Eggs count as a 'health' food ... for the moment, at least

Updated: Mar 13, 2019

Thanks to our historically fat phobic culture, dietary guidelines have cast the humble egg as a cholesterol laden villain for decades. Doctors and dietitians alike preached the cholesterol hypothesis to demonise eggs:

 

  • An egg yolk had lots of cholesterol in it.

  • Dietary cholesterol increases LDL ('bad') cholesterol in the blood.

  • LDL in the blood increases the risk of heart disease.

  • Ie, eliminate cholesterol in your diet or you'll die of a heart attack.


Sounds plausible. Until it didn't.


The cholesterol hypothesis has since been seriously discredited. There's many excellent resources that step this out in excruciating detail.


Today, people have started to grasp that the body needs fats to be fit, lean and healthy, and the 'fat free' mantra of the 80's and 90's is (I hope!) a thing of the past. Eggs are no longer demonised. They are now properly praised as a 'health food'. This has prompted agencies like The Heart Foundation to retract their earlier statements and basically say that they stuffed up. As you'd expect, there's a positive spin on this 'updated' information - they don't directly admit to their blunder.



American Heart Association


1968: Recommends that all individuals consume less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day and no more than three whole eggs per week.


2015: Quietly drops the upper limit on dietary cholesterol, simply stating that, 'The key recommendation from the 2010 dietary guidelines to limit consumption of dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day is not included in the 2015 edition'. It also includes eggs in the list of foods suggested for healthy eating. 


This move back tracked on almost 40 years of caution about egg consumption.


In Australia, our current Dietary Guidelines appear to be a little ahead of our American friends and actually say: 


'Since the 2003 edition of the dietary guidelines, the evidence associating egg consumption with health outcomes has not changed greatly. There do not appear to be any increased health risks associated with consumption of eggs. There is recent evidence to suggest that consumption of eggs every day is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease'.


Inevitably, it's the egg industry that needs to step in to clean up the mess. Recently, Australian Eggs launched a marketing campaign to call for Australians to 'embrace the incredible versatility of eggs' and to dispel common myths that still linger in 2018. 


It's a sad reality that a nutrient-dense, real food needs to defend its consumption thanks to bad science, dietary dogma and political spin.


In fact, not only are eggs not bad for you, they are actively good for you. Eggs are rich in protein, choline, iodine and vitamin A. Most of an egg's nutrients are contained in the yolk. This includes fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K that the body can easily assimilate because it's naturally packaged in the fats of the yolk. So, the classic bodybuilder diet of egg whites only probably isn't the best idea after all. Oops. 


The lesson? 


Be at least a little sceptical of health claims and popular dietary beliefs. Question the veracity of the science behind it. Seek multiple opinions, do some research and make your conclusions. Despite our desire to clamour for the latest food trend, there's no need to complicate it. Simple and natural is usually best.


Remember the story of the humble egg. It's been restricted and reformulated in an attempt to produce a 'better' and more profitable item - and eggs have endured it all:


  • The 'experts' put an upper limit on it (ie, no more than 3 a week.)

  • They added things (ie, Omega 3). 

  • They subtract things (ie, the yolk, egg replacers).

  • In the end, we've come full circle. Just eat free range, entire eggs.

Don't fear the yolk, people.

Keen to learn more?


For a historical account of the trials and tribulations of the innocent egg, read Donald McNamara's article, 'The Fifty Year Rehabilitation of the Egg'


If you're keen to delve into the political history of the deceptive dietary dogma on fats, read Nina Teicholz's acclaimed book, The Big, Fat Surprise - Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.