The federal government says that eggs are not nutritious or even safe, and egg suppliers who claim otherwise are lying.
On February 19th,†I reported that an egg producer had agreed to remove potentially false advertising from its cartons: its pictures of happy hens outdoors in the sun belied the reality of tightly caged chickens who lived their lives inside industrial sheds. It turns out that the federal government also had to step in to stop egg producers from lying to consumers.
Nutrition Facts obtained official documents through the Freedom of Information Act (which requires the government to disclose most non-classified documents to the public) proving that the U.S.D.A. had to stop companies from asserting that eggs are healthful, nutritious or safe.
The government gets to dictate what egg vendors say before they say it only when the vendors are using government money to pay for their marketing campaign. The U.S.D.A. funds an agency called the American Egg Board that exists to promote sales of eggs. 45.9 percent of the Board’s funds go to advertising. Egg dealers can use that free money to advertise their product — but if they do, they have to let the U.S.D.A. edit their ad copy.
The head of the USDA’s Poultry Research and Inspection Program told suppliers trying to write a promotional brochure that, due to laws against false and misleading advertising, they could not state that eggs are “healthy” or “nutritious” because they contain so much cholesterol and fat.
Egg vendors may instead call their products “nutrient-dense,” because that phrase has no legal definition. Michael Greger, M.D., of Nutrition Facts, says that as far as the U.S.D.A. is concerned, Twinkies and Coca-Cola could legitimately advertise themselves as nutrient-dense.
The U.S.D.A. also put the kibosh on advertising eggs as a weight management tool because of their high levels of fat and cholesterol. The industry had to fall back to the lame claim that eggs “can reduce hunger.” Not much of a selling point since pretty much any food can reduce hunger, but it seems that was the best they could legally say.
The industry’s stumbling block isn’t that eggs contain no nutrients at all. They do, but those nutrients come in a package that is stuffed to the brim with cholesterol and fat, including saturated fat. That inconvenient fact precludes egg businesses from saying that eggs are healthful or even that they contribute nutritionally. It is why, legally, it is false and misleading to say that eggs have healthful components.
The Food and Drug Administration has laid down the law defining healthy. Foods with more than one gram of saturated fat per 100 grams don’t cut it. Neither do foods with more than 90 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. One egg contains more than twice that amount.
You know the advertising mantra that goes, “X is part of a well-balanced, healthy diet”? Sugar cereals and a variety of other foods include this tagline in commercials. Eggs can’t even claim that.
There is plenty of science backing up the U.S.D.A.’s position. As Kathy Freston wrote at One Green Planet, “the Harvard Nursesí Health Study reported that the daily consumption of the amount of cholesterol found in a single egg appeared to cut a womanís life short as much as smoking 25,000 cigarettes.” Another study came up with more alarming numbers: “just 3 eggs or more a week was associated with a significant increase in artery-clogging plaque buildup, a strong predictor of stroke, heart attack, and death. Those that ate the most eggs had as much as two thirds more the risk of those that smoked the most (the equivalent of a pack-a-day habit for 40 years or more).”
Three eggs †– aka just one big omelette — in a week, is “a strong predictor of…death.” And eating eggs is as dangerous as smoking. Yep, that doesn’t sound healthful or nutritious.
In 2013, researchers learned that eggs have the same kind of deadly interactions with intestinal bacteria as red meat. In this case the culprit is the lecithin in egg yolks. Our gut microbes, through a series of steps, convert lecithin into TMAO –†the same chemical that red meat yields in our digestive systems. Whether it comes out of red meat or eggs, it is linked to a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. Again, not so healthy.
Later the same year, a meta-analysis published in Atherosclerosis that reviewed 14 studies found that people who ate the most eggs had a “68 percent increased risk for developing” diabetes compared with the study subjects who ate the fewest eggs. Even people who already had diabetes weren’t safe:†their risk for developing heart disease from eating the most eggs jumped by 83 percent.
So scientists and the government agree: eggs are more bad for you than they are good for you.
Eggs don’t just fail the legal measuring stick for being healthful or nutritious. They also don’t qualify as safe. Greger reports that close to 150,000 Americans get salmonella from eggs every year, so “safe” is one more thing that ads funded by the American Egg Board can’t say.
But privately funded egg ads can say whatever they want — at least until they get sued by the Animal Legal Defense Fund. In the meantime we have to look out for ourselves, so stay skeptical, and just say no to the white gelatinous blobs of concentrated fat and cholesterol.
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