India Today - - COVER STORY -


But he was only giv­ing voice to what a grow­ing num­ber of sci­en­tists and clin­i­cians felt: “Ev­ery week in the news­pa­per we read some­thing is good for you. Then sud­denly the same thing next week is bad for you. It’s time to clear up the mis­in­for­ma­tion for good,” he said.

That re­search is now out. Con­ducted on a sam­ple base of 150,000 peo­ple from 18 coun­tries in five con­ti­nents—in­clud­ing 29,298 from In­dia—the PURE study (Prospec­tive Ur­ban and Ru­ral Epi­demi­o­log­i­cal Study) has stunned pun­dits. “Eggs were vil­i­fied be­cause ex­perts said re­duce fats and in­crease car­bo­hy­drates,” says Dr V. Mo­han, chair­man of Dr. Mo­han’s Di­a­betes Spe­cial­i­ties Cen­tre, Chennai, and one of the in­ves­ti­ga­tors. WHO guide­lines state that up to 75 per cent of one’s daily en­ergy can come from carbs. But the study found di­ets high in car­bo­hy­drates to be as­so­ci­ated with higher risk of death. That’s a prompt to re­duce pro­cessed car­bo­hy­drates in your diet and in­crease nat­u­ral fats. Yes, nat­u­ral sat­u­rated fats found in eggs are fine to have again. Pub­lished in the pres­ti­gious jour­nal Lancet in Septem­ber, it is be­ing hailed as a game-changer for manag­ing the coro­nary calamity across the world.

PURE is in sync with a stream of new re­search that pro­vides more ev­i­dence that high-choles­terol food like eggs do not in­crease the risk of heart dis­ease. One of the ear­li­est was in 2009, when a Univer­sity of Sur­rey, UK, team an­a­lysed data from 30 coun­tries and sug­gested that most peo­ple could eat as many eggs as they wanted with­out dam­ag­ing their health. The lat­est is a study from the Univer­sity of Eastern Fin­land— re­searchers fol­lowed 1,032 men, a third of whom were car­ri­ers of a gene vari­ant known to in­crease risk of heart dis­ease (and Alzheimer’s), for 21 years. Pub­lished in Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Nu­tri­tion, Fe­bru­ary 2016, it showed that for healthy peo­ple, up to one egg a day did not seem to in­crease the risk of heart dis­ease, even among those at higher risk.


“Give them eggs,” an­nounced Jus­tice H.L. Dattu, for­mer chief jus­tice of In­dia and the cur­rent chair­man of the Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, on Oc­to­ber 15. Ten crore chil­dren across In­dia wait eagerly for their hot cooked meal at school ev­ery day. For many, it’s the first meal of the day, for most it’s the only whole­some meal. And they are over­joyed if there’s an egg to go with the daily sta­ple of roti or rice, wa­tery dal or sam­bar, dished out as part of In­dia’s In­te­grated Child De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices and Mid Day Meal schemes in gov­ern­ment schools. Come shine or shower, they come to school in droves on days eggs are served. But for many, it’s not a joy to look for­ward to any­more.

State af­ter state is tak­ing eggs off chil­dren’s menu: 19 out of the 29 states in north and west In­dia now do not in­clude eggs. Mad­hya Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a strict vege­tar­ian, has re­jected all pro­pos­als to in­tro­duce eggs in schools in his state since 2010. “What is the need for eggs?

(The) hu­man body is meant to con­sume vege­tar­ian food,” he says. Union min­is­ter for women and child de­vel­op­ment Maneka Gandhi has said in sup­port: “Eggs are not good for nu­tri­tion. They have a lot of choles­terol.” But on Oc­to­ber 10, a new World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion re­port has shown how In­dia is fac­ing a nu­tri­tional dou­ble whammy: it’s now a coun­try with the most mal­nour­ished chil­dren, beat­ing those in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, as well as the most obese chil­dren (af­ter China).

Get­ting re­search to the pol­icy ta­ble is no easy task. But a steady stream of it has al­lowed the US gov­ern­ment to break with tra­di­tion. Re­leased ev­ery five years since 1990, and code­vel­oped by the US depart­ment of agri­cul­ture and depart­ment of health and hu­man ser­vices, the eighth edi­tion of Di­etary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans, 2015-2020, has changed its take on what one should put on the plate. “Eggs can be part of a healthy eat­ing pat­tern,” read the new guide­lines re­leased in De­cem­ber 2015.


Eggs came cen­tre-stage in the 1950s, when an im­pend­ing pub­lic health catas­tro­phe loomed in the western world: heart dis­ease. A land­mark study, the Fram­ing­ham Heart Study (FHS), was kicked off in the late 1940s af­ter then US pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt died of a sud­den stroke and heart fail­ure. The era of watch­ing di­ets be­gan, as sci­en­tists started link­ing di­etary fat and choles­terol to heart dis­ease, ex­plains car­di­ol­o­gist Dr K.S. Reddy, pres­i­dent, Pub­lic Health Foun­da­tion of In­dia. The FHS came up with di­etary “risk fac­tors”. “It was ob­served that those who de­vel­oped “atheroscle­ro­sis” (hard­en­ing and nar­row­ing of ar­ter­ies) had el­e­vated lev­els of “bad” LDL choles­terol and low lev­els of “good” HDL choles­terol. But the cor­re­la­tion with eggs in the diet was not sup­ported by data, Reddy ex­plains.

