What’s so unhealthy about ‘going to work on an egg’?

Driving this morning I was listening to the radio and learned that the British Egg Information Service has been banned from resurrecting the ‘go to work on an egg’ ad campaign to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the ‘British Lion’ mark that adorns eggs here in the UK.

Apparently, the Broadcasting Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) adjudged that television commercials, featuring comedian Tony Hancock, could not be repeated because eating eggs every day went against the policy of encouraging people to eat a varied diet.

Oh, I see, but the adverts that encourage people to eat often nutritionally bereft, blood and insulin destabilising breakfast cereals, usually with added sugar and a stack of salt, are OK though?

And are eggs really that unhealthy anyway?

While eggs have been caught up in the anti-fat hysteria that most of us will be familiar with, the reality is that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol appear to have little or no bearing on health. This is thoroughly dealt with in my book The True You Diet. Besides, the most plentiful type of fat to be found in eggs is actually of the monounsaturated variety ” a type of fat associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

Eggs are also a good source of protein, the dietary element that has been shown to have more appetite-sating potential than either carbohydrate or fat. Eggs are also relatively rich in vitamin B12, which is also potentially useful to vegetarians whose options for getting enough of this important nutrient are limited.

There are studies in the scientific literature which have linked egg-eating and heart disease. Such studies are ‘epidemiological’ in nature, and while they may show an association between two things, they cannot be used to prove that one causes the other. The association may be due to other factors ” known as confounding factors ” that have not been taken into consideration. The reason for pointing this out is that the studies linking egg-eating with an increased risk of heart disease have traditionally not taken into account confounding factors. When they are factored into the equation, the evidence suggests that intakes equivalent to an egg a day are not associated with an increased risk of heart disease in men and women free from diabetes [1]. So, bearing this in mind, is it really so bad that we should be encouraged to ‘go to work on an egg’?

The original adverts may have been banned from TV, but are available for all to see courtesy of the internet. See:
http://www.gotoworkonanegg.co.uk/watch_the_egg_adverts.html

References:

1. Kritchevsky SB, et al. Egg consumption and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological overview. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2000;19(5):549-555

Related article:

The truth about eggs – posted on 1 September 2002

Not so long ago the humble egg was viewed as a cheap, nutritious and versatile food. For many of us, the advertising slogan ‘go to work on an egg’ spawned in the 1960s lives long in our memories. However, since the days of such dizzy heights, the egg has experienced a spectacular fall from grace. Eggs, we are told, are full of cholesterol and saturated fat. As a result, many doctors and dieticians have warned us off eating them lest they clog our arteries and hasten our demise. Yet, despite the fact that eggs have made their way onto the nutritional blacklist, there is actually little evidence that they do us much harm at all. Scientific studies suggest that eggs might be the wholesome food advertisers cracked them up to be.

Eggs are composed of two main parts; the yolk and the white. While the white of the eggs is mainly protein, the egg yolk contains significant quantities of both saturated fat and cholesterol. Doctors have spent the last 20 years warning us of the hazards of eating these fats, in particular their ability to up the risk of heart disease. When individuals with raised cholesterol levels seek standard dietetic advice about what to do about it, they are often advised to give eggs a very wide berth indeed.

However, the idea that eggs increase risk of heart disease, like a lot of dietetic dogma, is based on assumptions that may turn out to have little basis in reality. It is, for instance, taken for granted that because eggs contain saturated fat and cholesterol, that eating them will raise the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream. However, scientific studies have generally failed to bear this out. One study found that feeding men and women two extra eggs each day for six weeks did not increase their cholesterol levels. In another study, men consuming four eggs a day for two months saw no change in their cholesterol scores.

Most doctors and dieticians see saturated fat as the major spectre in the diet. As eggs are rich in saturated fat, conventional wisdom dictates that eating less of them can only enhance our heart health and promote longevity. Several studies have looked at the effects of cutting back on fat on risk of heart disease and overall risk of death. At least three large studies show that low fat eating does not appear to reduce the risk of heart disease or improve longevity. Counter-intuitive though this may be, the bulk of the evidence does not support the notion that avoiding saturated fat, from eggs or other sources, is the key to a longer life.

Further evidence for the relatively benign effect of eggs came from two very large studies that examined specifically the link between egg consumption (up to one egg per day) and heart disease. The results of these studies show that non-diabetic men and women eating the most eggs were not at increased risk of heart disease or stroke compared to those eating the least. Despite a somewhat unhealthy reputation, the evidence suggests that it might not be such a bad idea to go to work on an egg after all.

14 Responses to What’s so unhealthy about ‘going to work on an egg’?

  1. chris 20 June 2007 at 12:40 pm #

    John – dietitians do not see saturated fat as bad – just the excess and trans fat that comes from junk. You are completetly out of date! Dietitians are well aware of all these studies !

  2. John Briffa 21 June 2007 at 6:32 am #

    Chris – here are some quotes from ‘Food Facts’ sheets to be found on the British Dietetic Association website:
    General Tips for a Healthy Heart

    While all types of fat are high in calories, some fats can also raise cholesterol levels. The main culprit is saturated fat,…

    Fat ” Getting the Balance Right

    ‘Not-so-good’ fats and oils ” try to reduce these as they can raise your blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease……
    Saturated Fats – These include harder fats like lard, butter, fat on meats,…

    I don’t believe these statements are consistent with your assertion that dieticians do not see saturated fat as bad.

