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For something so small, so simple and, excuse me for saying so, unoriginal — it has been around for years and is used by more than chickens to bring young into the world — the egg tends to be the focus of an awful lot of research and to generate an awful lot of column inches.
Some of the latest findings to make the headlines have reported a study that seems to equate over-consumption of egg yolks with smoking in terms of the effects on one's health. The study has attracted a lot of criticism, and I will leave you to make up your own minds as to how well the work was conducted.
What I’d like to look at here is the publication, some weeks back, of independent research on eggs carried out in the UK.
A study led by the country’s Institute of Food Research’s Food Databank’s National Capability has found that UK eggs now contain double the selenium of 30 years ago. They also contain 75 percent more vitamin D, 20 percent less fat and more than 10 percent less cholesterol. The composition of eggs is in line with changes in egg production and these changes can have positive health benefits.
According to Professor Sue Fairweather-Tait, from the University of East Anglia, the UK has one of the lowest intakes of selenium in the world, and dietary selenium intakes in the UK have approximately halved since the mid-1970s, partly because of reduced imports of high-selenium wheat from North America. Some studies suggest that low selenium intake is associated with an increased risk of certain chronic diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, and other conditions such as infertility and infection. The increased selenium content now found in UK eggs means that eggs can make a significant contribution to selenium intake, the institute concludes.
And for anyone wondering who funded this study, it was paid for by the UK Department of Health, although it should be pointed out that additional analysis of the data was funded by the British Egg Industry Council.
It is increasingly accepted that ingesting vitamins and minerals from food sources is far better than taking supplements, and in the debate about whether eggs are healthy or not these UK findings would seem to add more support to the healthy side of the debate. Perhaps one disappointing finding to come out of the research, at least for those of us who enjoy a good egg, is that since the 1980s, the edible part of a hen’s egg in the UK has declined from 89 percent to 87 percent of the total weight, while the weight of the shell has increased, which I suppose means just a little bit less on the plate!
They say that with smoking, if you can’t simply stop, you should at least cut down. For UK egg consumers, even if they do consume the same number of eggs, the total volume they consume has been cut, albeit ever so slightly. And if one day there is a definitive answer as to whether eggs are good or bad for the health, it would seem, at least, that they are doing more good for us then they were 30 years ago.
Oh, and if you are really worried about the comparison between eating egg yolks and smoking, in response the Canadian study, the UK health authorities have stated that “there is no firm evidence that egg yolks are as bad for you as smoking.” They continue that eggs are a good source of protein, and “all things are good in moderation” — apart from smoking, that is.