In fact, the data was so am­bigu­ous that the re­port was never sent to peer-re­viewed jour­nals and sparked fierce dis­agree­ment among sci­en­tists. Yet the de­bate grabbed pub­lic imag­i­na­tion and in­flu­enced pol­i­cy­mak­ers. It was rea­soned that peo­ple with high LDL must be eat­ing more choles­terol­rich, fatty foods. Hence, avoid high-fat an­i­mal foods—eggs, for in­stance—and have more fruits, veg­eta­bles and car­bo­hy­drates. To guard against heart dis­ease, the in­flu­en­tial Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion (AHA) started rec­om­mend­ing di­etary guide­lines from the 1970s, set­ting a 300 mg/day choles­terol limit: don’t have more than four eggs a week, avoid egg yolks. In 1980, the USDA is­sued its first di­etary guide­lines. One of its pri­mary di­rec­tives was to avoid choles­terol and fat of all sorts.

That did not stop heart dis­ease from spi­ralling out of con­trol. When an obe­sity cri­sis flared in the ’80s, most

ex­perts sur­mised that the in­ves­ti­ga­tors must have picked the wrong cul­prit: it wasn’t choles­terol, but sat­u­rated fats—those that in­creased choles­terol syn­the­sis by liver cells and el­e­vated bad LDL. Di­etary guide­lines from the ’90s started ad­vis­ing that fat in­take should be cut down to 30 per cent of to­tal en­ergy and sat­u­rated fat to 10 per cent. Eggs, once again, en­tered the am­bigu­ous zone, says Reddy


Although the story of the egg is linked to the In­dian red jun­gle fowl’s jour­ney from for­est to farm around the In­dus Val­ley civil­i­sa­tion, it en­tered the main­stream In­dian food bas­ket slowly, over cen­turies of Per­sian, Por­tuguese and Bri­tish culi­nary in­flu­ence. For much of the 20th cen­tury, egg con­sump­tion thrived largely out­side the home—as street food, in can­teens, clubs and cafes. Be­tween 1947 and 1960, poul­try and eggs played a mi­nor part of the caloric value of In­dian diet, re­ports the Na­tional Coun­cil of Ap­plied Eco­nomic Re­search, mainly be­cause pur­chas­ing power was low but also be­cause re­li­gious be­liefs pre­vented “or­tho­dox Hin­dus and Jains from eat­ing poul­try or eggs”. In sharp con­trast, there was ex­cep­tion­ally large con­sump­tion of pulses, a rich source of veg­etable pro­tein. Sugar and fat con­sump­tion had started to rise dur­ing this time.

In­dia didn’t have too many pub­lished re­ports on heart dis­ease in those days. Although piece­meal stud­ies showed a heart fail­ure rate of about 1 per cent, doc­tors no­ticed ur­ban, af­flu­ent classes com­ing to their cham­bers with heart is­sues. “Heart dis­ease has a predilec­tion for the priv­i­leged class of so­ci­ety,” wrote Dr K.S. Mathur, depart­ment of medicine, Saro­jini Naidu Med­i­cal Col­lege, Agra, in one of the first stud­ies of its kind (Cir­cu­la­tion, 1960). What could be the rea­son? Clearly, they con­sumed “the high­est amount of di­etary fat”. With a host of well-known In­di­ans dy­ing of heart dis­ease—Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel, B.R. Ambed­kar, Feroze Gandhi, Jawa­har­lal Nehru to Lal Ba­hadur Shas­tri—that diet-heart wis­dom was cod­i­fied: avoid fatty foods.

The land­scape changed from the 1970s, when egg con­sump­tion started go­ing up in In­dia, as tra­di­tional sources of di­etary pro­tein, like pulses and mil­lets, be­came scarce and ex­pen­sive. The Green Rev­o­lu­tion from the late 1960s fo­cused at­ten­tion of suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments en­tirely on wheat and rice, ne­glect­ing pulses and mil­lets, re­ports the In­ter­na­tional Agri­cul­ture Trade Re­search Con­sor­tium. As pro­duc­tion of pulses de­clined and prices shot up, In­di­ans shifted to eggs to ful­fil their pro­tein re­quire­ment. It’s called ‘Live­stock Rev­o­lu­tion,’ a term coined by the In­ter­na­tional Food Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute. Sim­ply put, it means that the so­cial trans­for­ma­tion of pop­u­la­tion growth, ur­ban­i­sa­tion and ris­ing in­comes is ac­com­pa­nied by a fun­da­men­tal

90% of cal­cium, phos­pho­rus and fo­late (for bones, teeth and healthy DNA) in yolk 13 ES­SEN­TIAL VI­TA­MINS AND MIN­ER­ALS 70 AMINO ACIDS Egg con­tains op­ti­mal amounts of all the nine es­sen­tial amino acids CALO­RIES 64% HIGH IN PRO­TEIN VI­TA­MIN D Which means you feel fuller for longer. No more overeat­ing 14% CHOLES­TEROL 6 GRAMS OF PRO­TEIN IN ONE EGG

(nearly half of it is found in the yolk) AN EGG A DAY Healthy in­di­vid­u­als can en­joy an egg a day with­out in­creas­ing blood choles­terol lev­els RICH IN AN­TIOX­I­DANTS Which boost im­mu­nity, pro­tects the eyes, heart; guards against early age­ing, some can­cers

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