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Breaking the egg myth

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Eggs have been linked to various health risks without much convincing evidence. It’s time to bring them back on breakfast tables.

One of the things I fondly remember about my school days is having eggs in the morning. They can be cooked in many delightful ways to suit different tastes. But they slowly started disappearing from breakfast tables after doctors started linking them to ‘bad cholesterol’. Cereal then became more popular and people who still included eggs in their diet for the nutritional value chucked the tasty yolk, eating only whites.

Over the years, I have realised that many doctors have developed an opinion that any food item you really like is not good for you. There’s nothing to be gained from something you enjoy, they sometimes insist.

Among all my friends, the Parsis like eggs the most and have mastered many delectable preparations. Anyone who has not sampled Bharuchi Akuri is missing out on a real treat. Though they are now numbered under 70,000, Parsis are blessed with longevity. According to the World Bank, the life expectancy in India is 68. But for Parsis, it is 75 plus. My Parsi friend’s brother was 82 when he passed away. Everyone in his family believed this was not the age to die. I have always wondered how a community so fond of eggs lives longer than some others even though eggs are supposed to be bad for health.

Many types of eggs are available in the market — chicken, duck, quail. Country hens’ eggs, the so-called organic eggs, are quite delicious. The shell, though dark, contains a bright yellow yolk. Gulls eggs are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. The global egg production has increased from 37.4 million metric tonnes in 1990 to nearly 72 million metric tonnes in 2016. China, the US, India and Mexico are among the top egg-producing countries.

Egg whites are a rich source of protein, while the yolk is high in fat. The colour of the yolk depends on the hen’s diet. If the hen eats yellow plant pigment called Xanthophyll, it is deposited in the yolk, giving it colour. Many years ago, an outbreak of salmonella, a bacterium that can cause nausea, fever and diarrhoea, was traced to eggs. Eating raw or lightly cooked eggs was identified as one of the reasons. In April this year, over 200 million eggs distributed to restaurants and grocery stores in nine American states were recalled because of bacterial contamination. Authorities said eggs shipped from a North Carolina farm may be tainted with salmonella. Salmonella is killed when egg dishes are cooked at 71 degrees Celsius or a higher temperature. If cooked for a sufficiently long period, the temperature of 54.5 degrees Celsius will also do.

Eggs are packed with nutrients. A normal egg contains around 6 gm of protein and only 70 to 77 calories. It also has vitamin A, riboflavin, B6, B5, B12, phosphorus, zinc and vitamin D. The yolk contains two-third of the recommended daily intake of cholesterol.

Several previous studies have suggested an increased risk of diabetes because of egg consumption. They have also examined a possible link between the yolk and heart disease. But a 2007 study involving nearly 10,000 adults found no correlation between eating six eggs a week and heart disease or stroke, except in some people with diabetes. The findings were published in the journal Medical Science Monitor.

Eggs also have high levels of phosphatidylcholine or lecithin. According to a paper published in Nature, gut bacteria covert dietary phosphatidylcholine into trimethylamine N-oxide, a compound that some studies have linked to heart disease.

The protein ApoA1 Milano found in the blood a small community in northern Italy protects the members from heart disease and stroke. Researches at Cedars-Sinai Hospital showed through animal experiments that it could reverse ablockage. Strangely, phosphatidylcholine is a part of this. Eggs contain LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol, but it is of the large buoyant type particle, which is less dangerous than the dense small particle cholesterol. Dietary guidelines on saturated fat have changed over the years and what we eat contributes little to our cholesterol, most of which is made in the liver.

Experts at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders in Sydney examined overweight patients with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. They found that patients who consumed 12 eggs or more in a week and those who ate fewer than two eggs had similar blood levels of heart disease markers.

I think we have been unfair to eggs by linking them to various health risks without much convincing evidence. They deserve to be back on breakfast tables.

I am going to start Tuesday morning with my favourite eggs Benedict.

Published on Mumbai Mirror