THE HUMBLE EGG IS THE NEW, REINCARNATED WONDERFOOD, WITH HIGH ENERGY BENEFITS INCLUDING MOST OF YOUR DAILY SUPPLEMENT REQUIREMENTS
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.
TO GIVE OR NOT TO GIVE
“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.
HOW WE MESSED UP
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
FROM FOREST TO PLATE
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