The Egg Industry: Exposing a Source of Food Poisoning
In my June 2015 newsletter article, “There Are Lies and Damned Lies: Damned Lies Harm the Public and Planet Earth,” I expressed my outrage over an “Opinion” piece in the June 23/24, 2015 Journal of the American Medical Association. The article applauded the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) recommendation for the “elimination of dietary cholesterol as a ‘nutrient of concern’…and the absence of an upper limit on total fat consumption.” The JAMA article was referring to the updated 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January of 2016. Previous US Dietary Guidelines had recommended that people consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol, which is about one large egg.
Appreciable amounts of cholesterol are only found in animal products, from tunas to turkeys. Of all the foods commonly consumed as part of the rich Western diet, eggs contain the highest concentrations of cholesterol: eight times more than beef. Traditionally, in scientific studies on humans, eggs have been used as the source to demonstrate the adverse effects of cholesterol on our health and our heart arteries. For this reason the egg industry has taken the lead in misleading the public (including physicians) about the harmful effects of eggs, which are poisonous when consumed in the high amounts typical of American diets.
|Eggs: The Richest Source of Cholesterol
|All Plant Foods
On January 6, 2016 the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), myself, and other well-respected California-based physicians filed suit in the US District Court (North District of California) against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) over their DGAC’s position “that cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”
The DGAC’s position is based on a 20-year attempt by the egg industry to change the public’s image of eggs as a contributor to American’s number one cause of death: coronary heart disease. The DGAC disregarded decades of independent basic research incriminating cholesterol consumption—in other words “eating animals”—in order to accomplish their task. They instead relied on recent research that was orchestrated and funded by the egg and other livestock industries to communicate the innocence of eggs as a major cause of the multiple illnesses that plague millions of Americans.
As a physician, if this position, “that cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption,” remained in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, I would be harmed because these foods high in cholesterol (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and fish) and saturated fat (animal foods, except fish) impair the health of my patients, making it more difficult for me to accomplish my professional objectives and duties as a medical doctor, to keep my patients healthy, and to reverse their dietary diseases, including obesity, heart disease (atherosclerosis), diabetes, inflammatory arthritis, and various intestinal disorders.
The “Complaint for Declarative and Injunctive Relief” may have already made a difference on the final position on “dietary cholesterol” for the Dietary Guidelines (released on January 7, 2016). The Guidelines currently state, “The Key Recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines to limit consumption of dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day is not included in the 2015 edition, but this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns. As recommended by the IOM (Institute of Medicine), individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.” They continued with, “Strong evidence from mostly prospective cohort studies, but also randomized controlled trials, has shown that eating patterns that include lower intake of dietary cholesterol are associated with reduced risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease), and moderate evidence indicates that these eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of obesity.”
Eating as “little dietary cholesterol as possible” means following the McDougall Diet (starches, vegetables, and fruits), since cholesterol is found in animal foods (meat, poultry, dairy, egg, and fish). And saturated fat, in practical dietary terms, is synonymous with meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs.
The filing of this complaint has been a partial victory. My hope is that when the “Complaint for Declarative and Injunctive Relief” is heard by the District Court that we will cause significant changes to be made in the current Dietary Guidelines and that this, more importantly, will open the way to challenge and change the messages from the meat, poultry, and fish industries that govern the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. We especially need the media’s attention (Internet, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.) in order to spread the truth and win with our non-existent monetary budget.
Exposing Industries’ Dirty Tricks for Four Decades
This will be a hard-fought battle, as the egg industry has deep pockets. According to the American Egg Board Annual 2014 Report, “Both the growth rate for dollar and unit sales were double that of 2013, and USDA is showing the highest per capita consumption in 30 years.” The Board spends more than 23 million dollars promoting eggs. No doubt they will set aside a portion of their budget to deal with us. They will play as dirty as necessary to protect their business interests if we do get significant attention. Because I have so far not been able to expose their dishonesty to a threatening level, I have never been confronted by any of the livestock industries.
My 1983 publication The McDougall Plan revealed that the dirty tricks used today to get Americans to eat more eggs began in the late 1970s. I wrote more than three decades ago, “Of the six studies in the medical literature that fail to demonstrate a significant rise in blood cholesterol level with the consumption of whole eggs, three were paid for by the American Egg Board, one by the Missouri Egg Merchandising Council, and one by the Egg Program of the California Department of Agriculture. Support for the sixth paper was not identified.”
The methods used to show no harm from eating cholesterol (animals) are designing beforehand the experiment to get the results you are looking for. To show little or no increase in cholesterol levels from eating eggs, you first saturate your subjects with cholesterol from other sources (meat, etc.). Studies show that once people consume more than 400 to 800 milligrams of cholesterol per day, additional cholesterol has only a minor effect on blood cholesterol levels. Candidates for an experiment are easy to find since the typical American diet is based on a high intake of cholesterol (meat, poultry, dairy, and fish). Study designs can also use improper control subjects and inadequate time periods for the ingested cholesterol to show effects in the blood.
Notes about Current Research in The “Complaint for Declarative and Injunctive Relief”
In the past two decades, the American Egg Board and the Egg Nutrition Center have become increasingly active in using research to increase demand for eggs. Of the 41 studies on dietary cholesterol included in a 1992 meta-analysis, 29% were paid for by industry, mainly the egg industry. Nine years later, in a 2001 meta-analysis, that figure had risen to 41%. Two decades later, in a 2013 review, the figure was 92%. The food industry now dominates research on dietary cholesterol.
