Also using #Mercola
    in tweets minimises any credibility too.

    /Rant

    • How does the use of a hashtag minimise credibility? That’s a cheap shot at character assassination that undermines your own argument, particularly when used in a summary. Wake up and look around, hashes are everywhere!

      • lolexplosm

        It was one tiny comment at the end of my rant but it’s a red flag. Mercola is one of if not the biggest source of quackery, lies and health disinformation on the internet. Any credible scientist or expert would know to avoid it.

        • Billy Boyle

          I disagree. Mercola may be “out there” with some of his thinking, but 10 years ago he was warning about the dangers of Mercury fillings, fluoride in the water supply, and the use of glyphosate as a pesticide, to name just three. Mainstream science has decided there is now evidence to at least be careful of all those things and others that he regularly warns about.

        • Rick Thorn

          That is a strong statement. One that could almost be tagged libel sans evidence.

          Pray tell – provide please one instance of snake-oil salesmanship?

    • JonathanBagley

      Nothing minimises credibility more than anonymity.

  • BeetlesOfHaldane

    If you really want to sell the ideas in that book, or the book, then I’d think twice about referencing the socialist mayor of Manchester or Britain’s most influential shagger of male prostitutes and offerer of cocaine (not to mention his expenses and how he hung Salman Rushdie out to dry) Keith (call me Jim) Vaz.

  • Thomas Jones

    I believe the diet does work, but watch the calories! How did Keith Vaz do on the diet?

  • Rick Thorn

    Interesting how Dietectic Organisations are vehemently against low-carb. Dr Tim Noakes – a respected physician in South Africa has been hounded for his advocacy of the Banting diet.

    I wonder: what if cardiology would benefit from an industry wide examination of Vit-K2/ strophantum hispidis/ Banting/Wheat Belly to name a few “esoteric” concepts.

    But then again – a fortune is earned from treating overweight, chronically ill patients. As a society, why are we asking why it is “normal” to be “pilled-out” in the modern age, when just a few generations ago (in the dark ages) people didn’t have access to these pills, but weren’t on average obese?