Eggs and Celery: Killer Foods

      80 Comments on Eggs and Celery: Killer Foods

I have a fantasy in which I’m allowed to conduct a nationwide experiment lasting several years.  It would work like this:  First, I get to select a harmless food I don’t like very much and wouldn’t mind giving up.  I think I’ll go with celery.

Then, working in cahoots with several prominent health organizations, I get to convince the American public that my selected food causes premature death.  Given the current state of nutrition and health journalism, this wouldn’t be a difficult task.  We could just trumpet a few studies showing that 75% of all heart attack victims consumed celery in the previous year, for example.  Eventually the media would be full of headlines warning people to cut celery from their diets.  TIME magazine would run a major article titled Sorry, It’s True … Celery Is A Killer.   (Subtitle:  party trays will never be the same.)

Now for the really fun part … a dozen years or so later, I would conduct a large epidemiological study comparing celery consumption with death rates.  And I can already guarantee the result:  people who eat a lot of celery tend to die younger.  This would, of course, prove that celery is a health hazard, right?

Of course not.  All it would prove is that health-conscious people had heeded the warnings and were dutifully avoiding celery.  Or, to look at it another way, it would prove that people who choose to ignore the dire warnings about celery are what doctors call non-adherers … or what I call people who don’t give a @#$%.  It would prove absolutely nothing about the actual health effects of celery.

But that’s not how most of the public or (sadly) most health professionals would see it.  The health professionals would avoid the stuff and counsel their patients to do likewise, citing my study as proof.  CSPI would blitz the media with press releases warning about the high celery content of take-out Chinese food.  (A heart attack in box!)  Joy Bauer would demonstrate how to use carrots instead of celery to scoop up fat-free ranch dressing.

Finally, for the big punchline, I’d get to announce that the whole thing was a joke, preferably on national TV.  “Fooled ya, folks!  There is not and never has been anything dangerous about eating celery.  Ha-ha!”

But by then, no one would believe me.   I’d be accused of being a flack for Big Celery.  I don’t care … I don’t like celery anyway.

Okay, that’s my fantasy.  (And yes, you are allowed to make wisecracks at this point … something about the wild fantasies of a 51-year-old computer geek should do the trick.)  Now here’s why I thought of it again today:

Some of you are familiar with Jason Sandeman, the Well Done Chef, because he’s written a couple of guests posts to share his recipes.  Jason was recently diagnosed as a diabetic — first as a Type 2, but then as a Type 1.  Over the weekend, I asked how he’s adjusting.  He replied today:

I have impressed the doctors and the nurses with how fast I have gained control, mainly by ignoring their advice. I am sure it is well intentioned, but misguided … I was directed to this study by a “helpful” diabetes nurse.

The study the nurse wanted Jason to read (actually, she wanted him to read an article summarizing it) is one that came out a couple of years ago and was reported all over the media with headlines such as Seven or more eggs a week raises risk of death.  Several bloggers with functioning brains took it apart at the time (I wasn’t blogging yet), but it’s worth another look, if only because it’s a perfect example of how demonizing a food can lead to exactly the kind of associations my anti-celery campaign would produce.

The Harvard team studied 21,327 men taking part in the much larger Physicians’ Health Study, which has been watching doctors since 1981 who have agreed to report regularly on their health and lifestyle habits. Over 20 years, 1,550 of the men had heart attacks, 1,342 had strokes, and more than 5,000 died.

“Egg consumption was not associated with (heart attack) or stroke,” the researchers wrote. But the men who ate seven eggs a week or more were 23 percent more likely to have died during the 20-year period. Diabetic men who ate any eggs at all were twice as likely to die in the 20 years.

Okay, this study already has problems.  Why were we all told to avoid eggs?  Because they’ll give you heart disease, by gosh! And yet the authors noted that egg consumption was not associated with heart disease — just with premature death in general.  Hmmm … so how exactly are the eggs killing all those doctors?  Are the doctors spilling eggs on the floor, then slipping on them?

