Organic Egg Farmer Wages War on 'Health' Agency

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Story at-a-glance -

  • America’s No. 2 egg brand, Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, has asked the U.S. FDA to reconsider its labeling rules, specifically requesting eggs be considered a “healthy” food
  • Among the puzzling inconsistencies associated with food labeling, the FDA allows processed junk food such as chocolate pudding, toaster pastries and sugary cereal to be labeled as healthy
  • Eggs are a nutritious food source and research shows it is “extremely difficult” to obtain sufficient amounts of choline unless you eat eggs
  • Due to the risk of Salmonella and other disease-causing bacteria associated with conventional eggs, if you want a healthy egg you’ll want to buy free-range, pastured organic eggs

By Dr. Mercola

Jesse Laflamme, chief executive officer of America's No. 2 egg brand, Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs, is asking tough questions about how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets its food labeling rules.

After filing a 17-page citizen's petition with the FDA in April 2018, Laflamme took to his company's blog to make his point.1 Beneath photos of four food items, Laflamme posed this question: "Which of the following does the FDA consider 'healthy'?"

The three so-called healthy choices noted were fat-free chocolate pudding, low-fat toaster pastries and sugary cereal — all of which the FDA considers to be good for you simply because they contain a few beneficial nutrients.

Surprisingly, the fourth food item featured — organic eggs, a completely natural product — does not meet the FDA's standards for application of the word "healthy."

Laflamme, who is passionate about saving his family's third-generation egg farm from bankruptcy, is urging the FDA to reconsider its labeling rules to allow egg companies like his to add the word "healthy" to their products as a means of educating consumers — some of whom still believe eating eggs is bad for you.

If you think the FDA has your best interests in mind when it comes to food labeling, you may want to keep reading. The system regulating food labeling in the U.S. clearly is broken and it's clear eggs are a healthy food. Here's why.

The Puzzling Inconsistencies of Food Labeling

The basis of Laflamme's petition centers on the apparent inconsistencies noticeable in how the word "healthy" is applied to various foods under the umbrella of oversight provided by the FDA. About these inconsistencies, Inc. magazine asserts:2

"The FDA has strict rules governing food labels' nutrient content claims, but it also broadcasts puzzling inconsistencies. For example, the agency says an egg has too much fat, saturated fat and cholesterol to be considered healthy, but seemingly bad-for-you foods like low-fat pudding, which may be rich in potassium, calcium, iron and vitamin D are considered healthy."

The agency announced plans in September 2016 to change its rules related to what it deems healthy, but has been slow to act or comment publicly about the status of its efforts. In the meantime, Laflamme and others are growing impatient with the delays.

He says, "It's so antiquated and out of touch. The idea that a toaster pastry — a Pop Tart — is healthy or that Jell-O is healthy is crazy ... We know we are shortchanging ourselves by not being able to say eggs are healthy … [I]t's time to fight back."3

The FDA has up to 180 days to respond to Pete and Gerry's petition and nothing has come of it yet. A CBS television affiliate in Boston that was in contact with the agency says an FDA spokesperson told them, "[T]he agency is reviewing nutrition science data and public input as it considers modernizing the criteria for the term 'healthy.'"4

Laflamme wants the FDA to change its ways because he believes an updated label is needed to dispel outdated and misleading information about eggs. After all, he says, "A whole generation grew up being told eggs were harmful."5

How Can Chocolate Pudding and Toaster Pastries Be Considered Healthy?

On the company's blog, Laflamme notes the apparent discrepancy related to the treatment of eggs as compared to the FDA's handling of products long considered to be junk food. Says Laflamme:6

"Toaster pastries (Pop-Tarts), flavored gelatin (Jell-O) and fat-free chocolate pudding are all considered 'healthy' products, while eggs are not. That seems like a ridiculous notion … But, believe it or not, that is what the FDA says on the matter.

Those products may use … 'healthy' in reference to their products and Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs cannot, despite ample evidence to the contrary. We are hopeful that with the advances in nutrition science and understanding … the FDA will issue new guidance on eggs."

The company enlisted the support of registered dietician and nationally recognized healthy living expert Keri Glassman in its efforts to petition to the FDA.

"It is long overdue that eggs be restored to their proper place in the American diet," says Glassman. "It's one of the best sources of natural, nutrient-dense protein you can find, to say nothing of its convenience and flexibility as a food."7

Given the skyrocketing rates of unhealthy eating and obesity in the U.S., Laflamme believes consumers are "waking up" and beginning to educate themselves about the nutritional value of the foods they eat.

"The result has been a move away from processed, artificial foods in favor of simple, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and natural proteins — like eggs," notes Laflamme. "We believe by pushing the FDA on this out-of-date definition, we can help drive this healthy eating trend forward."8

Glassman calls the FDA rules "outdated and misleading," encouraging Americans to eat more nutrient-dense whole foods like avocados and wild-caught salmon, as well as organic, free-range eggs, mainly because they are healthy additions to any diet.

