Is there any food item more hotly contested for its potential deadliness to breakfast (and other meal) eaters than the egg? Yes, coffee comes under attack regularly. But, Time magazine went on record to support coffee drinking “in moderation”– a wimpy recommendation, but it puts coffee in the clear. For now…
Uh, where was I? Oh, eggs. Right. There’s a new study out– a large prospective study that has people fill out Food Frequency Questionnaires and then follows them until the study ends (it ran for 16 years). And it found a small increase in relative risk of death (7% on average) for those who reported eating half of a whole egg per day (meaning 3.5 eggs a week on average). The researchers speculate that the ovo-risk is due to increase in dietary cholesterol intake.
In other words, eggs are bad. Again. Or are they?
Of course, the news folks are all over the latest eggy results. Here’s one headline from this story:
What are we to make of this latest grim pronouncement about eggs? Is it true? Should we be afraid? Should we fight back? What to think?
First, some perspective is in order. Nutritional studies have been ping-ponging back and forth about eggs for decades now. As an avid egg-news follower, I’ve personally written several posts about the changing fortunes of eggs over the years.
Why do I distrust this new study telling me that eggs are bad? So glad you asked. Here are a few reasons:
Reason one: the study uses food frequency questionnaires, which are notorious for being bogus evidence. Or, as this journal says about them, “the main limitations are systematic errors and biases in estimates.” Ouch.
Reason two: the increased relative mortality risk was 7%, of which it was unclear even to the researchers how much of that was due to egg consumption. They put it this way in the abstract:
Study limitations include… residual confounding despite extensive adjustment for acknowledged dietary and lifestyle risk factors. Ouch.
Reason three: a bunch of nutrition experts don’t believe the study results are legit. Here are some of their responses:
The conclusions of this study are overblown. Blaming eggs alone for an increased risk of cardiovascular disease is a simplistic and reductionist approach to the concept of diet and disease prevention. (ouch)
Despite many years of research this question about eggs and health has not been answered, with multiple observational studies over the last few decades showing conflicting results… This study, although well conducted, unfortunately only adds more noise to the discussion. (yep, what I said)
The suggestion that the risk from eggs is mostly explained by the cholesterol content of eggs is also problematic as we know that dietary cholesterol does not have a clear link to levels of circulating cholesterol in the blood. (yep, knew this too; you go, egg expert!)
How many eggs’ or ‘how much cholesterol’ was based on a questionnaire, which asked people how often over the past year they ate eggs and other foods and which people only completed once. So it did not look at how peoples food intake changed over the following decade. (Yeah! One questionnaire about a year’s worth of eating and then… nothing…. Seriously?)
In short, studies have been trying to put eggs down, and they’ve kept getting back up (in a manner of speaking). But, you may be wondering, is it okay for me to eat eggs?
According to nutrition science: they have no earthly idea.
According to me: it doesn’t mater what I think about what you eat. Eat what you want; it’s none of my business (unless I’m making breakfast for you, in which case we should confab about it).
According to you: all kinds of decisions and preferences and values and constraints go into what you put on your plate. They are yours. Looking for guidelines is natural, and there are a bunch of nutritional ones out there. But those guidelines also reflect values and preferences and constraints and funding sources and particular agendas and perspectives. You get to choose whether you eat eggs, how often and how many.
Does nutritional sensationalism in the press bother you? Do you ignore it? I’d love to hear any comments you have. And if you have a good egg salad recipe, I’d be interested in that, too.