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

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