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The sunny side of eggs

MagazineJune 1999 (Vol. 10 Issue 3)The sunny side of eggs

American heart disease guru Dr Dean Ornish recently wrote: "Say no to the egg" (New York Times, Sept 15, 1997)

American heart disease guru Dr Dean Ornish recently wrote: "Say no to the egg" (New York Times, Sept 15, 1997).

All due respect should be given to Dr Ornish for reversing symptoms of heart disease without drugs or surgery. His regime a combination of a low fat (less than 10 per cent of calories as fat) vegetarian diet, plus exercise and stress reduction has been shown to work when followed closely (Postgrad Med, 1993; 94: 50-65). Indeed, in one study, his patients enjoyed a 91 per cent decrease in frequency of angina, compared to a 165 per cent increase in angina among heart patients taking drugs and following standard medical advice on diet (Lancet, 1990; 336: 129-33).

However, Dr Ornish's criticism of eggs is simply wrong. He claims that a low fat, whole foods vegetarian diet is optimal for most people. But human metabolism hasn't changed much in 20,000 years; Palaeolithic Man ate berries, nuts and leaves, but also raw eggs as well as meat when he found them. Ornish ignores the massive recent literature supporting the worth of that stone age diet (PPFN Health Journal, 1996; 21: 4-5; 21), which was not at all a low fat, vegetarian diet.

Dr Ornish says eggs increase heart attacks. But half the fat in eggs is monounsaturated like olive oil which resists oxidation and counters any cholesterol raising effect (Curr Opin Lipidology, 1990; 1: 18-22). Even for the less than one per cent of people who are "hypercholesterolemic", eggs increase cholesterol little, if at all (Am J Clin Nutri, 1992; 55: 400-10).

Among 800, 428 people surveyed over an eight year period in the late 1960s, those who ate five or more eggs a week and a considerable amount of meat, fried foods, salad oil and mayonnaise dressing had slightly fewer heart attacks and stroke deaths than those who ate fewer than five eggs a week and less of those other, supposedly dangerous foods (Personal communication, Louis Garfinckel, Director of Research of American Cancer Society, 1989).

Cooked on a stove as Grandma did and eaten whole as nature made them, eggs are relatively low in the essential amino acid methionine. Excess methionine in red meat, milk and milk products is metabolised by healthy people into homocysteine (HC), which has been shown to be pro-oxidant, promoting hardening of the arteries, thrombosis, osteoporosis and even cancer (Ann Clinic Lab Sci, 1994; 24: 27-59).

Eggs are only dangerous when they are processed. Hundreds of processed foods containing powdered egg yolks are highly atherogenic: they damage arterial walls. Molecules of oxygen and cholesterol combine when heated in spray drying, creating "oxysterols" (Am J Clin Nutri, 1979; 32: 40-57), making the cholesterol dangerous (Biochem Biophys Acts, 1987; 917: 337-40).

Eggs contain all eight essential amino acids (building blocks of high quality protein), in the closest thing to perfect ratios, and are rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs). High quality EFAs found in eggs, notably the omega-3s (fish oil, flax oil), are scarce in processed Western diets and even in the official diets recommended by the American and British heart associations (Am J Clin Nutr, 1994; 60: 973-4).

Dr Ornish is right, but only partly right, to advocate organic produce. There is no doubt that organic fruits and vegetables contain far more trace elements, selenium, calcium and manganese, and far less toxic metals, than supermarket foods (J Appl Nutr, 1993; 45: 35-9).

However, after a century's mining of farm soils and fertilisation with only three minerals (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), even organic produce can be disastrously deficient in major minerals (Austral Health Healing, 1995; Aug/ Oct: 43-5). Current farming methods, particularly the excessive use of agrochemicals, cause severe manganese deficiencies both in the soil and in the crop it yields. A global investigation on the micronutrient status of soils and plants found a particularly low level of manganese, as well as zinc and iron, in the samples studied (FAO Soils Bulletin, 1982; 48; 1990; 63). Organic eggs, however, provide a wealth of the minerals so lacking in even organic vegetables and fruits.

The sulphur in eggs and the cysteine it generates are not only excellent in detoxification, but are also good antioxidants (SA Rogers, Wellness Against All Odds, Syracuse, NY: Prestige Publ, 1994).

Furthermore, eggs contain eight times more of the cholesterol lowering emulsifier lecithin than cholesterol does. Lecithin helps to keep cholesterol in the body fluid, preventing it from clogging up arteries (Lancet, 1992; 342: 810-3). Moderate amounts of lecithin help to prevent gallstones (New Eng J Med, 1992; 226: 6335-7), kidney dysfunction and liver cell cancer, slow ageing (VRP News, 1993; Aug: 1-7) and help one to tolerate stress (J Applied Nutri, 1995; 47: 24-30).

A versatile nutrient indeed! No supplement can provide the multiple nutrients you can get from eating eggs.

Think again, Dr Ornish.

!AJoseph Hattersley


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