Recently, I was on a plane chatting with the passenger in the ever-coveted middle seat. While our conversation started as a typical shoot the breeze type of topics, she soon found out I am a dietitian. With that, our conversation quickly turned into an impromptu counseling session at 30,000 feet. My seat neighbor was quite interested in finding out what my opinion was on general nutrition, supplements, and weight loss. For years she had been following advice from her family, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and the news. While she was informed about many nutrition topics, she still felt unsure about what was best. Especially, due to how contradictory nutrition-related topics might be from person to person, literature, or the media.
(i.e. Weight loss is best with caloric restriction vs. Weight loss is best with exercise, Coffee is good vs. Coffee is bad, Calcium aids in weight loss vs. Calcium does not aid in weight loss. The list goes on…)
The majority of people who find out I am an RD are genuinely curious and interested in nutrition. However, like the passenger I met on that flight, far too many people I meet are confused. Rightfully so, as even basic news stories can be misinterpreted, misrepresented, or simply just missed by the media. For example, let’s take a look at how a research article from the Journal of Atherosclerosis entitled “Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque” was recently covered in the news.
Here’s how some of the headlines looked…
No yolk: eating the whole egg as dangerous as smoking? (L.A. Times)
Egg Yolks, Smoking Clog Arteries Similarly, Says Study (Huffington Post)
Eating egg yolks is as ‘bad as smoking’ in speeding up coronary (DailyMail Online)
Eating egg yolks leads to two-thirds of the plaque buildup you’d see in a smoker’s arteries, study shows (CBS News)
Here’s an article synopsis…
In this particular study, researchers used smoking (pack-years) to provide perspective on the magnitude of atherosclerotic plaque burden related to egg intake in 1262 participants, mean age of 61.5, who were patients attending vascular prevention clinics (Spence, Jenkins, & Davignon, 2012). Forty seven percent of subjects were women. Study data was collected via ultrasound (to measure total plaque area in the arteries) and questionnaire forms (regarding lifestyle, medications, pack-years of smoking, and number of egg yolks consumed per week).
Researchers found plaque area in patients consuming <2 eggs per week was 125 ± 129 mm2, while those with >/= 3 eggs per week averaged plaque area of 132 ± 142 mm2. Total plaque area increased with age and exponentially with egg-yolk years and smoking pack-pack years. Thus, authors suggest regular consumption of egg yolks be avoided by those at risk of cardiovascular disease. Below is a graph used in the article which compares the severity of plaque compared to age, pack-years and egg yolk years.
While it’d be great if everyone read past the headlines, reality is most people don’t (myself included — unless it’s about nutrition, of course). Thus, someone who may have just read a headline about this article might think eating whole eggs is equally as bad as smoking. When in reality, the authors simply used smoking as a reference point to showcase the severity of cardiovascular illness in people already diagnosed or at risk for cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, especially when considering the population used, any consumption of high cholesterol (or high fat foods for that matter) besides egg yolks, may have illustrated similar results.
Nutrition research is exciting! But as we’ve learned here today, it’s important be mindful of how, where and whom by facts are interpreted and presented. Especially by those not as interested in nutrition as we might be. After all, as the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover – or in this case — a news article by it’s headline.
One great resource I like to use to keep up-to-date with research (currently in the news or not) is the website ScienceDaily.com, as they always provide a citation to the original research article, and tend to present the facts without opinion.
What are some of your favorite ways to keep up-to-date with nutrition research?
Spence, J.D, Jenkins, D.J.A., Davignon., J. (2012). Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque. Atherosclerosis, 1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2012.07.032