Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is Organic Food More Nutritious?

A recent study out of Stanford sought to answer the often-asked question of whether or not organic food is more nutritious than their conventional alternatives?

According to the authors of the study:

The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. [1]

Those last two bits of information (pesticides and antibiotics) are no small matter and may be hidden by the headlines making the rounds that organic is not more nutritious than conventional foods.  The fiber, vitamin and mineral content of an organic strawberry may be the same as a conventionally grown strawberry but does that mean it’s a healthier option?  If I provided you the choice between two glasses of water one with no poison (pesticide) and the other with just a drop of poison what option would you choose?

And while that watered down drop of poison may not harm you right away if you continued to take a drop each day for twenty years is it possible even likely that overtime you may build up a toxic load that would eventually make you sick?  This may be the strongest argument against consuming conventionally grown and raised food.

And the authors of the study point out that no long-term exposure was measured for this study.  The reason I choose to eat organic and pasture raised foods over conventional and factory farm foods is one of safety and sustainability.  For the sake of furthering this discussion assume that there is no difference in the nutrient content of organic foods and those that are grown or produced conventionally.   Does this mean that the conventional food is just as good for you as the organic food is?   Consider, manufacturers can add vitamins and minerals to Lucky Charms so it matches the nutrient content of whole oatmeal but it’s clearly not a better choice.

So according to the lab analysis there is no difference in nutrient content of organic versus conventional foods but that headline is very misleading.  How can you honestly say that foods that may expose you to more pesticides or antibiotic-resistant bacteria are just as safe or healthy?  The authors did not state that and that’s being overlooked if you just read or watch the headlines.

Children today are increasingly faced with higher levels of toxins in the environment, which has been linked to autism, ADD and allergies. You are what you eat, especially when you’re a child – your food intake literally grows the brain and body. As a mom and an educated consumer, I fully recognize that it’s not possible to eat organic 100-percent of the time, but every small choice we make, especially for our kids, adds up to make a big difference. [2]

-Shazi Visram, founder, CEO and Chief Mom of Happy Family.

You are what you eat is something you have likely heard before and it reminds me of an interview with a mother recalling the nursing of her first child.  While breastfeeding the baby this woman had been consuming quite a bit of onions from her garden and the taste was present in her milk and the baby would not take the milk.  Using this story as an example it’s fair to assume that if livestock are administered hormones or antibiotics it could be present in their by-products (milk, cheese, eggs) as well.

Another point in favor of organic food is one of sustainability.  Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality, and healthy soil leads to healthy food.

In terms of the extra cost and value of eating organically, I have always subscribed to the adage “pay now or pay later.”  If you eat nutritious and clean foods you are more likely to have robust health and less need for medical related intervention.   Investing in the long-term health of you and your family is always a winning strategy!

For a more in-depth comparison of organic versus conventional farming methods check out this analysis from the staff at the Mayo Clinic:

There are basically two different models of food production today, and there's growing conflict between them.  This is a step beyond the organic versus conventional argument and it’s a conflict that is at the root of the declining health of our nation.  Read more about this here and one of the pioneers that is showing us a better way of raising and growing our food:

Additional Reading

I briefly hit on the popular and often repeated notion that you are what you eat.   Inherently I believe most of us, especially mothers know this to be true at least with respect to the idea that nutritious food is better for our health.  Consider the following research that I pulled together just from the last week.

Just as women are advised to get plenty of folic acid around the time of conception and throughout early pregnancy, new research suggests another very similar nutrient may one day deserve a spot on the obstetrician’s list of recommendations.
Consuming greater amounts of choline – a nutrient found in eggs and meat – during pregnancy may lower an infant’s vulnerability to stress-related illnesses, such as mental health disturbances, and chronic conditions, like hypertension, later in life:

Working with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, anthropologists at UC Santa Barbara have found high levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in the breast milk of economically impoverished Amerindian woman as compared to women in the United States. The study compared breast milk fatty acid composition in U.S. and Tsimane women. The Tsimane live in Amazonian Bolivia, and eat a diet consisting primarily of locally grown staple crops, wild game, and freshwater fish. Samples of Tsimane mothers’ milk contained significantly higher percentages of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is crucial for infant cognitive and visual development:

The study below shows evidence that a mother’s pre-pregnancy nutrient intake can have profound impact on the health of her child:

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist


Saturday, September 22, 2012

What's in Your Food?

