Some time ago, I heard some claims made about eggs that I felt compelled to look into. My Being that they are a fairly common staple in my diet, it seemed something I should be check into.
The claims (of which I first heard from a vegetarian member of a podcast that I no longer follow) essentially boils down to eggs being dangerous due to containing some type of carcinogenic chemical (or chemicals). However, there is a possibility that the information in question is propaganda from a vegetarian and/or Vegan source (as is suspected by other members of the same podcast). If GMO documentaries (well, most ANY documentary) tell us anything, its that you don’t always need facts or proper context to sell a good story.
Before I begin my search, I can think of 2 factors that could play into this. Though I suspect neither will even be taken into consideration.
The first is Acrylamide (previously touched on by yours truly). I am almost certain that it can be associated with eggs because it can be associated with almost any baked or fried foods. But its formation can also be limited by avoiding certain preparation methods (boiled egg, anyone?).
The second is bacteria. Due to differences in the egg handling procedures of North America and Europe, North American eggs can be more susceptible to bacterial contamination if not refrigerated. This is due to a special membrane that surrounds an eggs shell when laid. Though egg shells are porous, this membrane helps protect the internal contents from any infectious invaders.
Europeans tend to take advantage of this natural protection, and as such, you rarely will find refrigerated eggs in European countries. It’s not considered necessary.
North American standards, on the other hand, are quite different. Eggs must be washed before they can come to market, some would say for obvious reasons. But a drawback of that washing is that the protective membrane is removed by it. Being that bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels inside room temperature eggs in mere days, they must be kept cool.
But those are just guesses on my part. Time for some more in depth analysis.
First off, is dietary cholesterol. Aside from preparation methods, eggs themselves (at least the egg yolks) are well known to be high in cholesterol. As a result, many people choose to just consume the egg whites (be it by separating the eggs manually, or by purchasing them already separated). This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. Most of the iron, folate (folic acid, helps the body make DNA\RNA as well as metabolize amino acids required for cell division) and vitamins in an egg are in its yolk. As are the substances lutein and zeaxanthin (which support both eye and brain health). And also because dietary cholesterol has been getting less of a bad rap in terms of overall health effects in recent years. Potentially making this avoidance of egg yolks (or at times, eggs period) unnecessary.
Moving on, upon typing the query Are eggs bad for you into most everyone’s favorite search engine, the very first result is quite interesting and attention grabbing. Published on the platform Quartz, the headline reads Hollywood vegans are trying to convince you eggs are as bad as cigarettes—that’s irresponsible and wrong . Nothing like getting straight to the point. Let us explore.
A new, high-profile documentary claims eating an egg is about as dangerous as smoking five cigarettes.
It’s one of several bizarre claims made in What the Health, a new, feature-length documentary backed by Academy Award-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix and filmed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, who made Cowspiracy, a 2014 documentary about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, produced by actor (and outspoken vegan) Leonardo DiCaprio.
By cherry-picking nutrition studies to make rickety claims, the makers of What the Health risk ratcheting up fear of certain foods based on weak science. It’s not a responsible way to try and change people’s behavior, and it does a disservice to nutritional scientists in the field.
I have not seen either of the films in question (What the health, Cowspiracy). And in all honesty, I doubt I will ever. But I have come across numerous references to the film Cowspiracy, including in a fairly recent article published by the acclaimed Christopher Hedges.
The filmmakers set out to make the case that a vegan diet is the best answer for preventing and treating an array of chronic diseases—including heart disease, colorectal cancer, and diabetes—and that foods derived from animals raise the risk of those ailments. But the film relies on a few cherry-picked studies to make its case, and ignores many others that contradict its position.
The film cites three sources of information: The first is a 2012 study (pdf) linking egg yolk consumption and risk of carotid plaque buildup in those at risk for heart disease. A second source is simply a video referring back to the 2012 study, and the third source doesn’t once mention the word “egg.”
There is a consensus among America’s leading nutrition experts that eating more fruits and vegetables is beneficial for the average diet. But none argue that any one food should be tossed out of the diet wholesale. That includes meat, dairy, and, yes, eggs.
In fact, in 2016, a federal panel of nutrition experts that convenes every five years updated its dietary recommendations and removed cholesterol as a “nutrient of concern,” thus absolving eggs. That decision—which was consistent with the position of the American Heart Association—was the subject of huge amounts of media attention.
It should be noted that in the Christopher Hedges article I linked to earlier, seeming pro-cholesterol stances of organizations such as the American Heart Association are noted. However, there is a distinct accusation of food industry financing. Essentially, if someone is throwing a bunch of money your way, what would YOU tell the world about the product they are selling?
