Okay so no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, CNN is making a lot of waves this week with a headline stating “3 or more eggs a day increases your risk for heart disease and early death”. In the article they detail how the study – upon which this incredible claim is based – was done. To my surprise, it didn’t involve blending and directly injecting the eggs into your veins; the participants merely ate the eggs and a bunch of them died.
This is how viral “news” puts stupid ideas into our heads, and the problem with memetic ideas like this is that it only takes reading an inflammatory headline like the above to get it in your head that eggs (or whatever) is the enemy. Because of decades of terrible research and belief that saturated fat, cholesterol, and NOT sugar were to blame for heart disease, we have an inborn western bias that eggs and fat are unhealthy.
It’s only been in the last decade or so that science – and the media – have caught up to the fact that sugar lobbyists paid to suppress anti-sugar science. Couple that with some cherry-picking on the part of Ancel Keys regarding his “7 country study” which “proved” increased dietary fat and cholesterol were the culprits in heart disease, and you’ve got disaster. This misinformation may be more deleterious to human health in the last 50 years than almost anything else. So are eggs healthy? Emphatically yes, but let’s explain why.
The worst part of this study, however, is how it’s done. Studies like these take a sample of people and ask them to self- report their diets for a period of time. They then follow these people over a decade or two and gather bits of data on their diets. They take the data about diets, along with the health and longevity of the participants and look for correlation. They found that people who ate more eggs had an increased risk of death, but what does that mean really? Did they check to see if people who ate sandwiches daily had an increased risk of death? What about the other lifestyle choices – smoking, sedentary living, etc – that go into your health:?
Why are eggs healthy?
Eggs are like chicken seeds, and I say that in a literal sense as much as a silly one. Eggs are, like seeds, essentially a packet of genetic material – a blueprint if you will – and an energy source. The white of the egg is amniotic fluid, the yolk is the baby chicken’s food source, and if the egg is fertilized, somewhere in there is a microscopic embryonic chicken. This is more-or-less how a seed works as well; a genetic blueprint with the necessary energy stored inside to grow it until it can fend for itself. Many nuts and seeds are complete proteins, which coupled with the fats inside make them basically a complete food. You could live off them if you needed to, and probably indefinitely, and eggs are very similar in that aspect, but eggs are even better.
The average egg has about 70-80 calories, 8 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, and 1.5 grams of saturated fat. These are really good ratios but that’s not all. In addition to nearly perfect energy macros, eggs are a potent source of vitamins B2, B6, B12, A, D, E, and K as well as selenium and zinc. You can realistically live off of only eggs and water and be reasonably fine, as long as you got some vitamin C in there somewhere. In fact, a study done in the Journal of Pediatrics that found that giving children ages 6-9 months a single egg per day were significantly less likely than the control group to have stunted growth, growth delay, or mental developmental delay in the at-risk population that made up the majority of the study.
Finally, as long as the chickens aren’t raised in a huge factory farm and have the opportunity to eat grass, bugs, and all the other tasty things real chickens eat, your eggs will be a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s worth the extra couple bucks to buy a carton full of free range/cage free/omega-3 eggs. They taste better, too, and even if you’re paying $3-4 bucks a dozen, how many other foods that are this healthy can you get 6 breakfasts from (assuming you eat 2 eggs/day) for that price?
But why do people think eggs are UNhealthy?
There’s a lot to unpack but the fact is that established medicine suggests that high cholesterol = risk for heart disease. While excessive cholesterol in the blood does appear to be a contributing factor to heart disease, it’s far from the only thing. Modern research suggests that inflammation is a much bigger contributor to heart disease, and systemic arterial/venous inflammation is caused by industrial seed oils and prolonged excessive blood sugar/insulin levels. Cholesterol itself is a waxy substance that’s incredibly useful and necessary to our bodies. In fact, without it we probably wouldn’t exist – it’s necessary to synthesize vitamin D, create most hormones in our body, is a key component of cell membrane creation and maintenance, and also helps make bile.
The short of it is that we need cholesterol. How much? That’s a good question, because the fear-mongering articles suggest that just a few eggs a day will kill you, and if an egg has roughly 200mg of cholesterol in it, well we should definitely knock our cholesterol consumption way down, right?
Nope. Cholesterol is regulated, like so many things, by the liver, and the liver will make its own cholesterol if we don’t eat enough of it. How much, you might ask? Something to the order of 1000-1200 mg a day. That means that even if you eat 3 eggs a day, your liver will still produce a further 100-300mg of cholesterol on average. Does that mean your liver is trying to kill you?
No, what it means is that the role that excess cholesterol plays in predicting death longitudinally is not very well known. It also means that we might not realize what exactly “excess” dietary cholesterol looks like, and as well, your body can compensate for cholesterol intake above the norm (and below it).
I personally believe strongly that we are currently the architects of our own demise. Our grandparents (assuming you’re in your 30s like me) lived through the Depression, and my anecdotal experience with my own grandparents and people their age that I grew up with is that those people lived LONG lives. They grew up fighting for food and scraping by, but they grew into adulthood with a certain viewpoint of food and exercise; every person my grandfather’s age had a garden, and my grandmother and her friends all cooked real food. As medical science evolved to solve the bottleneck diseases that killed in youth – polio, measles, various fevers, etc – we hit a point where we were living longer. Now, however, we’ve added sugar to everything and the food industry has the audacity to blame our ancestral ways of eating on our current epidemics of diabetes and obesity.
We’ve spent so much time “perfecting” foods that didn’t need perfecting to begin with. How is it the Inuit people can eat literally nothing but fat and protein in one of the harshest climates in the world, but live well past 80 with low instance of heart disease? The Mongolian people as well, drinking horse milk and eating mainly meat? Haven’t they heard that eggs, meat, and dairy will kill them? We’ve gotten so good at solving diseases and making ourselves comfortable that we now are creating new diseases to die from, and that’s absurd.
So should I eat eggs?
I would say yes. We’ve spent decades on whether or not this perfect food will kill you while we stuff our face with pre-packaged cereals, oatmeals, chips, and pastas while heart disease rates soar and nobody questions the new foods full of sugar we’ve introduced. There are entire species of animals that eat nearly only eggs!
This study was poorly done and tagged with a sensationalist headline to get attention. Eat your eggs; they’re good for you, and with all the reactionaries avoiding them, there’s more for us!
Is this scare-mongering going to keep you off eggs? Let me know, I’m definitely curious! Bonus question: how do you like your eggs cooked? I prefer half-scrambled.