A mother recently approached me and asked if I would be willing to talk to her son regarding his newly adopted dietary beliefs.  The mother was concerned that he may be adopting an extreme way of eating and that this approach may lead to deficiencies in his diet.

This young man while doing research on a paper about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), developed awareness of the potential damage they can do to human health and the environment.

While the topic of GMO warrants an entire article on it’s own, in a nutshell genetically modified foods (GM foods, or biotech foods) are foods derived from genetically modified organisms. Genetically modified organisms have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques.  The idea behind these engineered crops was to improve yields and make them more resistant to drought, pests and weeds all while reducing the need for chemical use in agriculture.  However, plenty of research has shown that virtually all of these claims have not materialized, while serious risks and consequences, including herbicide-resistant super weeds, super pests, uncontrollable cross-contamination and health problems from GMO foods, have emerged.  I will touch on GMO foods again at the end of this article.

With his new knowledge this young man is turned off to the domestic food industry in the United States.   He has chosen to adopt a raw-vegan lifestyle, in brief summary this consists of plant-based foods that aren’t processed or cooked beyond 105-115 degrees.  Think lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and sprouted grains.  I could have told this young man that he was wrong and that this way of fueling his body was going to lead to trouble but I choose a more constructive rout.

What usually happens when we tell a young adult that they are wrong and that we know better?  They usually resent our attitude and rebel; they are gong to do what they want to do regardless of what we think.  Instead I respected his decision and asked if he would like some tips for eating in this way.  When he accepted my invitation it allowed me to give him some advice that he was open to.  I told him that if you choose to eat in this way there are certain steps that must be taken to ensure adequate and balanced nutritional intake.

This young man is 19/20 years of age and is very active, it’s important that he eats enough food to maintain his energy and health.  Without protein and fats from animal based foods he would have to be prepared to obtain these essential nutrients from other sources.  I advised that he should make certain that he was consuming foods like nuts, seeds, beans, quinoa, brown rice, peas, avocado, and coconut (just to name a few) to ensure he was getting the protein and fats that are required for his system to function properly.

At this point he hasn’t closed the door on me and may be open to more advice in the future.  This will allow me to slowly provide information that he can use and make informed decisions going forward with this lifestyle choice. 

This situation also brings to mind the often times unhealthy relationship our society has with body image and ultimately the food that we eat or choose not to eat.  The term obesity is so prevalent in our society right now and it’s not exactly a flattering term to have associated with any child.  I taught a class last year with third-fifth graders and when I asked why they liked to exercise more than a few yelled out “because I don’t want to be obese!”  That was a real eye opener and it demonstrated that kids are aware of what that means and it’s negative associations.  BMI is another term (along with obesity) that needs to be confined to the laboratory and research papers largely because it’s meaningless and often misinterpreted by kids that don’t need to hear it.   Terms don’t solve anything but behaviors do.  We need to educate kids on healthy eating and exercise behaviors and that should be the focus of our interventions not measuring their waistlines.

According to new study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, cases of childhood eating disorders are on the rise. An article from CNN reported that findings show hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under the age of 12 have increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.

Just a few of the effects of eating disorders include extreme weight loss, low energy levels, low iron counts, and hair loss. These are signs more and more dietitians are seeing in children coming into their offices. [1]

The above examples are an excellent talking point because children and young adults are still developing their belief systems and when they consistently hear about how terrible the modern food industry is or the youth obesity epidemic they don’t want to eat any type of meat or drink milk because they think it’s full of chemicals or will make them “fat.”  Sadly some of their fears may be warranted because most of the conventional crops, meats and dairy sold at the grocery store are sprayed or pumped full of chemicals and those foods should be avoided.

However, as leaders of young people we need to inform them that animal products raised humanely on small family farms are not only good for our health when we eat them but it is also sustainable and healthy for the environment as well.  A great way to do this is by visiting the farmers market and developing relationships with the men and women that provide our food.  Most farmers love to interact with their customers and are even open to tours of their farms.

This is a tremendous strategy for kids to build an appreciation and healthy relationship with food.


I wanted to briefly touch on the topic of GMO foods again because they are the subject of an intense political fight in the state of California and the results of this battle could resonate throughout the entire country.