I’ll let the people come to their own conclusions on that. I don’t know what to think of it. That is my general reaction when some conspiracy is alluded to, and the narrator of whatever the medium happens to be is pushing me in that direction.
And eggs weren’t What the Health‘s only target. The film overhypes the World Health Organization’s (WHO) position that red meat is carcinogenic, as well as non-WHO nutrition studies linking milk consumption to cancer.
2 things also highlighted in the Hedges article, interestingly enough.
On any given day, researchers around the world produce studies containing evidence that common foods—eggs, wine, coffee, meat, and more—both prevent and hasten health problems. There isn’t anything necessarily insidious going on; these studies, while in some cases individually contradictory, are part of a large and growing ecosystem of evolving science. If a bulk of those studies have evidence that points to a similar finding, nutrition experts weigh those data when advising people on diet. But no one should be taking health advice based media stories on individual studies.
Nutrition science is a particularly tough field to tackle. It isn’t ethical for researchers to play Dr. Frankenstein with someone’s livelihood by experimenting and testing different diets on them, so nutrition scientists often lean heavily on observational studies rather than randomly controlled trials, which are the gold standard in scientific research. And because there are so many observational studies published every year, there are a lot of whiplash-inducing headlines like these trickling out on a near-daily basis:
- “White wine may do no favors for a woman’s skin”
- “Surprising health benefit of red wine: gorgeous skin”
- “Nutrient in meat and eggs may play role in blood clotting, heart attack”
- “Eggs are okay again”
With this kind of competing information published virtually all the time, it’s easy for groups with agendas to take advantage of the fact that most people are not health experts.
The claims made by What the Health about eggs are particularly egregious, and have generated so much attention, that even vegans have weighed in with critical views, including this one written by vegan health professional Virginia Messina and published on Vegan.com. “I suspect that in the long run…this kind of outreach sets our efforts back and slows our progress on behalf of animal rights,” Messina writes.
This explains the placement at the very top of the search results. I am far from the only one that has made the query. In fact, those people deserve a pat on the back. Because while some may have the sense to confirm, a large cohort of others will likely not. Just absorb the information and go on spreading the alarmist information that is ultimately bad for the overall cause of Veganism.
It’s unfortunate that some of those people also happen to be respected journalists. Even I almost took that sources word verbatim. Good thing I learned a long time ago that doing so is never a good idea (no matter how much you trust the person publishing the material).
As for the observational scientific studies that are always popular in media . . . one is best suited to pay little attention to these. One reason is that media en mass has a habit of cherry picking (or flat out falsely representing) the findings. Or the study itself could be suspect, though few but those in the know would think that anything labeled as scientific could be suspect. All of this contributing to either misinformation or apathy towards these studies from the public. Both of which can be dangerous in their own right.
Since such often results in time-consuming research, I generally just try to pay little attention. If it turns out to be a big breakthrough, it will get more coverage as others repeat (and thus, confirm) the data.
If not, then I didn’t waste any of my (or anyone else’s time on something unworthy of our attention.
Anyway, I have more or less managed to answer the question that I out to upon starting this piece. Are eggs bad?
Do they contain a large amount of cholesterol? Yes. Almost a whole days worth. Something I will take into consideration going forward (I used to eat many at a time, yolk and all).
However, are they worthy of being in the same category as cigarette smoke or asbestos? One study points to yes with the former.
However, it appears not to be a clean cut case of either Yes or No.
They can be bad if overconsumed, being their energy content. Eating 4 of them are essentially eating 4 chicks (an interesting way of looking at it, as dictated by one of the sources I skimmed to write this). But they also appear to have a place in a healthy diet. One just has to be careful.
If you eat very few, you are likely in the clear.
One thing I will give the vegetarians and the vegans is that cutting out eggs and meat is generally the best move ecologically. The biggest reason is the pollution footprint of both industries on lakes, rivers, and oceans. Also methane output (more of a concern with meat than with eggs, I would think).
But there is also one often overlooked factor. Packaging.
While some alternatives exist, at least where I live, I lot of both meat and eggs are sold in styrofoam containers. Even local eggs are sold in foam packaging. I brought this up with the owner one day. First, he was surprised to hear that styrofoam is generally not accepted for recycling, but he also claimed that using paper packaging (the most easily recycled of them all!) was too expensive. Something I don’t doubt, looking at all of the stores and brands that use foam.
Meat trays are almost ubiquitously styrofoam. Some use square plastic containers (generally made from different colors of PETE, or plastic #1). But I know that recycling of even THESE is questionable. Unless there is more demand for clamshell type packaging than there was before (including plastic egg cartons).
Some things to consider, no matter how you decide to conclude the great diatry enigma that is the cackleberry.