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Zoë Harcombe

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Zoë Harcombe
Potentially edible!
Food woo
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Fabulous food!
Delectable diets!
Bodacious bods!
This is why I get seriously pissed off with five-a-day. It isn't evidence based, never was and we are telling people to eat foods that can never compete with genuinely nutritious foods. To add insult to injury – the most nutritious foods are the ones that we demonise. I think that justifies the words pissed off!
—Harcombe complaining about fruit and vegetables, despite eating a lot of them, "most days".[1]

Zoë Harcombe is an author, nutritionist and cholesterol denialist from Wales. Harcombe disagrees with mainstream medical advice on dieting. She has been criticized for promoting misleading health advice that is not based on scientific evidence.[2] She sells a fad diet known as the "Harcombe Diet".[3]


In 2011, Harcombe stated she was studying for a PhD in nutrition and described herself as a "qualified nutritionist". These claims were questioned.[4][5] During this time she was not registered for a PhD.[6] In 2013, Harcombe was pursuing a PhD at the University of West of Scotland.[5] In 2016, she obtained her PhD in public health nutrition.[7][8]

Her thesis can be found on her website behind a pay-wall, but the abstract and parts of each chapter are available free.[9] Or you can get the whole thing free from the British Library.[10]


Her work has appeared in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals. Harcombe and colleagues published a systematic review in the journal BMJ Open Heart in 2015.[11] Their review examined the evidence of dietary fat, cholesterol and coronary heart disease published before 1983. They concluded that UK dietary recommendations which were introduced in 1983 were not supported by the evidence. The review was widely criticized by medical experts for cherry picking and omitting certain data. Simon Capewell, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology commented that "perhaps the greatest crime is embodied within the penultimate sentence in the Discussion: “questioning the alleged relationship between saturated fat and coronary heart disease”. Why say “alleged”? It is surely monstrous to suggest that the scientific evidence linking sat fats and coronary heart disease has not increased hugely since 1983. OMG!"[12]

After her paper in BMJ Open Heart that formed part of her Ph.D thesis, the editors required her to correct her competing interests claim from "None" to "income from writing and from The Harcombe Diet Co. and from Columbus Publishing".[13]

Controversial claims[edit]

Zoe Harcombe. Carb avoider, nutritional maverick and the sworn enemy of fibre, five-a-day and common fucking sense. The writer of a nauseating and pointless stream of ridiculous diet books, and creator of endless piles of Daily Mail clickbait fodder, Zoe Harcombe is the long standing Queen of evidence mangling nutri-bullshit, desperate to challenge the orthodoxy in order to drive book sales and website traffic.
Anthony Warner on Zoe Harcombe.[14]

In her book The Obesity Epidemic (2010), Harcombe made the following dietary claims, which were advertised in a credulous article in the Daily Mail:[15]

  • Eat meat, fish, and eggs and ignore starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice.
  • To lose weight cut down not on calories but the consumption of carbohydrates.
  • Avoid extra exercise because it is counterproductive and will make you hungry.
  • Real fat is responsible for a healthy heart and good mental health.
  • Saturated fat does not cause heart disease.
  • High cholesterol levels are not a bad or dangerous for health.
  • Dietary fibre should be avoided.
  • Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is a marketing scheme. There is no evidence for any cancer benefit.
  • Fruit should be avoided by those attempting to lose weight. Instead, meat and dairy products should be eaten.
  • All food advisory bodies give false health advice as they are sponsored by the food industry.

Harcombe is a cholesterol denialist and has argued against the use of statins. She promotes the unproven claims of Malcolm Kendrick.[16][17][18][19] She contributed to the THINCS book Fat and Cholesterol Don’t Cause Heart Attacks and Statins Are Not The Solution (2016).

Harcombe Diet[edit]

The Harcombe Diet has been criticized for making unsupported health claims. Complaints about the Harcombe Diet have been investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority. The Council ruled that she should not "make claims that the Harcombe diet could treat medical conditions in the absence of robust evidence, or to make claims that it could treat conditions which required medical supervision."[20]

Contradictory dieting advice[edit]

This woman thinks fruit is pointless, hates running, and enjoys her vegetables with lashings of butter.
—A journalist describing Harcombe.[21]

Harcombe has criticized fruits and other high-fibre foods but actually admits to eating a lot of them. According to her website:

I eat fruit most days, but not too much and because I like it, not because I think it is good for me. I eat a lot of vegetables/salads – locally grown/in season wherever possible. I eat very dark chocolate pretty much every day and quite a lot of it! It's a great source of minerals and saturated fat ;-). I do eat starchy carbs – just not daily. I enjoy porridge (plain oats and whole milk) – especially in the winter. I like brown rice and (veggie) curries/chilli. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a crispy baked potato and melted cheese.[22]

This is despite the fact, she considers all fruit and vegetables as "pretty useless nutritionally" and "not the healthiest foods available".[1][23] She describes fruit as "unhelpful" and blames it on causing obesity.[24] She claims fibre has no requirement in a human diet and recommends her readers to stay away from high-fibre foods but eats fruit "most days" and enjoys brown rice and oats.[23][25]

Harcombe endorses Konstantin Monastyrsky's pseudoscientific book Fiber Menace.[26]

Selected publications[edit]

  • The Harcombe Diet: Stop Counting Calories & Start Losing Weight (2011)
  • Why Do You Overeat? When All You Want is to be Slim (2012)
  • The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? (2015)
  • The Diet Fix: How to lose weight and keep it off... one last time (2018)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 The perfect five-a-day?
  2. Is Zoe Harcombe’s advice based on solid scientific evidence?. World Cancer Research Fund.
  3. The Harcombe Diet
  4. Zoe Harcombe ~ Credentials?
  5. 5.0 5.1 Zoe Harcombe Credentials II
  6. How to read a paper. Bad Science.
  7. An examination of the randomised controlled trial and epidemiological evidence for the introduction of dietary fat recommendations in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  8. Biography. Zoe Harcombe.
  9. PhD thesis
  11. Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  12. Expert reaction to study looking at historic UK and US dietary advice on fats
  14. The Magical Adventures of Mr Faecalbulk Part 2
  15. Everything you thought you knew about food is WRONG.
  16. Cholesterol & heart disease – there is a relationship, but it’s not what you think . "This also says to me – even though saturated fat has nothing to do with cholesterol, it doesn’t actually matter. Even if it did – cholesterol is only associated with CVD deaths in an inverse way. If fat did raise cholesterol – as public health officials like to claim – it could save lives!".
  17. Worried about cholesterol and/or statins
  18. Zoe Harcombe on Twitter
  19. Zoe Harcombe on Twitter
  20. ASA Adjudication on Zoë Harcombe
  21. Healthy eating according to Zoe Harcombe
  22. Zoë Harcombe
  23. 23.0 23.1 This cynical five-a-day myth: Nutrition expert claims we've all been duped
  24. Fruit is fuelling the obesity epidemic
  25. Fiber: An umbrella review
  26. Zoe Harcombe on twitter