Proponents in California want to place a proposition on their November ballot that would require all foods that contain GMO foods be labeled, as it is not currently required throughout the country.  Heavyweights in the food industry are pushing back against the proposed legislation with millions of dollars in donations from their supporters, some of who may surprise you.

The requirement that manufacturers have to label what is actually in their products seems like a no-brainer but a lot is at stake because many of the players in the food industry would be exposed for putting this “stuff” in their products and the fallout could result in a steep loss of profits and credibility.  The fact that California is the 8th largest economy in the world is the reason it will likely affect labeling nation-wide, as large companies are not likely going to label their products as genetically engineered when sold in California, but not when sold in other states. Doing so would be a PR disaster.

It’s also important to note that if and until GE foods are labeled, your BEST strategy is to simply buy USDA certified 100% Organic products whenever possible, as these do not permit genetically engineered ingredients, or buy whole fresh produce and meat from local farmers.

For a chart showing the supporters of the California legislation and their opponents look below:


This guide can help you identify and avoid foods with GMO:

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Don't treat the sneeze!

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released updated state-by-state obesity rates and Colorado has the lowest rate in the nation at 20.7%.  However, between 2005 and 2009 Colorado was the only state with an obesity rate below 20%. [1] In 1990, no state had an obesity rate of more than 15 percent, according to the CDC.  Even though the people of Colorado may be in first place in this contest their rate is trending in the wrong direction.  My opinion has always been that obesity is nothing more than a sneeze a side effect of our behaviors and the current culture we live in.  In America we all strive for the quick fix and we are all trying to get more done and be in more places in the same 24-hour window.  Quality home cooked meals; family fun and active free play have been sacrificed to a fast paced, high-tech, hyper-competitive race to the bottom culture.

It is my strong belief that this generation of children while more active in team sports are as physically unfit than at any time in recent memory.  Three topics that have shaped my opinion in recent years are the following:

Youth Sport Injuries are at an all time high

High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries and 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year

More than 3.5 million kids under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year

Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals. On average the rate and severity of injury increases with a child's age

Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students [2]

National youth obesity rates

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years

The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period

In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese [3]

National Security Concerns
Department of Defense data indicates that an alarming 75 percent of all young Americans 17 to 24 years of age are unable to join the military because they failed to graduate from high school, have criminal records, or are physically unfit

Being overweight or obese turns out to be the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service. Today, otherwise excellent recruit prospects, some of them with generations of sterling military service in their family history, are being turned away because they are just too overweight

Mission: Readiness, an organization of retired senior military leaders, is warning Congress that at least nine million 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States are too fat to serve in the military. That is 27 percent of all young adults [4]

All is not lost however.  Awareness is key in order to turn the tide and improve the health and fitness of the youth in our community and adults seems to understand this.

Adults across the U.S. rate not getting enough exercise as the top health concern for children in 2012, according to a new University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

In the poll's annual top 10 list, a nationwide sample of adults were asked to identify the top 10 biggest health concerns for kids in their communities. For the first time, most adults rated not getting enough exercise as the top health concern (39 percent). That was followed closely by childhood obesity (38 percent) and smoking and tobacco use (34 percent).

"Childhood obesity remains a top concern, and adults know it is certainly linked to lack of exercise," says Matthew M. Davis M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

"But exercise offers many more benefits other than weight loss or preventing obesity – such as better attention and learning in school and improved sense of well-being," says Davis, associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the U-M Medical School and associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The rest of the poll results were:

4. Drug abuse (33 percent)
5. Bullying (29 percent)
6. Stress (27 percent)
7. Alcohol abuse (23 percent)
8. Teen pregnancy (23 percent)
9. Internet safety (22 percent)
10. Child abuse and neglect (20 percent) [5]

The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) initiated the development of the STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) Sports Injuries campaign along with it’s organizational partners, including the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Athletic Trainers' Association, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and SAFE Kids USA. These organizations shared AOSSM's concern about the increase in youth sports injuries and came together under the common goal to STOP Sports Injuries.  And according to the group, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.

