Sunday, February 08, 2009

Cholesterol numbers, and howd'ya like them eggs

Greetings from Saskatchewan where the weather is bright and not too cold for walks among the chickadees and nuthatches who have, we flatter ourselves to suppose, been waiting for us and our pockets full of peanuts since last winter's colony.

A little while ago I was having one of my food-obsessed conversations with someone and struggled to remember something I'd read about cholesterol in Gina Mallet's Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World. I tracked it down in her chapter on The Imperilled Egg.
Dr [Donald J.] McNamara explained that [in 1968] a group of food scientists got together and thrashed out the idea of setting a safe cholesterol standard. Some thought the whole idea unnecessary, but others were adamant. So the debate went back and forth and finally a compromise was reached. The average human intake of cholesterol is 580 mg (per litre of blood) a day, so let's just halve that. Make it 300 mg. 'There's not one bit of scientific evaluation in that number,' Dr McNamara added.
This was amazing to me; I've heard and read a lot about the egg debate but never seen the fundamental RDA numbers contested so simply. She continues, "Cholesterol is created by the way the body processes food, not by foods like eggs that contain cholesterol... So, overnight as it were, and on the basis of an arbitrary calculation the egg was in trouble, deep trouble."

(Of course the source of your eggs is a whole other question. As with anything we consume, we need to be aware of what our food was fed on. Eggs from battery chickens - fed on Omega-6 rich grains - will not be as nutritionally sound as from pasture or organically fed free-run chickens who can glean nutrients from varied sources and live healthier lives.)

Cholesterol - and the case of the imperilled egg - is only one of those areas where we've been battered by contradictory scientific opinions till we're not sure which way is up anymore. Mallet affirms the anti-nutritionism position for which Michael Pollan has been slammed by, of course, food scientists:
People today are blasé about food science because they have been frightened into changing their diets so many times only to be told later that the scientists were wrong. For years, people believed in food science and obediently ate fibre to stave off colon cancer. Then, suddenly, they were told fibre makes no difference. Margarine was briskly touted as an excellent, healthy substitute for butter, cheaper too: and even though margarine has a disagreeable taste and ruins any dish it is cooked with, people obediently used it, thinking they were lengthening their life span. Now, of course, margarine is ringed with red flags as a trans fat, the deadliest of fats.


Post a Comment

<< Home