I looked up the full study and found other problems as well.  The egg-consumption figures were compiled from food questionnaires mailed at various intervals over the course of the study:  baseline, 24, 48, 72, 96, and 120 months.  Those questionnaires are notoriously inaccurate.

But let’s suppose the doctors reported their egg consumption accurately.  Doctors are, after all, more likely than most folks to think carefully about their diets … which leads to another flaw in the study:  the participants are doctors.  Most of this study took place after 1984, which is when TIME magazine scared the bejesus out everyone about cholesterol and doctors started telling their patients to cut back on cholesterol and fat.  So we’re looking at a population that’s probably a bit egg-phobic to begin with.  An editorial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that accompanied the study pretty much says exactly that:

The egg intake pattern in this study population was extremely low: only 8% of participants were eating >= 1 egg/d. For comparison, 36% of the men in the Framingham study and 37% of men in a Japanese study with similar outcome assessments ate >=1 egg/d.

No surprise there:  doctors are far less likely than the rest of us to eat at least one egg per day.  That’s what they’ve been taught.  In fact, in the full text of the study, the authors stated that the median consumption of eggs among the doctors was one per week.

So … what kind of doctor ignores the advice — which has been shouted from the medical rooftops since at least 1984 — to cut back on eating eggs?  I can think of two kinds:

  • The very few doctors who know cholesterol-rich foods aren’t dangerous (Eades, Vernon, Sears, Ravnskov, etc.).
  • Doctors who don’t give a @#$%.

And wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what the study would suggest:

Men who ate the most eggs also were older, fatter, ate more vegetables but less breakfast cereal, and were more likely to drink alcohol, smoke and less likely to exercise — all factors that can affect the risk of heart attack and death.

Although the study didn’t mention it, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts the egg-eating doctors were also more likely to eat donuts and drink sodas.  I don’t know many people who drink, smoke, and avoid exercise but then avoid sugar because it isn’t good for them.

The “helpful” nurse no doubt wanted Jason to read the article because of this finding:

Among male physicians with diabetes, any egg consumption is associated with a greater risk of all-cause mortality.

The editorial states that most of the diabetic doctors were probably Type 2 diabetics.  So, once again, what kind of doctor is more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes?  A doctor who eats a lot of sugar and starch.  And since diabetics are counseled to go on very low-fat diets, which kind of diabetic doctor is more likely to eat eggs? A diabetic doctor who doesn’t give a @#$% … which means a diabetic doctor who is more likely to smoke, drink, avoid exercise, and be overweight.

To be fair to the researchers, they cited other studies that found zero association between egg consumption and premature death, and also mentioned the limitations of their own study.  Here’s an example:

The fact that our sample consists of male physicians who may have different behaviors than the general population limits the generalizability of our findings.

Our study has additional limitations. We cannot exclude unmeasured confounding or residual confounding as possible explanation of the observed positive association among diabetic subjects. In particular, we were not able to examine the effects of saturated fat, markers of insulin resistance, lipids, and other nutrients or relevant biomarkers on the observed association. While in our study, the lack of detailed dietary questionnaire prevent us from controlling for energy and other major nutrients, this was not the case in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study, where total energy intake was accounted for.

In other words:  We found an association — period.  We can’t actually explain it, because there were too many unmeasured or uncontrolled variables.  And by the way, several other studies found no such association. If you read the whole study, that’s the takeaway message.  But take another look at the headline and lead paragraph when the study was reported in the media:

Seven or more eggs a week raises risk of death

Men with diabetes who ate any eggs at all raised their risk of death during a 20-year period studied, according to the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Doesn’t using the transitive verb “raise” make it sound just a wee bit like cause and effect?  You know, like a Boy Scout raising the flag?  Doing it on purpose and all that?

That’s the sorry state of health and nutrition reporting.  Which means my celery experiment would be a fabulous success … well, for everyone except the Chinese restaurants and the celery-farmers.

Cover graphic by Chareva Naughton, who works cheap.

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80 thoughts on “Eggs and Celery: Killer Foods

  1. Amy Dungan

    Celery… blech! Not a fan of it either. Only good use for celery is throwing it at Meme Roth or Dean Ornish.