This is certainly encouraging news and the resolution to youth sports injuries, obesity, and lack of military readiness involves getting back to the basics and using common sense.  Children first need to learn how to move generally and master/learn their own bodies before they can master the more complex movements involved in sports.  By establishing a basic foundation of general movement they learn to optimally coordinate and stabilize their bodies making them far more resilient to injury.  Additionally, establishing a solid foundation at a young age allows them the diversity of skill required to progressively improve and eventually master more complex movement patterns.  As an example a young baseball player should master the art of spotting a fastball and changing speeds before learning how to throw a curve ball.  Rotating sports seasonally is also important to prevent burnout and overuse injury. 

It should also be noted that seasonal sport participation while an excellent way to expand a child’s skill set is inadequate in regards to overall physical fitness.   Playing sports to get in shape is a backwards idea.  Professional athletes whose priority is to maximize their performance on the filed of play take off-field/court/ice training very seriously in the off-season.  They use general training to gain strength, power, mobility and core stability to play their sport at a high level.  Playing a sport will not necessarily improve these qualities, in fact long seasons and sport specialization can actually degrade these athletic qualities.  That said, strength, power, mobility and core stability are absolutely necessary to excel on the field of play and establishing a solid movement foundation early in life through free play best develops these qualities.   And as the demands of sport increase in the mid-late teen years a dedicated training program will be necessary to defend against future injury and keep developing athletes in top-notch condition.

I strongly believe that the lack of free play and general conditioning for children is at the heart of issues such as obesity, sports injuries, and lack of military readiness.  Let’s face it not all children like sports and those that don’t are usually relegated to sedentary pursuits such as video games or computer time.  It’s in all of our best interest to provide opportunities for vigorous activity for all children, yes, even those that play sports.  Children should gain basic fitness in order to play sports but because of the intense nature of the youth sport culture they predominately play sports to gain their fitness.

Organized sport participation is simply not able to accomplish the task of getting kids in shape.  Watch any game at any level and you will notice a lot of standing around interspersed with an occasional explosion of speed or a moderate tactical run.  Most teams have dedicated conditioning programs that support on field play and that is essential now more than ever because kids aren’t getting it away from the sporting environment.   However, it must be acknowledged especially for kids that do not aspire to anything beyond having fun with their friends that this type of conditioning is not fun and a big reason why many of them leave sports.  At the developmental stages of youth sports the goal should be to increase participation and not to decrease it.

As coaches and parents we need to be mindful of this and adapt our practices by making them more general in nature and emphasizing fun over performance especially in the developmental years (pre-high school).  At the high school level the intensity necessarily gets ramped up but even then making practices fun while also implementing general athletic development principals are essential for keeping kids motivated, resistant to injury while also providing them the environment to optimize their fitness levels, athleticism and their ability to serve if they are so inclined.

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist


Additional Reading:

All of the articles and studies listed below were released in the last week and all had different takes on youth obesity.  I could have easily included over a half dozen others.  I don’t expect you to read through all of them but I include them just to point out that this issue is diverse and has a wide array of potential negative ramifications.

Early antibiotic use linked to childhood obesity

Childhood obesity puts kids at a higher risk for serious illnesses like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma and certain types of cancer. It also is costly for our health care system: The obesity epidemic costs our nation $117 billion per year in direct medical expenses and indirect costs, with childhood obesity alone costing up to $14 billion per year in direct health care costs.

“If we don’t act to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, we’re in danger of raising the first generation of American children who may live sicker and die younger than the generation before them,” according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website. “Preventing obesity during childhood is critical, because habits that last into adulthood frequently are formed during youth.”

A 12-year-old boy has been barred from playing with his local Pee Wee football league in Texas because he exceeds the league’s maximum weight restriction. At 6-foot-1 and 297 pounds — 162 pounds over the 135-pound limit — the league says he is too big to play safely with other boys his age.  Very difficult situation here and this article presents two differing points of view.

Obese Youth Have Significantly Higher Risk of Gallstones
“Although gallstones are relatively common in obese adults, gallstones in children and adolescents have been historically rare," said study lead author Corinna Koebnick, PhD, of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation. "These findings add to an alarming trend — youth who are obese or extremely obese are more likely to have diseases we normally think of as adult conditions."

Modern technology add to youth obesity:
"Technological innovations, more processed foods, a greater amount of 'screen time,' less exercise, and higher consumption of snack foods have all played a role," report co-author and economist Anusuya Chatterjee said in an institute news release. "These are all the adverse effects of a knowledge-based society."