The egg industry, through researchers at Tufts (University)/USDA Center, have an overshadowing influence on the DGAC. The Tufts/USDA Center researchers excluded all studies published prior to 2003. Of the 12 studies that they included, eight were funded by the American Egg Board through the Egg Nutrition Center, two were funded by British and Australian egg industry associations, and the eleventh was funded by the fish industry in defense of prawn consumption. In other words, 11 out of the 12 cited studies were designed to arrive at a specific pro-industry result.
Despite their industry-related funding, nearly every cited study showed that eggs or other cholesterol-containing foods had an unfavorable effect on blood cholesterol levels. Nevertheless, John Griffin and Dr. Alice Lichtenstein (Egg industry associated DGAC members) concluded that the effect of dietary cholesterol on plasma lipid concentrations “is modest and appears to be limited to population subgroups.”
Studies Ignored by the 2015 DGAC
Well-designed studies by investigators independent of the food industry clearly demonstrate the detrimental effects of eggs on blood cholesterol levels. The actual impact of egg feeding is seen when people who eat little cholesterol are fed eggs. When 17 lactovegetarian college students (consuming 97 mg of cholesterol daily) were fed one extra-large egg daily for three weeks, their “bad” LDL-cholesterol increased by 12%.
The real life effects of eggs were investigated in a large population of nearly 6,000 vegetarians and 5,000 non-vegetarians over a period of 13 years. Within this group of nearly 11,000 people, those eating eggs more than six times a week had a 2.47 times greater risk of dying of heart disease than those eating less than one egg a week.
A 50-year study of nearly 2,000 middle-aged men (the Western Electric Study) found that a dietary reduction in cholesterol intake of 430 mg/dL (the same as two eggs) was associated with a 43% reduction in long-term risk of coronary heart disease, a 25% reduction of risk of death from all causes, and three years longer life expectancy. In addition to heart disease, a higher cholesterol intake was also associated with more risk for strokes, blood clots, high blood pressure, and cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, lung, and brain.
Cholesterol is the most damaging to our arteries when it is present in an oxidized form (as free radicals). Eggs and egg-derived products are the main source of oxidized cholesterol in our diet.
Untainted research from high-quality studies show that adding one egg to the daily diet of the average “healthy” person already eating 200 mg of cholesterol from other sources, will increase their serum cholesterol by about 4%, which translates into an 8% increase in their risk of heart disease.
Two eggs daily will mean a 6% increase in cholesterol (12 mg/dL) and 12% more heart disease over the next 5 to 10 years. For young adult men, indulgence in two eggs daily means 30% more coronary heart disease over their lifetime.
Jeremiah Stamler, MD, the Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine of the Feinberg School of Medicine (Northwestern University), wrote in 1998 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “It is a reasonable inference that the sizable decline in per capita egg consumption in the United States in recent decades, and hence in per capita total cholesterol intake, has been one important component of the improved dietary patterns leading to a fall in mean serum cholesterol concentration in the adult population from ~ 6.08 mmol/L (235 mg/dL) in the 1950s to ~ 5.30 mmol/L (205 mg/dL) in the 1990s, and to the concomitant sustained marked reductions in mortality rates from CHD, all cardiovascular diseases, and all causes.” Between 1970 and 1995 annual consumption decreased from 310 to 235 eggs per person. Annual consumption is back up to about 260 eggs per person in 2014. This letter by Dr. Stamler is a good reply to the egg industry and worth reading.
In a 2015 study published in the journal Atherosclerosis, “Higher egg consumption was associated with an increased prevalence of subclinical coronary atherosclerosis and with a greater degree of coronary calcification, independent of CVD and dietary risk factors. This association was progressive over egg consumption categories and was observed in all clinical subgroups evaluated, including those at low cardiovascular risk.”
The 2008 Physicians’ Health Study reported that higher egg consumption was associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality; this association became stronger when restricted to participants with diabetes.
A 2012 study in the journal Atherosclerosis found an increased prevalence of carotid plaque with high consumption of yolks in patients attending vascular prevention clinics.
In October of 2014 I published the results of 1615 people in the Nutrition Journal article titled, “Effects of 7 days on an ad libitum low-fat vegan diet: the McDougall Program cohort.” The diet contained no cholesterol (animal foods) and little saturated fat. The median decrease in total cholesterol was 22 mg/dL (.6 IU). When the cholesterol initially was over 240 mg/dl the reduction in seven days was on average 39 mg/dL.
Eggs Are Perfect for Growing Chicks
The egg industry provides a timely example of how money can buy scientific nutritional information that can be detrimental to the public’s health. Citizens of the US and other Western countries suffer diseases of over-nutrition. Yet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus on getting enough nutrients (nonexistent problems). We do not suffer from protein, calcium, fat, or vitamin deficiencies (scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, etc.). Our problems stem from too much of the foods and nutrients recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The purpose of a hen’s egg is to provide all the materials necessary to develop the one cell—created by the joining of a cock’s sperm with a hen’s ovum—into a complete chick with feathers, a beak, legs, and a tail. This miraculous growth and development is supported by a one and a half-ounce package of ingredients, the hen’s egg, jam-packed with proteins, fats, cholesterol, vitamins and minerals. A result is the hen’s egg has been called “one of nature’s most nutritious creations.”
Indeed, an egg is the richest of all foods, and far too much of a “good thing” for people. The components of a cooked egg are completely absorbed through our intestines. As a result, this highly concentrated food, recommended by the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, provides too much cholesterol, fat, and protein for our body to safely process. The penalties are heart disease, obesity, and type-2 diabetes, to name a few epidemic sicknesses from our food.