Monday, November 22, 2010

Stop With The Egg Whites

The New Yorker's food issue is out this week, and it features a lengthy piece about April Broomfield, the chef/owner of NYC's The Spotted Pig and The Breslin -- both of which are awesome for meat-lovin' Paleo eaters like me. Last month, M and I hit The Breslin for brunch, and ordered two full English breakfast plates, piled high with porky goodness, and with no beans or toast to spoil the fun.

We clearly did not do an adequate job of educating one of our brunch companions about the place, though. And as I mentioned in a previous post, he's not on the Paleo train. After scouring the menu in vain for something -- anything! -- that the USDA Food Pyramid and conventional dietary wisdom would smile upon, he asked our server whether the vegetable frittata could be made with egg whites. "No," she replied.

Of course, the server's intent wasn't to steer him towards better health. Chances are, she subscribes to the same beliefs that most people hold about the dangers of egg yolks and saturated fats and everything else on The Breslin's menu. I seriously doubt she's read Gary Taubes.

But you know who has? Director/producer/screenwriter/novelist Nora Ephron. She most certainly would not have asked for fucking egg whites.

Ephron was being interviewed by Michael Krazny on NPR's "Forum" this morning. I know next to nothing about Nora Ephron, other than that she wrote "When Harry Met Sally" or something, so I was only half-listening -- until Krazny gently chided her about her position on eggs and cholesterol. My ears perked up.

"Eating the cholesterol in eggs doesn't raise your blood cholesterol!" she countered. Krasny shot back that the Mayo Clinic says she's wrong. She stuck to her guns. And she happens to be right.

Here's what I dug up from an old HuffPo blog post of Ephron's on the subject:
[D]ietary cholesterol has nothing whatsoever to do with your cholesterol count. This is another thing I've known all my life, which is why you will not find me lying on my deathbed regretting not having eaten enough chopped liver. Let me explain this: you can eat all sorts of things that are high in dietary cholesterol (like lobster and cheese and eggs) and they have NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on your cholesterol count. NONE. WHATSOEVER. DID YOU HEAR ME? I'm sorry to have to resort to capital letters, but what is wrong with you people?

Which brings me to the point of this piece: the egg-white omelette. I have friends who eat egg-white omelettes. Every time I'm forced to watch them eat egg-white omelettes, I feel bad for them. In the first place, egg-white omelettes are tasteless. In the second place, the people who eat them think they are doing something virtuous when they are instead merely misinformed. Sometimes I try to explain that what they're doing makes no sense, but they pay no attention to me because they have all been told to avoid dietary cholesterol by their doctors. 
According to yesterday's New York Times, the doctors are not deliberately misinforming their patients; instead, they're participants in something known as an informational cascade, which turns out to be a fabulous expression for something that everyone thinks must be true because so many reputable people say it is. In this case, of course, it's not an informational cascade but a misinformational cascade, and as a result, way too many people I know have been brainwashed into thinking that whole-egg omelettes are bad for you.

So this is my moment to say what's been in my heart for years: it's time to put a halt to the egg-white omelette.
Hear, hear.

David H. Freedman wrote in this month's Atlantic about how the health studies you hear about on the news are almost universally fraught with error and bias -- and then the information cascade takes over and we go flying off the cliff with all the other lemmings. So what happens when another study comes out and draws the opposite conclusion -- which, by the way, happens ALL THE TIME?

Too late. We're already in freefall -- and we didn't even get to enjoy the frittata with the awesomely delicious egg yolks.