Friday, August 17, 2012

Eggs as bad as smoking? What a Yolk!


I'm sure most of you have heard this week's headline about "Egg Yolks are as Bad as Smoking" for your arteries. If you actually look at the study, though, you will see that it is SERIOUSLY flawed.

From an article at ABC news: “’This is very poor quality research that should not influence patient’s dietary choices,’ said Dr. Steven Nissen, who chairs the department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, in an email. ‘It is extremely important to understand the differences between ‘association’ and ‘causation’.’”

All the study participants ALREADY had cardiovascular disease, or were at risk for it. This study relied on people's memory (which is notoriously unreliable) as to how many egg yolks they ate. But worst of all, this study did NOT take into account the other elements in people's diets, their excercise habits, or sleep habits. It also didn't look at whether they are an "apple" or a "pear," or whether they are a "Type A."

Therefore, this study has made the mistake of mixing up CORRELATION and CAUSATION.  For example, more people go to the beach when it's sunny. But you would be mistaken in thinking that it becomes sunny when enough people show up at the beach. 

I'd guess that people who eat less egg yolks are generally more health-conscious (since egg yolks have recieved such a bad rap for the last 30 years). It may well be that they also eat less sugar, eat more veggies, excercise more, sleep more, use more stress-reduction techniques, drink and smoke less, etc. And those people who ate more egg yolks may well have been eating more Twinkies and drinking beer while being couch potatos.

The study could have looked, for instance, at people's sugar consumption, or their consumption of refined foods, and might have found the same correlation. Then we'd have been seeing headlines that say, "Sugar is as Bad as Smoking!" 

But as many of you have heard me say: it's never just one thing. Most health conditions are caused by a combination of factors.

Let's just be logical for a moment. A hundred years ago, people consumed lots of eggs. Nobody even thought about just eating the white. And our heart disease rate was much, much lower than it is now! Nowadays many Americans eat mostly packaged, processed food. We also consume vast quantities of sugar compared to the past. And these researchers are trying to blame poor little eggs for our clogged arteries?

Not to mention, it doesn't usually turn out to be a good idea to take a whole food and eat just part of it. For example, white flour or white rice aren't exactly known as being healthful foods. In the case of an egg, there is protein in the white, but all the other good stuff like antioxidants, lethicin, and omega-3s are in the yolk.

On top of all that: The underlying assumption is if you eat more cholesterol, more plaque builds up on your arteries. Well, that was disproven many years ago! Your own body actually produces cholesterol, and your levels have little to do with how much you consume. It's more about your genes.

For example, I once took classes from a young and healthy aerobics instructor who taught three classes a day. She was eating less than 10% of calories from fat, and consuming no animal products (so no cholesterol). Her cholesterol was still over 300 - twice as high as normal!  (If I knew then what I know now, I'd have suggested she take up meditation.)

Eggs with their yolks are a healthy, nutritious, whole food that have been consumed by humans for millions of years. Unless you are allergic to them, please go ahead and eat them.  Some feel that soft-cooked, unbroken yolks are particularly healthy (unbroken yolks maximize the antioxidants.) Although, I should mention the FDA doesn't recommend you eat them soft-cooked because of salmonella concerns. I eat them soft anyway. (Salmonella is usually on the shell; cracking your eggs on a plate rather than the edge of a bowl minimizes shell-to-egg contact.)

It's my opinion that 1) exercise that you enjoy and gets your blood moving, and 2) stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and progressive relaxation, are probably the most important things we can do to lower our risk of cardiovascular disease.

Here are some links if you want to read more.

ABC News: "Egg Study Not All It's Cracked Up To Be"
"Your Doctor's Orders" website on the egg study
"Your Doctor's Orders" website on dietary fat

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