How did eggs become so divisive?


Published 21 October 2019

It’s hard to imagine a food so thoroughly controversial as the humble egg. Even putting to one side the ethical concerns around the treatment of hens and the conditions in battery farms, eggs have managed to divide nutritionists, scientists, doctors and journalists unlike any other food. It seems every headline you read about eggs either proclaims them as a superfood or denounces them as a health risk. To be fair, part of this is due to the sensationalism inherent in some media stories, but it’s true to say that opinion has been divided among health professionals for many years.

It’s worth stating upfront that KetoBake is definitely pro-egg, without getting too carried away. We don’t really like the term ‘super food’ and we certainly believe in a balanced diet. Even the ‘hard boiled egg diet’ isn’t about eating nothing but eggs. Rather it encourages you to eat lean protein like chicken, turkey and fish, along with low-carb fruits and vegetables, and of course a daily hard-boiled egg (or any kind of egg really). Of course there are pros and cons to this diet. Eggs are highly nutritious, being high in protein and full of vitamins and minerals. For keto dieters, they’re a great source of protein, but because they’re relatively low in fat, you’ll usually have to balance them with other sources of healthy fats to hit your macros.

So where did all the confusion about eggs come from? As it happens, the humble egg has some powerful friends, but it also has some powerful enemies. Farmers have been united in their support of eggs for decades, and in the United States this support is given voice through the American Egg Board (AEB), which has lobbied hard on behalf of the ‘Incredible, Edible Egg’ since 1975. The organisation is funded by a levy on its members’ produce, with the money used to conduct research into the health benefits of eggs in order to drive demand. Of course, given the commercial interests involved, not everyone was convinced that the AEB was an entirely benevolent organisation. Given the public’s concern about cholesterol and its possible links to heart attacks, the AEB didn’t always cut through, and the medical establishment wasn’t eager to endorse their practices.

While the AEB was telling consumers that breakfast isn’t really breakfast unless there’s at least one egg involved, doctors were less enthusiastic. Despite the AEB’s efforts to promote their studies showing that eggs are good for you and might even lower the risk of heart disease, the partiality of the research was seen as an issue. Many were quick to see a conspiracy behind the egg campaign, and not entirely without reason. Others also accused them of using anti-competitive practices and restricting the market. But all of this fed into a counter-narrative around eggs, which presented them as potentially dangerous for your health. The naïve focus on cholesterol and the dominance of outdated concepts like the food pyramid on the public consciousness meant there were effectively two camps – one that saw eggs as a panacea, and another that saw them as deadly.

Today we have better research on the effects of cholesterol, and while there is no definitive view, it’s clear that the issue is not as clear-cut as previously thought. In Australia, we have a similar organisation to the AEB called Australian Eggs, although unlike its American counterpart it doesn’t enjoy any privileges from the government. It has similar aims of educating the public on the benefits of eggs and ensuring that they remain a staple of the Aussie diet, but it’s been less embroiled in controversy. From a keto perspective, you should absolutely get some eggs on your plate (or use them in your KetoBake cakes!), but there’s no need to go overboard. There’s wisdom in moderation, so make sure you get your healthy fats and protein from a variety of sources. And try not to get dragged into the partisan egg debate!