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Oh To Have Been So Misled By So Many For So Long!

I am not alone in having a family member (or in my case, both parents and one grandparent) suffer the massive life-changing consequences of having a stroke.

One minute, it’s all good and the next it’s totally, completely and utterly not. Within the space of just a matter of minutes, a stroke victim loses their independence, often can no longer work, in many cases, has to rely on others to help with their everyday needs and assist in decision-making and unless the extent of the damage to both brain and body has been severe and the stroke proves fatal within around 30 days, can only expect this tragic change to their lives to continue for a number of years. So where did it all go so horribly wrong? Why do statistics indicate that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men of 75 and over are at serious risk? Is it simply age or might diet be involved?”

Rationing during the second World War meant very little in the way of fats in diets and as rationing continued until 1954, they continued to be a very occasional luxury - meat and dairy products were in short supply and when you could get them, they were expensive. So why should any housewife lucky enough to get her hands on (and on rare occasions, afford) not treat the family to a good scraping of butter on their toast or a steaming-hot dish of macaroni cheese or a deliciously-creamy trifle for pud? Things were looking up!

But, just as families were beginning to enjoy feasting on delicious and filling fats, along came the ‘fat police’, in the main, courtesy of a researcher by the name of Ancel Keyes who spent years analysing the diets of ‘the healthiest nations in the world’ and determined that fats were bad for us and would make us sick and fat. His extensive (but now universally-agreed, erroneous in so very many aspects) research prompted governments and health organisations to issue warnings about our fat consumption globally and who were we to doubt the advice of ‘those in the know’?

For some reason, which remains a mystery to those who are professionally, nutritionally trained, eggs continue to be regarded as a dairy product - sorry but no, they don’t come from a milk-producing animal! However, did they come in for some bad press or what! Thanks again to Ancel Keyes, eggs were vilified for decades because they contain cholesterol and saturated fat. But the truth is that cholesterol and saturated fat in animal foods like eggs are beneficial to our health.  There is no scientific evidence to suggest that eating cholesterol-rich foods cause our cholesterol levels to increase. It is estimated that only 20 percent of our blood cholesterol levels actually come from our diet (the rest of the cholesterol in the body is produced by the liver, which it makes because we need it for brain, hormone, nerve and immune system health) and there is no evidence that the consumption of up to six eggs per week increases our risk of heart disease.

It all started so well when eggs became more readily-available post-rationing and ‘dried eggs’ (which few could get too excited about) were left to become even drier on the top shelf! "Go to work on an egg" was an advertising slogan used by the UK Egg Marketing Board during the late 1950s as part of more than £12 million spent on advertising, including a series of television advertisements starring Tony Hancock and Patricia Hayes in 1965. The proposition was that having an egg for breakfast was the best way to start the working day and it worked. In a very short space of time, eggs were the breakfast of choice in a great many households but it wasn’t to last. In 1988, the Tory health minister of the time, Edwina Currie stunned the British nation by announcing in a TV interview that “most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now affected with salmonella”. As egg sales plummeted the government was forced to offer a compensation package of millions of pounds to cover the cost of purchasing surplus eggs and for the slaughter of unwanted hens, the minister weathered a political storm which ultimately led to her resignation but the worst outcome of all was that eggs were largely removed from the breakfast table and all manner of starchy, sugary and health-hindering breakfast cereals took their place.

And even more frustratingly, in 2007, plans to rebroadcast the original ‘go to work on an egg’ advertisements were rejected by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, which observed that “the adverts did not suggest a varied diet”. This was not just frustrating - it was nothing short of negligent!

So now where are we on the ‘egg front’ in 2019? Well… it appears that an egg a day is linked to a reduced risk of stroke (1). It’s likely too late for many in their 70’s and 80’s to turn back time but boy have they been tragically-misled by their governments, their health advisors and their GPs over the last 50 years.

Who is to say that if they had continued to ‘go to work on an egg’ things might have been different and the stroke statistics would look less alarming but let’s hope that the youth of today, many of whom are more than just a little bit interested in their health, think about the shocking headlines they read before simply reacting to them and continue to enjoy the extraordinarily-amazing health benefits offered by one of the easiest little numbers to fit into their daily lives - eggs!

Reference: Alexander DD et al. (2016). Meta-analysis of egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. J Am Coll Nutr. 2016 Oct 6:1-13.