Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Domini thinks it stinks that you're not allowed to claim scientific benefits - but that is the correct way to go about things'
The ASAI (Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland) has upheld a complaint brought by INDI (Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute) and supported by the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) against Patricia Daly, a nutritional therapist who runs a nutrition website and recently co-authored a cookbook with Domini Kemp, the chef, founder of the 'Itsa' restaurant chain and food writer in The Irish Times.
Basically, Ms Daly's website suggested that the high fat, low carb 'ketogenic diet' she is a proponent of on her site and also in their cookbook, The Ketogenic Kitchen, can be used to help treat cancer patients. Patricia Daly and Domini Kemp have been treated for cancer in the past.
INDI and the ICS brought the complaint against Ms Daly because there is no clinical evidence to support this claim of benefits to cancer sufferers.
After reviewing the evidence, the ASAI agreed that was the case and made Ms Daly remove her claims from her website.
Ms Kemp has said in The Irish Times that the ruling 'stinks'. And I'm sure she thinks it does.
But the ASAI was absolutely right in its position, as was INDI and the ICS in bringing the complaint. A ketogenic diet has been proven to be of use in the treatment of some paediatric forms of epilepsy - but it is complicated, and should be undertaken only under strict supervision.
But there are no human trials that show benefit in the treatment of cancer, and oncologists are worn out trying to dissuade patients from going on it.
This is, sadly, yet another example of nutribabble - the pseudo-scientific attributing of all sorts of properties to various foods and diets that have no basis in fact. And although Ms Kemp thinks it stinks that you are not allowed to claim scientific benefits before they are proven - that is, of course, the correct way to go about things.
No one would be happier than me if we could find a dietary treatment for cancer sufferers that might aid their recovery and reduce the need for other noxious treatments.
Who knows, maybe one day the ketogenic diet will be found to have some effect. And even though everyone is entitled to their own opinions and their own views - they are not entitled to their own facts.
The ketogenic diet has not been proven to help treat cancer patients and saying it has is wrong and very unfair on cancer sufferers who are often desperate for hope and will try anything. Anyone who profits from false claims of this nature is preying on sufferers - whether they realise it or not.
The difficulty that Patricia Daly, Domini Kemp and many others have is much like the one that Rosanna Davison encountered last year when she claimed in her book Eat Yourself Beautiful that gluten caused multiple health problems from autism to schizophrenia. She faced an enormous backlash from the medical, dietetic and scientific communities.
I'm sure Rosanna was shocked by the criticism. Getting challenged, and challenged robustly, can take you by surprise, may feel quite unfair and may even feel like it stinks.
But the nub of the thing is this - you can claim your sausage casserole is the most delicious thing on earth more or less with impunity, but when you enter the realms of health or science you need to PROVE what you are saying or not say it at all.
The standards are different. They're higher and so they should be. Influencing people's behaviour around health is an enormous responsibility. Everyone in the dietetic, medical and scientific profession knows this.
And people unwilling to meet that standard shouldn't be commenting on health issues.
There is research ongoing around the ketogenic diet and whether or not it could have benefits for cancer patients. If it is ever shown that it has, oncologists will be more than delighted to recommend people follow it, in conjunction with a qualified dietitian.
Until that time, suggesting it has benefits is simply misinformation and should rightly be challenged.