Eggs Are Not Worse Than a Double Down

It’s hard to believe that I’m writing about the KFC double down again.

Honestly, this thing does not deserve the press that it’s getting. Even James S. Fell decided to go for it and found it wasn’t worth the hype. If any press is good press then I’m feeding this fast food fad a lot more than my own sense of karma lets me be comfortable with. But it’s back in the news again, and this time I feel I have to defend what it’s up against.

I am, of course, talking about the KFC Double-Down — that deep-fried so-sick-it-must-be-a-joke “sandwich” of processed non-food that, of course, broke sales records here in Canada when it was introduced. If you’ve never heard of this piece of snack-sized self-loathing, consider yourself fortunate.

And why is it in the news again? Because some “scientists” have have come out speaking against eggs. I know this doesn’t make sense so I’ll explain.

A paper called Dietary cholesterol and egg yolks: Not for patients at risk of vascular disease was published this month in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology essentially chastising physicians and the Canadian public for not being scared enough of cholesterol and not severely limiting their egg consumption. They blame the media for giving in to the extended propaganda campaign of the egg producer’s lobby.

The inflammatory line from the review stated, “The yolk of a large egg provides more than the 210 mg of cholesterol in a Hardee’s Monster Thickburger (Hardee’s Food Systems Inc, USA), which contains two-thirds of a pound of beef, three slices of cheese and four strips of bacon.”

Later, co-author of the report David Spence, stroke prevention expert at Robarts Research Center in London, basically said the same thing, inserting the infamous Double Down in place of the Hardee’s burger. And thus the ridiculous headlines followed: “Eggs worse than KFC Double Down”, “Eggs versus the Double Down: Guess who wins?” and my personal favorite, “KFC Double Down Healthier Than A Single Egg Yolk?”

Unfortunately, this report, and all of the stories reporting on it, miss the big picture here. Cholesterol levels are kept at a level of homeostasis as determined by the body. 70% or more of the cholesterol in your body at any given time is created by the body itself because it is such an important part of human biology (did you know vitamin D and all your sex hormones are made from cholesterol, for example?). If you eat more cholesterol, the body will lower production. If you eat less, the body will make more according to need.

In his own review of the literature on eggs and cholesterol titled The Incredible Egg, Nutritional Science researcher Colby Vorland gave an interesting anecdote about the “Egg Man”:

To demonstrate one extreme of responsiveness [of the body] to dietary cholesterol, there is a case study of an 88-year-old “egg man” who compulsively consumed 20 to 30 eggs [per day] for at least 15 years, yet had normal lipid values. It was found that he absorbed a substantially reduced amount of the cholesterol, an increased conversion of cholesterol to bile acids, a reduced cholesterol synthesis, and a possible increase in biliary cholesterol secretion compared to subjects in a trial at the time.

In other words, he ate a ton of eggs and his body adjusted to the increase in cholesterol. We can’t make any kind of declarative statement from the results of one man, obviously, and this isn’t a practice I would necessarily recommend either, but the point is made.

Dietary cholesterol doesn’t really seem to matter. Yes, there is an inherited condition where a small percentage of people are unable to deal with dietary cholesterol. There is also reason to believe that diabetics may not be able to handle dietary cholesterol as well as they should. But for the rest of us, cholesterol, it would seem, is moot.

Eggs are a great source of many nutrients including vitamin B12, D, A, folate, phosphorous, riboflavin (B2), protein, vitamin K and selenium. They’re also a good source of choline, needed for building your cell walls. They’re not just little bundles of cholesterol.

Basically, this report is nothing more than scare-mongering. Keeping people away from healthy, natural foods and emphasizing processed, nutrient-depleted fare seems to be the mission here.

The lack of a connection between cholesterol consumption and cholesterol in blood has been known for decades. Ancel Keys, whose study the authors of this report use as evidence for their fear-inducing hypothesis was quoted in 1991, saying, “There’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in blood. And we’ve known that all along. Cholesterol in the diet doesn’t matter at all unless you happen to be a chicken or a rabbit.” And to keep things all in perspective here, realize that a full 50% of heart attacks happen to people with perfectly normal cholesterol levels.

If you’re looking for the real science on egg consumption and cholesterol, not the cherry-picking this report resorts to, check out Vorland’s piece linked above. Or check out Weighty Matters’ author Yoni Freedhoff’s take on the report.

Here’s a quote from Vorland to take us out:

Considering that multiple lines of evidence, from a rich cultural history to long term observational studies to short term interventional studies on cardiovascular biomarkers, I suggest that eggs are healthy. Based on all of the data, I have no problem suggesting that up to 3 or 4 eggs per day is perfectly fine, and perhaps in many people even more. Though some short term research suggests that eggs may be beneficial in people with metabolic problems, observational data suggest that diabetics may benefit from a lower cholesterol intake, as they have an altered cholesterol metabolism. Thus, this is the only caveat I see at the moment.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale