Dietary advisors with egg on their faces?
The humble egg, more than any other food, symbolizes how “bad science” has underpinned much of the dietary advice handed down to consumers over the past 40 years and how that advice now stands discredited.
In the 1980s, egg consumption dropped by about half in America – a bigger fall than any other country – after nutrition researchers concluded that eating foods that contain cholesterol, such as eggs, somehow translated into a heart attack risk.
By 1990, about half of Americans said they were “very concerned” about serving foods with cholesterol, according to NLPG Group, which tracks long-term food trends.
And in Europe too, food producers were having to reassure consumers by labeling all kinds of foods with messages such as “low cholesterol” or “contains no cholesterol”.
There was just one problem – which was that there was no scientific evidence that consuming eggs increased your risk of a heart attack.
Nor was there any evidence that consuming cholesterol in food translated into more of the type of cholesterol in your bloodstream that can contribute to heart attacks.
In fact, as early as 1990 the evidence was pointing in the opposite direction. But for reasons that defy understanding it has taken a very long time for many influential nutrition professionals to accept the science.
And that is why it is only this year, for the first time, that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has declared that dietary cholesterol no longer is “a nutrient of concern” and that there was no evidence of an appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and heart-threatening serum cholesterol.
Long before that, consumers had already begun to make up their own minds. Egg sales had been on an upward trend since 2010. In America, egg sales grew by 11% in 2014.
Eggs have been restored to their rightful place as one of nature’s perfect foods (as the UN FAO infographic above shows). But it has an important wider consequence.
The case of eggs, just like the advice to eat low fat diets, is an example of how the exposing of three-plus decades of poor dietary advice is making people more skeptical than ever about what dietitians and other health professionals tell them to eat (and avoid eating).
Skepticism, combined with how easily people can access all kinds of health advice free on the internet, creates a real risk that the advice of health professionals will be sidelined – with unforeseeable consequences.
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