People the world over are in growing numbers becoming acutely conscious of the diet-health relationship. The Medical profession, however, is in conflict as to the best foods for the body. The last ten years have been the decade of the egg. Millions are now eaten everyday as a source of protein, vitamin and good health.
This article explores the truth behind the egg. Not surprisingly, cracks have appeared, in an otherwise smooth shell!
Why People Eat Eggs
The widespread use of eggs in our country is partly due to medical prescription in matter of food. The nutritional formula adopted by doctors is :HPD (High Protein Diet) + 2 eggs. It is intriguing to note that eggs have found their pride of place in the diet of once staunch vegetarian families in India. They don't eat meat or fish, just eggs, yet they don't like to be branded as non-vegetarian.
The media blitz is largely responsible for encouraging the use of eggs. All forms of communication are used to drive home the point that eggs are a wholesome diet, are nutritious and unadulterated, that (surprisingly) they are a vegetarian diet.
A common equation used is that 2 eggs provide as much protein as would 2 glasses of milk, 6 kg of apples or 1¼ kg of tomatoes.
All this leaves the gullible consumer hypnotised, and a devoted egg eater. It is time we put such assertions to test and reflect upon them. It is only apt to ask: Wasn't the Indian vegetarian diet wholesome before the arrival of eggs? The craze for eggs is such that there are 60,000 poultry farms in India alone.
Brave New Chicken
The animals raised for meat, dairy products and eggs are being subjected to ever more deplorable conditions and treatment. Merely to keep the poor creatures alive under these circumstances even more chemicals have to be pumped into their bodies. The worst drug pushers don't work city streets, they operate today's 'factory farms.'
Millions upon millions of people are merrily eating away, unaware of the pain and disease they are taking into their bodies with every bite.
The raising of chickens today is not a process which overflows with compassion for these animals. Nor is it anything like the backyard operation that comes to most of our minds when we imagine the lives of chickens. Formerly, chickens were free range birds, scratching and rooting around in the soil for grubs, earthworms and grains. But today all this has changed. The raising of chickens has become completely industrialized. We live now, I'm sorry to say, in the day of the assembly line chicken.
Happy Birthday Male Chick
Male chicks, of course, have little use in the manufacture of eggs. How are the little fellows greeted when, having pecked their way out of their shells, expecting to be met by mum? What happens is vividly described by J.Mason and P Singer in their book 'Animal Factories.'
"They are, literally, thrown away. We watched at one hatchery as 'Chicken-Pullers' weeded males from each tray and dropped them into heavy-duty plastic bags. Our guide explained: 'We put them in a bag and let them suffocate."
It's not a picture to bring joy to a mother's heart, but over half a million little baby chickens are 'disposed of' in this fashion every day of the year in the United States.
And they are, perhaps, the lucky ones. Because for those chicks allowed to live, the life that follows is truly a nightmare.
Auschwitz of the Poultry World
Chickens are by nature highly social animals. In the natural setting they develop a social hierarchy, known as the 'pecking order'. Studies published in New Scientist reveal that this pecking order can only be maintained in flocks with upto 90 chickens. Beyond 90 birds, however, things can get out of hand. In today's chicken factories flocks tend to be much larger than the 90 bird limit. How much larger? The figures run into thousands depending on the factory.
In such mechanised hells the birds are unable to establish any kind of social identity for themselves, the cooped-up animals fight constantly with each other. They are driven berserk by the lack of space and the complete frustration of their primal need for a social order. They peck viciously at each other's feathers, frequently try to kill one another and even try to eat each other alive.
The experts have of course responded. They have to do something, because if very many of the birds kill each other money is lost. What is done? The conditions are made even more unnatural. A part of the chicken's beak is cut off! The experts and factory managers are of course not disturbed by the fact that the chicken is caused intense pain and is crippled for life. For them, profits must be kept up.
Further, irregular beak growth prevents the birds from eating and drinking water. The result is death from starvation and thirst, within inches of food and water.
Today's chickens are allowed no expression of their natural urges. The result is panic. In their panic, the birds will sometimes pile on top of each other and some will smother to death. Not to be out - smarted of profits, experts have decreased the problem by crowding the chickens so tightly into wire cages they can hardly move. The wire cages have created further problems. With no solid ground to wear the nails down, they become very long and get permanently entangled in wire. Needless to say, those birds who get stuck in the back of the cage starve to death.
Breakfast with a Conscience
The life of an egg laying chicken in the modern world demands attention. I can only ask, that if you, the reader, enjoy an egg for breakfast, or indulge in an occasional omelette, give a thought to the tortured chicken who supplied the egg.
Are Eggs Vegetable?
Those who harbor the thought of vegetarian eggs should know that these eggs are only unfertilized eggs. They have not been fertilized by the male. Hence, no egg can be called a vegetarian egg. The ovum is very much there in such eggs. The same egg could be fertilized if allowed to blend with sperm cells. If such an egg is hatched, it could produce a chick.
The ovum is a living animal cell that breathes, inhales oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide. The egg yolk and the egg white are for the protection of the foetus, in case the egg is fertilized. The advocates of eggs or vegetarian eggs should understand the simple biological phenomenon that occurs every month in the case of women but takes place every 22-24 hours in the case of hens. The egg that the hen lays is only an ovum. The difference between the growth of a human foetus and that of a hen is that the latter grows in an egg. Thus an egg, fertilized or unfertilized, is either menstrual secretion (ovum, or both, ovum plus sperms.
Would you include such a secretion in your diet? The choice is yours.
