Eggs have been the topic of some heated debate in recent years. Should we be eating them? From a health perspective, there’s quite a lot of controversy in the media, as one study contradicts another, every other year.
There are definitely some points in favour in eating eggs. They’re a convenient source of nutrition, they can be used in myriad ways to create delicious dishes, and they’re widely available and affordable (especially if you’re buying conventionally-farmed eggs).
But there are some significant problems with egg consumption. There’s the risk of developing life-threatening diseases (more on this below). Egg-laying chickens endure some serious suffering (though I won’t go into that here). And finally, we ought to consider the environmental impacts of egg production, too.
Let’s look at the health risks:
Cardiovascular disease risk
Eggs, cholesterol and cardiovascular disease (CVD) have been a hot topic in recent times. Studies over the last few years have resulted in somewhat contradictory recommendations with regards to dietary cholesterol, and confusion prevails. The media loves a heated topic, with the possibility of click-baity headlines. As a result, there’s a lot of noise on the topic of eggs, cholesterol and heart disease risk. Controversy is good for business, right? Perhaps the most accurate statement we can make at this point in time is simply that egg consumption may increase risk of CVD.
However, other health risks associated with eggs have not received as much PR.
Could eggs cause cancer?
We’ve known for a while that egg consumption is associated with increased risk of colorectal, ovarian, breast and prostate cancer. The cholesterol found in eggs and meat is thought to be one causal component in cancer risk, but that’s not the full story. Choline from eggs is a major culprit in the development of prostate cancer. The gut bacteria of meat-eaters converts choline to TMAO, which is subsequently converted to carcinogenic nitrosamines. Choline is an essential nutrient – but you can find plant sources. Moreover, the gut microbiome of vegans don’t have the bad bacteria that produce TMAO.
This is not news to anyone. Salmonella is a bacteria that’s carried in the intestines of animals (and humans). It often contaminates raw animal products (and sometimes raw vegetables, if fertilised with contaminated manure) and it’s a leading cause of food-poisoning related illness and death. And guess what: eggs contaminated with salmonella have to be super-well cooked if you want to eliminate your risk of getting food poisoning. Salmonella can survive omelettes, scrambles, sunny side up, french toast, and even being boiled for up to 8 minutes.
Toxins in eggs
Dioxins and PCBs are toxic cancer-causing pollutants that unfortunately end up in our natural environment and on farmlands. The higher up on the food chain you eat, the higher your intake of these toxins – this is because elimination of the toxins occurs very slowly in animals. Dioxins are frequently concentrated in eggs and other animal products — and even more so in organic and free range eggs. I guess there’s not much more to say on that topic, besides… skip the eggs?
I’m not sharing all this to be melodramatic. Eggs are convenient, tasty (to some), and nutritious (perhaps). But they come with a cost. Not only a cost to our health, but also to the environment (eggs have five times the carbon footprint of lentils, per kg) and to animals (in Germany alone, 50 million day-old male chicks are killed each year because they don’t lay eggs).
It’s time to find alternatives.
Imagine if we could dramatically reduce the incidence of disease globally, while simultaneously reducing our environmental footprint and saving the lives of billions of animals…