Laws strictly curbing school sales of junk food and sweetened drinks may play a role in slowing childhood obesity, according to a study that seems to offer the first evidence such efforts could pay off.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

School lunches improving, but...

The National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) annual “What’s Hot” survey of 1,800 professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation determined that healthful meals for young people would be the No. 3 trend for the industry this year.

Not surprisingly, an increasing number of quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are coming up with various kids’ meals that are lower in calories, salt, and fat and higher in important nutrition density (think more fiber, vitamins and minerals).

The quick serve industry believes that making fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, and fruit juice part of a kids’ meal helps parents, not just by having the items available, but also by offering them as the default option, meaning healthy food is built into the meal. It’s sort of a stealth-health approach.

“For years, you had to ask to get a salad or fruit instead of French fries, and that puts the onus on me to choose them,” says Pamela Smith, an Orlando, Florida, nutritionist, author, consultant, and energy coach. “But if I can bundle the healthier choices, that’s best.”

It also prevents food fights between parents who want a healthier option and kids who want fun foods that may be high in sodium and sugar.

Anita Shaffer, director of menu management for Chartwells School Dining Services in Rye Brook, New York, confirms that healthy choices as the default is best.

“Why not make healthy options the default, and the less nutritious items the ones that have to be chosen?” she says. “You may be surprised that kids love the healthy ones.”

The NPD Group, a consulting and market research firm, projected that fruit, mini burgers; grilled and baked chicken, and non-carbonated drinks would grow in popularity this year and beyond.

The number of visits at quick serves by families with kids was flat in 2011 for the second consecutive year after several years of declines, but only 8 percent of quick-service restaurant visits of groups with children include a kids’ meal or order from a kids’ menu.

“The price for the kids’ meals have been going up, and that is part of it,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst. “There’s been a lot of switching from the kids’ meals to the value menu, and splitting some of those items among the kids.”

While the kids’ meals with toys appeal to children aged 4 and younger, kids older than that “want choices,” Riggs notes.

“The real challenge is to develop dishes that aren’t labeled healthy, but are nutritious and delicious,” she says. “We want to give kids the nutrients they need to grow and play and think and have fun, but with an eye on controlling calories.”

Changes in children’s tastes, especially to more healthful options, are showing up in school menus, which often reflect the popular quick-serve options, Shaffer says.

“We get inspiration from quick-service restaurants because children are exposed to them and those preferences,” she says. “We take popular foods and enhance the nutritional value.”

The idea is to give kids what they know and like, but making a few tweaks here and there to make it healthier.

For instance, Chartwells has a proprietary pizza crust made with whole-wheat flour, flax, and olive oil. “We top it with low-fat cheese, and then there are plenty of toppings, including all kinds of vegetables, the kinds of foods kids should eat more of,” Shaffer says.

Shaffer has also seen students gravitate toward other healthier items, including baked (not fried) chicken, flavorful and spicy sauces, and sub sandwiches made with lower-fat meats and cheeses, numerous vegetables, and whole-grain breads.

Chartwells is a food service management company and after looking into their organization it appears their intentions are noble given the constraints placed upon them by state and federal school lunch regulations. [2]

Updated nutritional standards are being phased in over the next three years, starting with the 2012-13 school year. The new requirements raise standards for the first time in 16 years, to improve the health and nutrition of the nearly 32 million students that participate in school meal programs.

The new meal standards will:

Ensure students are offered both fruits and vegetables daily.

Substantially increase offerings of whole grain-rich foods and low-fat white milk or fat-free flavored milk.

Limit calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size.

Focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

The federal school lunch guidelines are far from perfect but at least they have taken steps in the right direction.  But just because the meals are better than they were doesn’t mean they are always the best option for our children.   That said, considering the nutritional intake of many children in our current culture that school lunch potentially could be their most balanced and nutritious meal of the day.  And for students and families receiving free or reduced lunch it can be a real blessing.

I still believe snacks and lunches prepared at home are the best option to ensure adequate nutrition while also promoting optimal performance in the classroom and on the field of play.  Free will is a beautiful thing and we will never be able to regulate people into “preferred” behaviors.  Setting an example for children with our own actions is the best tool of influence that we have.  Informed demand from consumers is also a powerful tool to bring about change as well and the “scrambling” of the quick service food industry to make up for lagging market share (i.e. provide healthier options for children) is proof of this.

