I’d like you to compare two phrases:
“Eating an egg a day is as bad as smoking 5 cigarettes”
“Consumption of egg yolks should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Which one sounds more shocking, more scary, and more impressive?
But what if I told you that the second phrase was the actual conclusion of the study about egg yolks and cigarettes?
In the same way other studies about cancer and food have been overblown before, the conclusion from the egg study also got warped, twisted, chewed up and spit out the way you see it now. The news broke out, and without a doubt, made you feel like you’ve been lied to your entire life. In the end, aren’t eggs are good-for-you food?
A client came to me and, with horror in her eyes, said, “They say eating eggs is like smoking! Did you hear that? What does it even mean?”
I couldn’t help myself but quote the line from Blades of Glory:
A former smoker, and an avid brunch lover, I could see how you would be disturbed by the news. Like, did I stop smoking for nothing?!
Pretend you and I meet 5 years from now and I ask you about What the Health? How much of the movie do you think you’d be able to recall? Regardless of the amount you could remember, I can guarantee the eggs and 5 cigarettes will be first thing to jump to your mind. Why? Because it works the same way the “Truth” anti-tobacco campaign worked a few years ago.
Remember that ad set “Outside the headquarters of a major tobacco company” and teenagers unloading over a thousand white body bags in front of the building? They asked, “Do you know how many people tobacco kills?”
Yeah, that was 2000. I was in the fourth grade, but I still remember the ad, and, most importantly, the feelings it caused. It made me angry (at the tobacco companies, of course)
The same thing happened with the egg and cigarettes claim. It caused you to feel something. The fear, the shock, the anger, and even disbelief. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.
You see, movies like What the Health, Food Inc., Hungry for Change, as well as campaigns like Truth, Tap Project, and the like are all part of a marketing game. The job of a marketing team is to sell you either a product or an idea. They use controversies to hit your emotional sweet spot, regardless of the truthfulness of the original research.
Sometimes, if marketers do their job well, the provocative idea shakes the entire nation. And then it sticks in your brain like chewing gum in your hair. How do you get rid of the mess? You cut the giant piece of hair off or shave your whole head. (If you are surprised by these solutions, you clearly never had gum stuck in your hair).
In the case of the egg claim, you dig into the original research and read the entire study yourself.
So that’s what I did. And I’m sharing the findings with you, because let’s be honest, reading research probably isn’t on your list of fun activities. Here we go.
In the study, researchers looked at over 1200 people with mean age around 60yo. All these folks were patients of the Canadian Vascular Prevention clinic. At the baseline, the mean blood pressure of participants was 141/83, which, to my knowledge, is considered hypertensive. The mean BMI was 27.38, which is considered overweight, and 19% of the participants had diabetes.
As you can see, the population studied already had health issues.
Not only that, the questionnaire that this study used failed to ask participants about important questions like:
Did they eat junk food?
If so, how much?
Did they exercise?
How about alcohol consumption?
Where did they carry body fat?
None of that. Instead, the participants had to recall how many eggs they ate a day, as well as how many packs of cigarettes they smoked. There’s nothing wrong with these questions, except if I ask you how many eggs you ate last week, would you be able to tell me the exact amount? How about yesterday? Add to that the fact that people tend to underestimate the amount of food we eat.
Nonetheless, here are the findings: Those who ate 3+ eggs a week had a higher chances of developing atherosclerosis (clogged arteries). Shocking news indeed.
But here’s the thing: Eating an egg a day may cause harm if you suffer from heart problems already, don’t watch what you eat, and don’t move your ass farther than the distance between your couch and TV. All of these activities can worsen whatever ailments you already have, and cause you to develop new issues.
If you smoke, however, regardless of your age, your diet, your exercise, you still are at a higher risk of having a stroke, because the effect of developing atherosclerosis in carotid arteries in smokers is independent of high blood pressure, age, and diabetes.
So are eggs really that bad for you? Unless you’re 60 years old, don’t exercise, and eat fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you should be good. But, just in case, consult with the doc and double check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Better safe than sorry!
However, before emotionally committing to a claim like this one, it’s always a good idea to read the original research. As you can see now, sometimes things get blown out of proportion just a tiny bit.