    Be careful. A stick of celery could probably knock MeMe Roth on her size-2 can.

    Reply
  2. AllenS

    I love how they jumped right from correlation to causation:

    “Men with diabetes who ate any eggs at all raised their risk of death during a 20-year period studied”

    A more accurate statement would be: “The male diabetic physicians in this study who engaged in certain behaviors such as cigarette smoking, high carb consumption, increased alcohol consumption, reduced physical exertion, egg consumption, etc. appear to have a higher correlation with reduced life expectancy than do male diabetic physicians in this study who did not engage in some of these practices. However, since all factors which affect life expectancy were not observed, it is impossible to tell which of these factors, if any, could possibly lead to life expectancy reduction. A double-blind, placebo controlled study would need to be performed on each factor to determine its affect on life expectancy.”

    But then this would have made it obvious that this study was useless. It’s also interesting to note that such a double-blind placebo controlled study has never been performed on cigarette smoking … not that I’m suggesting that it is a healthy habit.

    Your summary is accurate, but not likely to produce headlines or future funding.

    Reply
  3. Dan

    I’m diabetic and have been eating at least 2 eggs a day for the past 4 years. I feel alive and kickin’. Maybe I’m a zombie. I also like celery and don’t give a &(^&*%. Celery is a must to accompany hot wings. 🙂

    It’s appalling what passes for science these days. With the proliferation of media sound bites, what do you expect?

    Yes, but if you were doctor, the combination of eggs and diabetes would kill you.

    Reply
  4. Amy Dungan

    Celery… blech! Not a fan of it either. Only good use for celery is throwing it at Meme Roth or Dean Ornish.

    Be careful. A stick of celery could probably knock MeMe Roth on her size-2 can.

    Reply
  5. AllenS

    I love how they jumped right from correlation to causation:

    “Men with diabetes who ate any eggs at all raised their risk of death during a 20-year period studied”

    A more accurate statement would be: “The male diabetic physicians in this study who engaged in certain behaviors such as cigarette smoking, high carb consumption, increased alcohol consumption, reduced physical exertion, egg consumption, etc. appear to have a higher correlation with reduced life expectancy than do male diabetic physicians in this study who did not engage in some of these practices. However, since all factors which affect life expectancy were not observed, it is impossible to tell which of these factors, if any, could possibly lead to life expectancy reduction. A double-blind, placebo controlled study would need to be performed on each factor to determine its affect on life expectancy.”

    But then this would have made it obvious that this study was useless. It’s also interesting to note that such a double-blind placebo controlled study has never been performed on cigarette smoking … not that I’m suggesting that it is a healthy habit.

    Your summary is accurate, but not likely to produce headlines or future funding.

    Reply
  6. Dan

    I’m diabetic and have been eating at least 2 eggs a day for the past 4 years. I feel alive and kickin’. Maybe I’m a zombie. I also like celery and don’t give a &(^&*%. Celery is a must to accompany hot wings. 🙂

    It’s appalling what passes for science these days. With the proliferation of media sound bites, what do you expect?

    Yes, but if you were doctor, the combination of eggs and diabetes would kill you.

    Reply
  7. Kathy

    Hmmm. Isn’t celery high in sodium?

    What will happen if everyone is on a low sodium diet? Low blood pressure, unbalanced electrolytes, muscle cramps for starters. And the potassium substitutes can kill people who are taking potassium-sparing medications, so those are out for the general public. And what kind of salt are they talking about? Refined stuff that started out loaded with contaminants? I never would have believed that my chronic edema could be relieved by REAL salt, but it absolutely vanished within a few days after switching to Celtic sea salt. The ignorance of those trying to make policy is astounding. Doesn’t the FDA have plenty of other crises to deal with?

    That’s exactly what one of the doctors with a functioning brain pointed out: we don’t know what the effects of a drastic salt reduction would be, and we shouldn’t be conducting an uncontrolled experiment on the entire population.

    Reply
  8. TonyNZ

    Well, its half true… sorta.

