WHY EGGS ARE GOOD FOR YOU
AFTER YEARS OF BEING SHUNNED AS THE CULPRITS BEHIND HEART DISEASE, NEW RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT EGGS ARE ACTUALLY GOOD FOR YOU
“OFF WITH EGGS,” said his doctor. “So what the egg do I eat now?” The doctor stared him down. With sky-high cholesterol numbers, eggs were brushed aside from his table like unwelcome guests at a party. It was pretty rough, after years of starting his day with sunny-side-ups. But he leaned into the emptiness left by eggs, zen-like, embracing all the chaos for good: the snap and crackle of cereals, the chalky egg-white omelettes, the spongy tofu scrambles, the anticholesterol statin drugs messing up his tastebuds and giving him constipation, the chatter out there on Google linking egg-deprivation to insanity.
Then—boom—it’s 2017. Suddenly eggs are back as the new superstar of the table. Social media is flooded with Cloud Eggs, the “new breakfast craze”. Fashionable foodies are advising why you must crack an egg into your coffee cup, an old Vietnamese drink that has suddenly gone very ‘It’. Food editors are writing totally-egg cookbooks. Celebrity chefs are calling eggs the “ultimate fast food”. Supermarket shelves are filling up with a bewildering choice of speciality eggs: organic, herbal, omega-3, cage-free. Egg eateries, with the coolest of names and the hottest of menus, are hatching everywhere, from New York to Navi Mumbai. And a host of super-centenarians are claiming the egg as the “secret” of their longevity. What’s going on? It’s the patient’s turn to stare down his doctor.
THE EGG RENAISSANCE
There’s something else in the air. The appetising scent of wholesome science that’s giving the egg back its reputation. An explosion of new research has emerged on the shifting winds of nutrition around the world, debunking the “bad science” behind long-standing diet guidelines that demonised some foods (say, eggs) and glorified others (say, breads). The ubiquitous, unremarkable, unassuming egg stands as the metaphor of this new dietary renaissance. Food policy wonks are scratching their heads. Doctors who routinely put people off eggs are singing a new tune.
The internet is going crazy with the public’s greed for knowledge: are eggs good or bad for you? Scrambled, boiled, poached or fried? An egg a day or three? The yolk, or the white? “Eggs are one of the fastest growing foods,” says Habibur Rahman, deputy director-general (animal sciences) at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. With 84 billion eggs produced a year (in 2016), up from 34 billion in 2000, India is the world’s third largest egg producer. Indians are eating more eggs than they ever did: 63 eggs per capita a year, from 15 in 1980. The demand for eggs is rising faster than meat, milk and cereals. With rising incomes, a young and increasingly urban population, our food consumption pattern has changed dramatically, explains Rahman. “Eggs are affordable, convenient and very versatile.”
WHAT’S THE TRUTH ON EGGS?
Expect new answers to your old questions. “Mounting evidence indicates that the science on eggs has been dodgy at best and controversial at worst,” says Dr Ashok Seth, chairman of Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Delhi. The demonisation is linked essentially to outdated ideas about heart disease and what causes it, he explains. Dietary cholesterol and saturated fats—and eggs are rich in both—have been greatly oversold as a health concern. “Over the past decade, we have learnt that cholesterol may not play as big a role in heart disease as previously thought,” he points out. “And that chasing lower and lower cholesterol numbers has its own issues.” Besides, eggs also have many other healthy components, he points out. “Much of the knowledge on eggs, it now appears, was a misconception based on out-ofdate evidence.”
“The science on eggs has swung wildly for years because nutrition science can be maddeningly complicated,” adds Dr B. Sesikeran, former director of National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) and president, Nutrition Society of India. Human nutrition is exceedingly complex, he explains. Diseases like obesity, diabetes or heart disease develop over a lifetime. It’s hard to figure out the impact of one component in a diet. Seemingly similar foods can differ wildly in nutrition profile. An egg dish at a restaurant will have different fat and salt content compared with one made at home. “Everything we eat can simultaneously promote and disrupt health. The grey areas are often cleverly used by the food industry,” says Sesikeran.
FOOD POLICY WONKS ARE SCRATCHING THEIR HEADS. DOCTORS WHO USED TO PUT PEOPLE OFF EGGS ARE SINGING A NEW TUNE
A case in point is a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, September 2016, by researchers from University of San Francisco, showing how in the 1960s the sugar lobby had sponsored influential research that obscured the role of sugar in heart disease, promoting dietary fat as the villain instead. “Technology to test hypothesis as well as research literature have ballooned in the last decade,” points out Sesikeran. Epidemiologists reviewing all the data are now saying eggs have an incredible ability to boost health.
CONSIDER THE EVIDENCE
“Eat your eggs without guilt.” When Dr Salim Yusuf, president of the World Heart Foundation, presented preliminary data from a massive ongoing study on diet and heart health at a Cleveland Clinic cardiology symposium this February, the medical establishment was taken aback. The India-born cardiologist, epidemiologist and Marion W. Burke Chair professor at McMaster University Medical School, Canada, was defying the guidelines of long-standing “dietary truths”.