Eggs Versus Milk
Some erroneously equate milk with eggs. The comparison between eggs and milk is also out of place. While eggs are the result of the reproductive system, milk is a secretion of the nutritional mechanism. Eggs are for procreation while milk is for nutrition. Milk is food, eggs are not. An egg is a living animal cell. Milk is lifeless.
Eggs - A Healthy Diet?
How nutritious are eggs? Is there really no substitute for eggs in our vegetarian diet? What are their effects upon our health? We should spare a thought on all this.
To augment the sale of eggs, ad campaigns are launched which blow the value of eggs out of all proportion. For example, the National Egg. Co-ordination Committee advertised some time ago that eggs contain more protein than apples and tomatoes. And that two eggs provide us with more protein than 6 kg. of apples and 1¼ kg. of tomatoes put together. This is bluntly misleading. Can you really compare the pugilist Mike Tyson with maestro Ravishankar? The comparison is indeed out of place.
Dr.Vasant Jai who has been working as a nutritionist at the Hafkin Institute in Bombay, says: "Apples are consumed more for their minerals, vitamins and carbohydrates than for their protein content." He further questions whether the supporters of eggs have ever thought of the vitamin C content of fruits as against eggs? One would require 200 eggs to have 100 m.g. of vitamin C. While the same quantity of vitamin C can be had from one amla or quarter kilogramme of oranges or tomatoes!
Dr.Jai even asserts that nutritionally eggs have 95 per cent ill-effects.
What are these minus points? Let us begin with the protein content. There are two schools of thought on getting the most protein out of eggs. One school favors raw eggs while the other favors cooked eggs.
Leslie and Susannah Kenrton write in their work 'Raw Energy' that avidin in the egg white of a raw egg blends with bilotin which doesn't allow the biotin to reach the blood stream. They cite an example of a youth who out of eating raw eggs fell prey to loss of appetite, anaemia, nausea, anotexia and muscle pains. Also, the albumin which blends with blood without being digested causes several types of allergies.
The cooked egg or fried egg is also not without its hazards.
In their best seller called 'Fit For Life,' Dr.Harvey and Dr.Maryilyr Diamond say that cooked eggs are without amino acids as the heat destroys them. There is also evidence that egg protein on heating, combine with important minerals making them unavailable for use by the body.
Even if they are eaten raw, eggs are laid by hens that are fed arsenic to kill parasites and stimulate egg production, and you ingest some of that virulent poison. Eggs also contain much sulphur, which puts a heavy strain on the liver and kidneys.
Thus, eggs eaten for protein cause health hazards, when eaten raw and when cooked that same protein is destroyed. The egg eater is so faced with the devil's alternative.
Protein Versus Eggs
It is erroneously believed that protein gives energy. But, says Dr. Diamond, "Protein does not produce energy, it uses it." He cites an example of a lion that sleeps 20 hours a day and an Urangutang (vegetarian) that sleeps just six hours a day.
It is apt to note the observation in this regard that appear in 1978 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), "Those athletes who take a wholesome diet need not take protein-rich items like eggs for muscular growth. They need as much protein as do non-athletes. But protein does not give strength. Actually, lots of energy is wasted in digesting extra protein intake which also causes dehydration, loss of appetite and diarrhoea."
A report published in 1961 in the same journal said that a vegetarian diet goes a long way in preventing heart disease.
This reveals that eggs and meat contain a high amount of cholesterol. Says Dr.Catherine Nimmo in 'How Healthy Are Eggs?' "You can certainly do without more of eggs. One egg contains 4 grams of cholesterol. And greater doses of cholesterol causes heart ailment, blood pressure, and gall bladder and kidney stones. Fruits and vegetables do not contain any cholesterol."
Some doctors advise eggs to anaemic patients. But in case of anaemia it is iron that is wanting and eggs contain little iron, while green leafy vegetables are rich with iron. Leafy vegetables, for example contain 7 to 10 times more iron than eggs. And millet, kidney beans and grams contain four times more iron and jaggery five times more iron than eggs. An egg prescription therefore is totally out of place.
Some people have a mistaken idea that only eggs and meat contain vitamin B-12 and that vegetarians therefore suffer from its deficiency.
This is blatantly untrue and fabricated.
Actually, pernicious anaemia is found among patients in western countries. It is hardly evident in our country. We only need vitamin B-12 in minute quantities. One milligram could be enough to meet your requirement for two years. Interestingly, most healthy persons have enough B-12 to last for 5 years. One is tempted to ask where the hen got her B-12 from!
An Overall Health Hazard
Eggs and meat, as is well known do not contain fibers which are much needed for the smooth disposal of faeces. Wheat, grams, soyabeans, kidney beans, ground nuts and leafy vegetables contain ample fibers.
Extensive research is also increasingly labelling eggs as a growing cause of ill health. Dr.Robert Grass thinks that eggs could be a cause for tuberclosis and dysentery. Whilst Dr.J.M. Wilkins states that they cause ulcers.
There is yet another warning. Extensive research in Florida U.S.A. has revealed that D.D.T. an insecticide, extensively used in poultry farms, entr the eggs and thus egg-eaters are threatened with potential health problems.
Hens are also given hormones to augment production of eggs. These hormones, when in the human body, is speculated could cause breast cancer, high blood pressure and jaundice. They also affect the fertility of men. Dr.Grass says eggs could even be responsible for eczema and paralysis.
A report that appeared in JAMA in 1988 says that eggs are largely responsible for food poisoning. The report was the result of a study of cases of diarrhoea, vomitting, fever and severe headache. The bacteria Salmonella enteritis was pin-pointed as the cause. Salmonella is found abundantly in eggs.
And so, eggs are not all that they are made out to be. Whether we include them in our diet is up to us. But for all morally minded and health loving individuals the decision must surely be a firm "No!"