"1 Egg Is As Bad As 5 Cigarettes": What's Wrong With This Claim
Updated: Feb 14, 2018
I wrote a blog post yesterday about why I love avocado toast and eggs, and was surprised to see the reaction. In fact, I had one follower ask me why I promote eggs, if, per the “What the Health” documentary, 1 egg is equivalent to 5 cigarettes. First off, this claim is ridiculous… I mean, are we really assuming inhaling 5 cigarettes a day is as bad as a natural food source packed with protein, vitamins and minerals?
So, as a qualified healthcare professional – I went straight to the research article where this claim was taken from. And as I read the aim of the study, methods, design and results, I was pleasantly satisfied. You see, any journalist with an agenda (veganism) can extrapolate data from a single study and make a general sweeping statement (eggs are worse for you than cigarettes) without acknowledging any other information from the study.
Let me sum up the study, and then I will point out the flaws and misconceptions, which will help me prove how incorrect this statement is!
Summary: So, this study set out to determine if egg yolk consumption was related to atherosclerosis (essentially, how clogged are your arteries) and compared it to cigarette smoking and atherosclerosis. There were over 1000 participants who had baseline measurements taken. The participants then filled out a self-assessment about their lifestyle, medications, eggs consumed per week and years of smoking. The data showed that plaque area increased with age, but specifically increased with both egg consumption and years of smoking. Moreover, egg consumption was more sensitively, or significantly, correlated to plaque area. And here I will copy and paste the interpretation of the study from the abstract: “Our findings suggest that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease. This hypothesis should be tested in a prospective study with more detailed information about diet, and other possible confounders such as exercise and waist circumference”.
I mean, let’s all look at this with a fine-tooth comb and put on our research goggles…
First off, all that information above was gathered from the abstract. And when you read the study, here are all the red flags (in order of reading the article)
Eggs were chosen due to their high saturated fat content and dietary cholesterol. The recommendations for dietary cholesterol were removed from the guidelines in recent years, as dietary cholesterol does not internalize as bodily cholesterol. Additionally, other sources of saturated fat that was mentioned, such as red meat and full fat dairy products, should have also been quantified so they could be ruled out as confounders.
Patient samples was drawn from “patients attending vascular clinics at University Hospital”. I mean, clearly this population is biased, as they are already attending vascular clinics. If this population was taken from a random sample of individuals shopping in whole foods, we might have a different result. In fact, these patients had been REFERRED to vascular prevention clinics – so clearly their recommending doctor thought they would benefit from it.
The average age of the participants was 61. This study was conducted in 2012, which means the average participant was born in 1951 – not an era known for its great nutrition. Growing up in the 50’s/60’s, these participants were exposed to hell of a lot of white bread, butter, lard, red meat, candy, and plenty of other food sources popular for their adverse health consequences! Yet, none of those food items were also quantified and considered in the analysis. Oh, and let’s not forget that alcohol and exercise were not considered either.
The average blood pressure was 141.75/83.37, which, according to American Standards, is actually considered Hypertension stage 1… (this is comparable to taking gold medal athletes and saying their time spent training is related to better performance…WELL DUH! Those with hypertension are more likely to have atherosclerosis)
Average BMI is 27.38, which is overweight. And yes, I know BMI is an inaccurate measurement of body fat, but it is still noted that as your BMI increases, you are more likely to experience adverse health consequences. I wonder how the results would differ if the average BMI was a healthy 22.5…
3% of these individuals had diabetes… not a massive percentage to be fair, but the number 1 cause of death for those with diabetes is Cardiovascular Disease…
Family history of CVD? We know there is a strong genetic component to heart disease
This was a self-answered questionnaire, which we all know to be very unreliable, as we are not very accurate historians.
Were those more likely to consume egg yolks also more likely to consume other foods high in saturated fats and refined sugar? Hmmmm…
The study clearly states “Our finding suggest that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease”. Well, did “What the Health” specifically state these results in regards to the at risk population? No – instead they made a sweeping statement about all persons consuming egg yolks. Additionally, egg yolks have high levels of saturated fat, which should be avoided by those at risk for CVD (just like red meat, cream, butter, and other sources, even coconut oil).
So, is 1 egg equivalent to 5 cigarettes? NO!
Did this study use a biased sample with poor methodology? YES!
Should food sources high in saturated fat be moderately or minimally consumed for those at risk for CVD? YES!
Does that mean everyone needs to avoid egg yolks? NO!
Please don’t listen to any health claim you hear. And please make your health-related decisions from qualified healthcare professionals without agendas!
Feel Free to message me with any questions
Spence JD, Jenkins DJA, Davignon J. Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque. Atherosclerosis. 2012;224(2):469-473. doi:10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2012.07.032.