"Americans should be eating more of [these foods] as well as be encouraged to avoid sugar-packed, processed foods that are filled with unhealthy ingredients, but can still be labeled as 'healthy,'" she says.9

A Great Source of Choline: Why Eggs Are a Healthy Choice

While the consumption of chicken as a source of meat protein has become popularized in recent decades, eggs have become unfairly vilified, in part because of misconceptions regarding their cholesterol content. In reality, eggs, particularly the yolks, provide important vitamins such as A, D, E and K, as well as antioxidants and essential omega-3 fats.

Eggs are also one of the best sources of choline available. Choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications and prevents the buildup of homocysteine in your blood, which is good because elevated levels are linked to heart disease. Choline also helps reduce chronic inflammation.

This vital nutrient is also prized because it enables your body to make the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is involved in storing memories. In pregnant women, choline plays an equally, if not more, important role, helping to prevent certain birth defects such as spina bifida, while also playing a role in your baby's brain development.

According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, only 8 percent of U.S. adults are getting enough choline — including only 8.5 percent of pregnant women.10

Among egg consumers, however, more than 57 percent meet the adequate intake levels for choline, compared to just 2.4 percent of people who do not consume eggs. Based on the outcomes, the study authors concluded, "This research illustrates that it is extremely difficult to achieve the adequate intake for choline without consuming eggs or taking a dietary supplement."11

Some of the symptoms associated with low choline levels include lethargy, memory problems and persistent brain fog. Because your body can only synthesize small amounts of this nutrient, you must get it from your diet on a regular basis. One egg yolk contains nearly 215 milligrams (mg) of choline.

More Good Reasons to Eat Eggs

Beyond the presence of choline, egg yolks are good for you because they're rich in the antioxidant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are well-known to support healthy vision. In addition, egg yolks are an excellent source of healthy fat and contain about 6 grams of protein.

While you can buy eggs at nearly any market or convenience store, if you want a healthy egg you'll want to purchase only organic, free-range, pastured eggs. Why? Because they are far superior than other types when it comes to nutrient content.

I advise against eating conventionally raised eggs mainly because they are far more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella.

You can usually tell if your eggs are pastured simply by checking the color of the egg yolk. Hens that forage for their food produce eggs with noticeably bright orange yolks. In contrast, the presence of dull, pale yellow yolks is a sign your eggs were sourced from caged hens that are most likely fed an unnatural diet.

What About Cholesterol?

If you are middle aged or older, it's possible you may still harbor misconceptions about eggs and cholesterol. After all, for decades, the American public was told that eggs, as a source of cholesterol and saturated fats, promote heart disease. In a 2015 study titled "The 50-Year Rehabilitation of the Egg," the journal Nutrients credits the American Heart Association with promoting the mistaken guidance about eggs and cholesterol, stating:12

"The 1968 American Heart Association announced a dietary recommendation that all individuals consume less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day and no more than three whole eggs per week.

This recommendation has not only significantly impacted the dietary patterns of the population, but also resulted in the public limiting a highly nutritious and affordable source of high-quality nutrients.

The egg industry addressed the egg issue with research documenting the minimal effect of egg intake on plasma lipoprotein levels, as well as research verifying the importance of egg nutrients in a variety of issues related to health promotion. In 2015, dietary cholesterol and egg restrictions have been dropped by most health promotion agencies worldwide."

While it's true fats from animal sources contain cholesterol, it is not necessarily harmful. In recent years, studies have clearly shown eggs — particularly egg yolks — to be one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Even though egg yolks are relatively high in cholesterol, numerous studies have confirmed eggs have virtually nothing to do with raising your cholesterol. About this, NPR comments:13

"[E]ating cholesterol can raise levels of it in the blood, but, as a growing body of research has shown, not by that much. Consuming sugar, trans fats or excessive saturated fat (from unhealthy sources) can be more harmful to cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol itself.

Most of the cholesterol in our bodies we make ourselves in the liver, and total body levels are heavily influenced by genetics, gender and age. As more and more research suggests that some degree of cholesterol consumption is harmless, if not healthy, the egg's reputation is gradually returning."

Final Thoughts About Eggs, the Petition and the FDA

The bottom line is eggs are indeed a healthy food. The guidance provided by the FDA is outdated and practically absurd. You and I can recognize that adding vitamins to sugary cereal and highlighting the calcium content of chocolate pudding as a means of promoting them as "healthy" is ridiculous.

If the FDA classifies a wide array of junk food as healthy, then eggs most certainly deserve the same label. As mentioned, when produced by healthy, foraging hens, eggs are a natural food and one that is packed with health-boosting vitamins and minerals.

The folks at Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs are correct in demanding more from the FDA. Anyone producing organic, free-range eggs should be able to apply the word "healthy" to their product labels. About the disconnect with respect to FDA labeling for eggs, Laflamme states:14

"While nutrition experts recognize eggs as a nutritious food, many would probably be surprised to learn that federal regulations prohibit the use of the word 'healthy' to describe eggs.

Our goal with this petition is to encourage the FDA to bring outdated regulations in line with current nutritional science and general consumer awareness, and thereby help shoppers make more informed choices in the grocery store aisle."

No matter what the FDA says, if you are able to tolerate them and have a reputable source from which to obtain high-quality organic ones, you'd be wise to remember: Eggs are healthy and it's OK to eat them.