Nutrition studies are like that one person you know who says one thing one moment and then turns around and says the complete opposite. Coffee can disrupt your sleep and give you some unpleasant gut problems, but on the other hand, drinking a few cuppas will extend your life. Wine has the perplexing capability of both extending and shortening one’s life. And chocolate goes between sugar villain to “one square a day” cult status (which in itself is baffling, what normal human stops at just one square of chocolate?).
But nothing has created quite the stir and volleying between good and bad than eggs.
On an economic and baseline nutritional level, eggs are a superfood. They’re cheap—a dozen eggs can usually be purchased for under a couple bucks—and they’re plentiful. They’re packed with protein and vitamins and minerals that have earned the egg glowing reviews. And they can be imagined into countless forms: scrambled, poached, over and easy, hard boiled, egg cetera egg cetera.
But David Spence, a professor of neurology at the University of Western Ontario, vehemently disagrees with the egg’s vaulted status as a nutritional superstar. For years, he’s run a stroke prevention clinic while researching atherosclerosis, the medical term for artery walls getting piled up with gunk (like fat and cholesterol) and narrowing the tunnel through which blood can flow. If arteries get clogged, strokes and heart attacks can occur.
The best way to stop atherosclerosis from taking full form is diet, and Spence’s research highlights why we’ve gone back and forth on whether eggs are good or bad for so long. He’s authored papers that show the connection between egg yolks and carotid plaque, which can cause heart disease, going so far as to suggest that they are comparable to smoking (“The exponential nature of the increase inc by quintiles of egg consumption follows a similar pattern to cigarette smoking”). Spence has penned letters such as this one in the journal Atherosclerosis in 2013 saying that while egg yolks are key to cooking and can be nutritious, most Western societies don’t suffer from malnourishment that would make eating eggs daily necessary or healthy. He’s written paper after paper about how eggs are associated with vascular disease.
To Spence, who has not had an egg yolk in 40 years, the fact that eggs have seen a renaissance of sorts as a perfect food is troubling and indicative of the “propaganda of the egg industry.” Spence said the American diet veers toward being higher in cholesterol and fat, and that that has been accentuated by food lobbies that have encouraged the consumption of foods like eggs. He cited the December 1976 decision by the Federal Trade Commission that called the National Commission on Egg Nutrition’s calling egg a healthy food misleading (“There’s a lot of money in eggs”), but that the cultural impact of eggs as part of a nutritious breakfast as permanent and problematic.
“It’s been so hard to show the harm from eggs in the United States,” Spence told The Daily Beast, saying that pop culture’s insistence that an egg formed a normal part of a breakfast means that it’s been hard to change popular opinion about eggs being potentially bad for health. “If you feed your children eggs, they’re going to grow up with the idea that eggs are enjoyable.”