"Higher consumption of eggs is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke,” reads part of a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Medicine.
“Higher consumption of … eggs was significantly associated with higher risk of incident cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality,” reads a study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
So which is it? Will eggs kill you or not make much of a difference? Might they even make you healthier? The answer, almost certainly, is “yes.”
That’s because nutrition science is difficult and sometimes contradictory. Journalism on nutrition science is even worse. And we’re all going to die at some point — most of us from heart disease, incidentally — whether we eat tons of eggs or none at all.
Nutrition science is hard because it’s impossible to control for every variable. Most studies rely on people to report what they eat every day, for example, and the accuracy of those reports depends on memory and honesty — which should not inspire confidence.
The highest quality nutrition studies, including the recent one on eggs, try to account for other factors like exercise, overall health, age, race and socioeconomic background. But it’s impossible to fully adjust for the incredible complexity of each person’s individual lifestyle and genetics.
Even nutrition studies that incorporate dozens of other studies, called meta-analyses, are basically just combining lots of questionably meaningful data into a single questionably meaningful report.
At best, nutrition science is good at pointing out correlations. But two correlated trends might not really have anything to do with each other. And different studies often find different and even opposite results when looking for the same patterns.
This doesn’t mean we should ignore nutrition scientists’ work, which is important. Responsible scientists account for and acknowledge shortcomings in their reports, which can help people make sensible, informed decisions.
Those nuances can get lost, however, in the media.
“Drinking hot tea increases cancer risk: Report” was a headline on ABC News last week, for instance. That sounds terrifying, except that the study in question is really about the temperature of any kind of beverage and looked at esophageal cancer specifically.
Also, tea lovers can apparently cut their cancer risk by drinking their hot beverages at temperatures less than, say, scalding.
Besides, other reports have found that drinking some types of tea can help reduce the risk of cancer — or heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, stroke, weight gain, bone loss and pretty much any other malady. There are probably studies to debunk those claims too.
The broader point is that we’re not really sure what constitutes the healthiest possible diet or the best way to avoid ailments like cancer and heart disease. Realistically, the answers are probably as varied as our genetics.
So if you like eggs, eat eggs. If you like hot tea, drink hot (not scalding) tea. Eat and drink pretty much whatever you want as long as it’s within reason and moderation. And, of course, get some exercise and otherwise take care of yourself.
The most recent piece of major nutrition research I could find suggests that sugary beverages are linked to an increased risk of early death, which at least seems more intuitive than the other studies that made headlines last week.
Sweet tea, therefore, may not be a tremendously safe way to avoid the hazards of its piping hot cousins. Alas.
But don’t worry too much about it, because in the end we all have a 100 percent risk of death, no matter what we eat. So enjoy that omelet while you’re still here.
Ed Buckley is an editorial writer with The Post and Courier.