    I eat about a tray of eggs a week (30 eggs) and my health is great. (Or maybe its just the countereffects of the litres of milk and 300g meat portions that counteract the bad effects of the eggs…)

    I havn’t fallen off the face of the Earth by the way, just had a new job (complete with only dial up internet available in this area), a wedding and a month long holiday, so seldom have been able to comment. Keep up the good work.

    Hearty congratulations on the wedding! My wife just recently wondered aloud if Tony from New Zealand is still alive and well.

    Reply
  9. Kathy

    Hmmm. Isn’t celery high in sodium?

    What will happen if everyone is on a low sodium diet? Low blood pressure, unbalanced electrolytes, muscle cramps for starters. And the potassium substitutes can kill people who are taking potassium-sparing medications, so those are out for the general public. And what kind of salt are they talking about? Refined stuff that started out loaded with contaminants? I never would have believed that my chronic edema could be relieved by REAL salt, but it absolutely vanished within a few days after switching to Celtic sea salt. The ignorance of those trying to make policy is astounding. Doesn’t the FDA have plenty of other crises to deal with?

    That’s exactly what one of the doctors with a functioning brain pointed out: we don’t know what the effects of a drastic salt reduction would be, and we shouldn’t be conducting an uncontrolled experiment on the entire population.

    Reply
  10. TonyNZ

    Well, its half true… sorta.

    I eat about a tray of eggs a week (30 eggs) and my health is great. (Or maybe its just the countereffects of the litres of milk and 300g meat portions that counteract the bad effects of the eggs…)

    I havn’t fallen off the face of the Earth by the way, just had a new job (complete with only dial up internet available in this area), a wedding and a month long holiday, so seldom have been able to comment. Keep up the good work.

    Hearty congratulations on the wedding! My wife just recently wondered aloud if Tony from New Zealand is still alive and well.

    Reply
  11. Bad Bad LeRoy Jones

    Celery eaters also have a 90% greater risk of losing a finger in their Insinkerator.

    From stuffing the celery down the drain?

    Reply
  12. Debbie

    I love my eggs too. Luckily my doctor has never even asked me about my diet – as she is already rabid to put me on statins because my total cholesterol has, for some reason, skyrocketed to 280 in the last 6 months. If she knew I ate eggs also she would probably make my life hell. Then again, she looks like she probably lives on celery.

    You already know this, but if you asked your doctor to name which study demonstrated a benefit for women who took statins in terms of either heart disease or mortality, she’d have no answer.

    Reply
  13. Bad Bad LeRoy Jones

    Celery eaters also have a 90% greater risk of losing a finger in their Insinkerator.

    From stuffing the celery down the drain?

    Reply
  14. Debbie

    I love my eggs too. Luckily my doctor has never even asked me about my diet – as she is already rabid to put me on statins because my total cholesterol has, for some reason, skyrocketed to 280 in the last 6 months. If she knew I ate eggs also she would probably make my life hell. Then again, she looks like she probably lives on celery.

    You already know this, but if you asked your doctor to name which study demonstrated a benefit for women who took statins in terms of either heart disease or mortality, she’d have no answer.

    Reply
  15. Wanda

    I eat lots of eggs myself, ever since protein power (mainly devilled or fried!). Since my ‘re-awakening’ to the LC High fat lifestyle, it irks me to see the diet propaganda in my entertainment. For example, I watch CSI religiously, and was so disappointed in one of the lead characters (or the writers, i guess). He compared switching the typical high sugar junk diet for an all-beef (a.k.a. fat and protein) diet by saying it’s like trading type II diabetes for a heart attack. ARRRRRGH!

    keep fighting the good fight… and you can keep the celery. Darn strings get stuck in my teeth! 🙂

    Yup, I see the same misinformation in movies and TV shows all the time. It’s part of the culture.