Krista Gable, whose two children attend the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, favors improving school lunch standards. But she also thinks her children fare better because she packs their lunches four out of five days.

"I know exactly what my kids are eating," she said, "and comparing what I'm giving them to what they may get in school, I know mine is better." [3]

I always find it interesting what popular media and the “food industry” refer to as healthy food options.  Low-fat milk, fat-free flavored milk, and fruit juice are better options than soda but I wouldn’t exactly call them healthy options.  This is why a mindset like that of Mrs. Gable is so important for optimizing the nutrition of our children.  Inherently the food industry has an agenda driven first and foremost by profit and loss statements and while I sincerely believe that guidelines to improve school lunches have the best interest of students in mind the system is scaled for mass and as a result change for the better can be slow, remember it took 16 years for the most recent guidelines to be updated!  The only agenda you have is raising your kids to be the best they can be and I believe we all inherently understand that the food we give them has a profound impact on their health as well as their physical and mental development.

Everyday we vote through our actions.  We either vote in favor of the quick serve and processed food industry or we empower ourselves to take control of the health of our families by opting for fresh farm to table nutrition as often as possible.  Again I want to emphasize that the school lunch program while far from perfect can be a blessing for children and families that are struggling to put food on their table.  For many other families school lunch is an option; it’s better than fast food but not as good as nutritious lunches prepared and packed at home.

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Eating Eggs Worse Than Smoking...

Does egg consumption lead to an increased risk (even more so than smoking) of cardiovascular disease?  According to this study it can:

The research and opinion on whether or not eggs are a health promoting food is a moving target.  For years we were told to avoid whole eggs, just consume the whites and products like Egg Beaters.  Well that advice hardly lowered cardiovascular events and in recent years the demonization of whole eggs has eased a bit with the recommendation that eggs can be part of a healthy diet.  And now this new study seems to contradict that!  It can be very confusing and in the end it leaves us feeling uncertain about just what we should be eating.  Before we call off all egg consumption let’s take a deeper look into this study.  The sample size is rather small and quite homogenous, the participants are from Western Canada with a mean age of 61.5 and were patients attending vascular prevention clinics.  That last fact alone is very important to note because the participants demonstrated by attending the clinics that either they a) were already at high risk or b) were concerned enough to seek preventative care.

The scientists did try to control for other variables such as sex, blood lipid profile, smoking, and body weight index.

But they didn't look at other important lifestyle factors, like exercise, stress, or other dietary factors.

Did they separate out processed foods and sugars from cookies, cakes (these contain eggs), ice cream, pancakes, and processed vegetable oils and margarines that may also have contributed to the atherosclerosis?

How can they truly really say eggs were the cause of the atherosclerosis? There simply is no way that a study like this can avoid the so-called 'confounding variables.'

If you really wanted to do a study to see if eggs contributed to heart disease, why not take a group of non-smoking, non-drinking exercisers, who avoided starchy processed carbohydrates and processed vegetable oils and feed them eggs from pasture raised hens from small family farms.  Why didn’t that happen?

First of all accounting for all of these variables is nearly impossible when dealing with human beings who have free will to do as they please.  The accumulation of this data also would have taken a great deal of time and effort and likely would have been expensive.  Those reasons are legitimate but they must be made clear because without these variables the study and its conclusion are incomplete at best.  It’s also important to note that even men and women of science can have competing agendas.  Follow the money and you will often find the potential for conflicts of interest.

 Two of the study’s authors have vested interests in statin drugs, and the third helped create the vegan “Portfolio Diet,” which only allows egg substitutes. [1]

I will also add that I would be interested in the quality of the eggs that were consumed.  Were they from small farms that allow their hens to graze freely in pasture or were the eggs the product of hens raised and reared on corn and soy in a farm factory (more likely)?  Does the way hens are raised really affect the nutrition and quality of the egg?

