April 28, 2009

Why did eggs partially survive the anti-fat witch hunt?

Let's turn from data on the availability of certain foods to actual consumption patterns, which I've pieced together from various years of the USDA's Agricultural Statistics. We all know that sometime in the late 1970s or early '80s, the anti-fat hysteria took off. Some foods show a steady decline from the mid-1980s up through 2006, and I'll show those not too surprising graphs later. But take a look at how egg consumption has changed since 1985 (the earliest year of the data):

At first, there's the predictable decline. Then in the early '90s, it creeps slowly upward, and shoots up from 1999 to 2004, with a modest decline afterward. This is not like other foods that were targeted as evil by the fat-haters. What's going on?

It's true that eggs may have enjoyed a rebirth (or whatever it's called when they were never born in the first place), due to the fashion for low-carb diets during this time period. Here is a graph of the NYT's coverage of the Atkins Diet and low-carb things:

Still, if that's the reason, why didn't any of the other low-carb / high-protein / high-fat foods also see a reversal of their declines? There's no upsurge during this time for whole milk, beef, or animal fats (butter, lard, etc.). The first two decline steadily, while the third stays pretty flat (at a low level) from 1985 to 2006. There's something funny about eggs.

My guess is that since eggs come from chickens, they are protected by the halo of saintliness that we've bestowed on chickens -- what with their negligible fat, once skinned, their white meat, and so on. Chicken consumption has steadily increased from 1985 onward. On the other hand, milk and common animal fats come from cows, and that's where all that fat and saturated fat comes from -- we all know that stuff is going to kill you. (Just like it regularly killed off the Masai of Kenya, whose traditional diet consisted of red meat, whole milk, and cow's blood.) Because we've made a demon of the cow -- ironic, considering how India-emulating a lot of the anti-fat fruitcakes are -- its many dairy by-products are tainted by association.

As a final sidenote, for those who are somewhat lactose intolerant like me, and certainly if you're OK with dairy, I suggest junking yoghurt and using heavy whipping cream instead. Even the full-fat, unsweetened Greek yoghurt contains 7 g of sugars per serving. That's not a lot, but it's enough for me to notice a small spike in my insulin levels -- judging by the fatigue I've gotten while trying yoghurt again. I used to wake up rarin' to go after just 6 or 7 hours of sleep, while on yoghurt I easily slept 9, 10, or at worst 12 hours.

Heavy whipping cream is so rich that you won't need to use very much to cover a small portion of berries. It has less than 0.5 g of sugars per tablespoon, yet it has 6 g of fat, 4 g of which is saturated. Yum yum. The lactose content is a bit above cheese and a bit below yoghurt, so if you can have yoghurt, you can surely substitute this for it. It's been almost 3 hours since I had some, and I've had no problems. Next on my to-do list: Devon cream or clotted cream. I'll have to use a low-carb bread / muffin / scone, and fruit instead of jam to keep the sugar count down, but the pictures I've seen of cream tea have made me drool.


  1. Another option is eating straight sour cream right out the box, like I do, and hold the berries.

  2. I bet eggs remained popular because they are indispensable for baking: able to form a light foam, add savoriness without a dominating flavor, and coming in a liquid form that mixes easily with dry ingredients.

    One trick with heavy cream is to add it to milk. Remember, for every glass of that nasty 0% skim milk that somebody drinks, somebody else has to drink a glass of 8% fat milk. The universe must not go out of balance!

    Yogurt gives me a migraine. I suspect the bacteria go to work on all that dissolved protein and make a slew of simple amines, many of which bear a striking resemblance to neurotransmitters.

  3. A related problem on fat consumption is that meat animals have been selectively bred to reduce fat for three decades. Most grocery store pork loins are so lean now that you have to slow cook them with lots of bacon or olive oil just to keep them from being as dry as sawdust.

  4. The biggest problem regarding modern day meat production is not so much the fat...but the quality of fat.

    Namely, cows fed their natural diet of GRASS on open range pastures, produce cuts of meat that are much leaner than the feedlot, grain fed factory farm method that makes up 95% of all the beef and beef products consumed in the US today.

    The fat from grain fed cows is far less nutrient dense than grass fed cows, and the ratio of fatty acids is out of whack - grass fed beef has the ideal ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6...while grain fed feed lot cows have far more Omega 6 and a lot less if almost no Omega 3 fatty acids.

    This is ONE contributor to the obesity epidemic...the imbalance of fatty acids in the SAD (Standard American Diet) is one of the biggest causes of cellular inflammation.

    Of course, replacing the animal fats as primary cooking oils with the vegetable oils has been a much larger source of the Omega fats imbalance...but grain fed cattle is certainly a lot more unhealthy and malnourishing than grass fed beef.

    Here's a really great article done by a researcher who really breaks down the Omega fats factor in the SAD - The Queen of Fats (pdf)

  5. "The fat from grain fed cows is far less nutrient dense than grass fed cows, and the ratio of fatty acids is out of whack"

    Not only that but it doesn't taste like it should.

    Ever notice how good fresh cut grass smells? Well cream from grass fed cows actually smells and tastes like that. It's amazing when you're used to cream basically smelling and tasting like nothing but smoothness.

    -Steve Johnson


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