    Reply
  16. Wanda

    I eat lots of eggs myself, ever since protein power (mainly devilled or fried!). Since my ‘re-awakening’ to the LC High fat lifestyle, it irks me to see the diet propaganda in my entertainment. For example, I watch CSI religiously, and was so disappointed in one of the lead characters (or the writers, i guess). He compared switching the typical high sugar junk diet for an all-beef (a.k.a. fat and protein) diet by saying it’s like trading type II diabetes for a heart attack. ARRRRRGH!

    keep fighting the good fight… and you can keep the celery. Darn strings get stuck in my teeth! 🙂

    Yup, I see the same misinformation in movies and TV shows all the time. It’s part of the culture.

    Reply
  17. celeryman

    Well actually celery is not that good for you, at least conventionally grown celery isn’t.
    It is high up in the dirty dozen for spray residues, all 3, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

    Also pumped up with urea based fertilisers and water to be crisp and look good.

    We must ban this health hazard, now!

    Reply
  18. celeryman

    Well actually celery is not that good for you, at least conventionally grown celery isn’t.
    It is high up in the dirty dozen for spray residues, all 3, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

    Also pumped up with urea based fertilisers and water to be crisp and look good.

    We must ban this health hazard, now!

    Reply
  19. Karl

    Oh no! you mean I can’t have my bag of tasteless celery every day? What will I do now!

    I just heard Dr. Ravanskov’s interview with Jimmy Moore and he mentioned that in Scandinavian Countries the consumption of whole fat dairy products and eggs have increased quite a bit in the past few years. I remember visiting family in Denmark to have plain whole fat yogurt and whole milk offered at breakfast. At this time I was a skinny/unhealthy vegetarian and I couldn’t believe that they would be eating such horrible items. Now, as a converted fat eating/healthy (based on blood tests, and other measures) omnivore, I love my full fat plain yogurt and whole milk, eggs and meats. I can’t believe the amount of sugar that went into my Organic Vanilla Yogurt to make it edible after the removal of the fat!

    Thanks for your entertaining posts, I love reading them and will continue to promote the fat head movie.

    My girls love full-fat yogurt, but there’s only one brand on the shelves at the grocery store … surrounded by countless varieties with added sugar, all labeled “low fat!”

    Reply
  20. Carla Cannon

    I work with doctors and sometimes they run out of tater tots in the cafeteria and I look around at my fellow eaters and notice plenty of tater tots on the doctors’ plates. So I think their eating patterns are just as bad as the rest of us. Though I am sure in their minds they think they are very healthy eaters.

    They probably view tater tots as a good source of complex carbs.

    Reply
  21. Karl

    Oh no! you mean I can’t have my bag of tasteless celery every day? What will I do now!

    I just heard Dr. Ravanskov’s interview with Jimmy Moore and he mentioned that in Scandinavian Countries the consumption of whole fat dairy products and eggs have increased quite a bit in the past few years. I remember visiting family in Denmark to have plain whole fat yogurt and whole milk offered at breakfast. At this time I was a skinny/unhealthy vegetarian and I couldn’t believe that they would be eating such horrible items. Now, as a converted fat eating/healthy (based on blood tests, and other measures) omnivore, I love my full fat plain yogurt and whole milk, eggs and meats. I can’t believe the amount of sugar that went into my Organic Vanilla Yogurt to make it edible after the removal of the fat!

    Thanks for your entertaining posts, I love reading them and will continue to promote the fat head movie.

    My girls love full-fat yogurt, but there’s only one brand on the shelves at the grocery store … surrounded by countless varieties with added sugar, all labeled “low fat!”

    Reply
  22. Carla Cannon

    I work with doctors and sometimes they run out of tater tots in the cafeteria and I look around at my fellow eaters and notice plenty of tater tots on the doctors’ plates. So I think their eating patterns are just as bad as the rest of us. Though I am sure in their minds they think they are very healthy eaters.

    They probably view tater tots as a good source of complex carbs.

    Reply
  23. Semaj

    @Tom
    What about men who are just natural wimps? Do they live longer?

    Yes, we do 😉

    Well, I’m not a wimp. I’d like to be, but my wife won’t let me.

    Reply
  24. Semaj

    @Tom
    What about men who are just natural wimps? Do they live longer?

    Yes, we do 😉

    Well, I’m not a wimp. I’d like to be, but my wife won’t let me.

    Reply

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