Mother Earth News’ 2007 egg testing project clearly demonstrated the nutritional differences between eggs from free-range pastured hens and commercially farmed hens. This difference is not an occasional fluke—it's the natural and inevitable result of the diet of the hen laying the egg.  Compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:

1/3 less cholesterol
1/4 less saturated fat
2/3 more vitamin A
2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
3 times more vitamin E
7 times more beta-carotene

These dramatically differing nutrient levels are most likely the result of the differences in diet between free-range pastured hens, vs. commercially farmed hens.

Mother Earth News points out the flawed and downright fraudulent definitions of “true free-range.” The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines “free-range” as chickens that have “access to the outside.” However, it does not define their diets, or whether or not the “outside access” is to a cement courtyard or a field fit for foraging.  Even buying USDA Organic eggs carries no guarantee that hens have access to pasture, and more likely they may be feed an organic vegetarian diet of corn and soy.   Chickens are designed to eat green plants and insects (yes chickens are omnivores!) so your best option for health promoting eggs is to look for pastured eggs from small farmers. [2]

According to Dr. Jospeh Mercola eggs won’t harm your heart:

There is a major misconception that you must avoid foods like eggs and saturated fat to protect your heart. While it's true that fats from animal sources contain cholesterol, this is not necessarily a health hazard. As I've discussed on many occasions, your body actually requires cholesterol, and artificially driving your cholesterol levels down is nearly always doing far more harm than good. Every cell in your body needs cholesterol. It helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of memories and is vital for your neurological function. In other words, dietary cholesterol is your friend, not your enemy.

Besides, numerous studies support the conclusion that eggs have virtually nothing to do with raising your cholesterol anyway. For instance, research published in the International Journal of Cardiology showed that, in healthy adults, eating eggs daily did not produce a negative effect on endothelial function, an aggregate measure of cardiac risk, nor an increase in cholesterol levels. [3]

The lead researcher in this study, Christine M. Greene notes, her team's accumulating data indicate that most people's bodies handle the cholesterol from eggs in a way that is least likely to harm the heart.

Cholesterol warnings have especially scared elderly people away from eggs, says Greene. And that's a shame, she adds, because eggs are an affordable and easy-to-eat source of high-quality protein for this population. The new findings, Greene says, contribute to a growing body of data suggesting that eggs shouldn't be construed "as a dietary evil."

This study's findings also dovetail with large studies by other groups having no industrial financing. For instance, in 1999, Frank B. Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues reported no increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke in men or women who ate more than one egg per day. The analysis compared diet and cardiovascular risk among nearly 38,000 participants of two long-running epidemiologic studies.

A Michigan State University analysis, reported a year later, analyzed the diets and blood-cholesterol data for more than 27,000 people—a representative cross-section of the U.S. population. It found that cholesterol was lower in people who ate more than four eggs per week than among people who eschewed eggs. However, the researchers cautioned, "This study should not be used as a basis for recommending higher egg consumption for regulation of serum cholesterol." [4]

Food For Thought:

My dad had two bypass surgeries in his mid-40’s and was advised to avoid high cholesterol foods like butter, red meat and eggs.  I remember we started using Egg Beaters soon after that and they were awful, the very essence of processed food.  I have never eaten rubber but this stuff likely comes very close to it.  A University of Illinois study published in the journal Pediatrics in 1974 demonstrated just how awful Egg Beaters could potentially be.  One group of lactating rats was fed exclusively on fresh eggs, while another group ate Egg Beaters.  The rats who ate fresh eggs “thrived, grew normally, and enjoyed perfect health, while those on Egg Beaters were stunted, had a variety of physical abnormalities, and all died before reaching maturity.” [5] My dad has been raising his own chickens for close to twenty years now and has been known to have up to 4 whole eggs in one day and has never made a return trip to the cardiovascular surgeon.  I avoided all dietary fat like the plague in my late teens and twenties because I truly thought it was “healthy.”   But experience and education have convinced me otherwise and now I consume plenty of whole eggs, grass fed butter and cheese.  Even with this fat consumption and a family history of high cholesterol my cholesterol is still quite low.  I must caution that we all have unique dietary needs but whole eggs from pasture-raised hens can be a potent health promoter.  That said high quality food must be paired with good exercise habits, abstaining from smoking, minimizing stress and greatly reducing your intake of processed foods and sugar.  Living your best life is truly a combination of all of these things.

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist


[5] Enig, Mary. (2006).  Eat Fat Lose Fat. New York, New York:  Penguin Group