  3. songbook 22 June 2007 at 10:25 am #

    I have to agree with the good doctor, especially when one considers what has filtered into popular thinking/belief – most name fat as the culprit in national obesity rates and extols low-fat foods as desirable, but rarely mention sugar and things that convert quickly to sugar.

  4. chris 22 June 2007 at 2:13 pm #

    of course fat is ONE of the culprits – people eat too much ! It is rather obvious – we are not talking the amount of fat from meat, egg etc its from crips and fries etc . Also the tonn of sugar and alcohol.

    Teaching people to eat properly does not omit fat – u people have a very starnge obsession with this! The hundreds of food diaries I have will show this!
    ps John just been to the BDA conference – u should go as a visitor was excellent – then u could actually see what dietitians and nutritionists are doing in the real world.

    anintersting paper was presented re atkins and the diet trials. Was published in the bmj last year. Basically shows that at the end of 6 months people had lost the same amount of wt as others but by 12 months alot had got fed up with it – now there is a supriese to me.

  5. margaret grima 23 June 2007 at 7:40 pm #

    John, I am very interested in the pH balance. I am a diabetic (75 years) and have been reading that a pH reading 7 OR THERABOUT, could revert the diabetes problem. What I dont quite like is the amount of supplements one should take to have a balanced diet. could you enlarge on this please thank you and wd for your letter which I enjoy

  6. Jo 23 June 2007 at 8:49 pm #

    Dr. Briffa is right – too much emphasis is placed on the avoidance of saturated fats and cholesterol in foods

    But what I think is even more annoying, Chris, is sloppy English!

  7. ally 24 June 2007 at 2:48 pm #

    well its not so much sloppy english but terrible typing. You really don’t have a clue do u – I see the effects of all this junk daily – not off stuff i have read on the internet – reality check ! There is so much rubbish on the internet about food etc – makes my blood boil!

  8. Emma 24 June 2007 at 3:11 pm #

    Dietitians do not support the idea that cholesterol consumption increases cholesterol in the blood stream. However we do advocate decreasing saturated fat in the diet to counter increases of cholesterol in the blood stream. This is evidence based and is supported by organisations such as the British Heart Foundation (BHF). Although saturated fat is still an essential part of the diet and it is the excess (as mentioned by Chris) that is the issue.
    The BHF has produced some great resources and they do not advocate steering clear of eggs at all, however they do suggest having no more than 4 eggs a week IF you suffer from hyperlipideamia, particularly high cholesterol.
    Personally I also feel that banning the egg advert whilst allowing other purveyors of food of dubious quality an open forum is concerning. What about the special K advert that urges woman to practically starve themselves by skipping a nutritious lunch and having another bowl of special K instead, all for the thrill of slipping yourself into that nice red bathing suit? I think this is very irresponsible.
    It is great to have a debate surrounding the issues of dietary fat and its ensuing effects. Nutiritional science is not always straight foward. In my career you are constantly coming across people who are very confused by the messages that are evident in the media.
    I would very much like to read the studies you mentioned above Dr Briffa. Could you possibly reference them in another message?
    Thanks

  9. John Briffa 25 June 2007 at 10:03 am #

    Hi Emma – I disagree with the notion that the BHF recommendations are ‘evidence-based’ – where is the evidence that taking dietary steps to reduce cholesterol is broadly beneficial to health?
    A meta-analysis of dietary trials found reduced risk of mortality in either primary or secondary prevention settings (Studer M, et al. Effect of different antilipidemic agents and diets on mortality. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2005;165:725-730)

  10. Tracy 28 June 2007 at 6:09 pm #

    Correct me if I’m wrong…but isn’t an increased level of cholesterol in the blood indicative of something else going on? Cholesterol rushes in to patch up damages arteries, no? So blaming cholesterol for anything is much like blaming the fire on the firefighters – and reducing cholesterol is doing nothing to address the reason it was there in the first place.

  11. John Briffa 28 June 2007 at 7:34 pm #

    Tracy – I’ve heard this concept before but am unaware that it has been ‘proven’, as such. However, if it were true, it would help to explain why reducing cholesterol levels is simply not the near-miraculous ‘life-saver’ some would have us believe it to be.

  12. Ruth Devlin 4 January 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    can I ask as a researching journalist, does anyone know where the old advertising slogan ‘as versatile as an egg’ comes from? All i can find on Google is ‘Go to work on an….’
    Sorry to intrude on this important debate with a fairly banal (but to me important) question. thanks folks!

  13. Mandy Cross 9 October 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Ruth- the slogan “As versatile as an egg” was used in a Coronation evaporated milk TV advert. See the letter from Nicola Hearsey here-
    http://www.wsc.co.uk/content/view/2571/29/

    HTH

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  1. Familiary hyperlipideamia | Addobrown - 4 April 2012

    [...] What’s so unhealthy about ‘going to work on an egg’? | Dr Briffa’s …Jun 20, 2007… been caught up in the anti-fat hysteria that most of us will be familiar with, …. IF you suffer from hyperlipideamia, particularly high cholesterol. [...]

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