By BUD HERRON

Eggs may make me healthier. Then again, they might kill me.

Therefore, I should: (A) eat all I want; (B) eat no more than 1.5 eggs per day; (C) just eat two or three each week; (D) only eat egg whites; (E) never eat an egg, even if I am kidnapped by a giant chicken and tortured.

At various times in my life, “experts” gave me the answer to that multiple choice question. The absolute, iron-clad answers came from government nutrition guidelines, medical researchers, egg producer associations, new-age health fanatics, meddling friends and a long string of family doctors.

Well, actually, my mom was my earliest source on the “truth” about eggs. She told me eggs were “brain food” and needed to be eaten every morning “as part of a well-balanced breakfast” if I were to learn anything at school. (I ate them, but didn’t seem to get noticeably smarter.)

Then, when I was 10 years old, President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack at the age of 64 while visiting his mother-in-law in Denver. (Stress was suspected as the cause, which most married men found reasonable at the time.)

Ike was hospitalized, placed on oxygen and monitored across the weekend. By Monday, he was well enough to eat a soft-boiled egg for breakfast, according to reports in that day’s edition of The Evening Republican (now The Republic).

Within weeks, however, Dr. Ancel Keys, a physiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, was on the cover of Time magazine introducing a new word into the language of most Americans: cholesterol. Supported by Dr. Paul Dudley White, a nationally-known cardiologist, Keys was saying the president likely had clogged his arteries with cholesterol — with a finger pointed directly at the “incredible, edible egg.”

In 1961 — the year my 48-year-old father died from a “coronary thrombosis” — cholesterol was added to the official list of reasons people were having so many heart attacks and strokes. I assumed that settled the issue. Cholesterol was a terrorist and the Easter Bunny needed to be tried for crimes against humanity.

By the late ’60s and on into the ’70s, everyone I knew was on a “low cholesterol” diet, and eggs were at the top of Santa’s “naughty list.” However, every time I was about ready to save my life by removing the beloved cackle berries permanently from my diet, a story about some new study popped up in the newspaper or on television, saying eggs were now cleared of all responsibility for human mortality. (Some of these studies were not even paid for by egg producer associations, but came from real university research.)

Then, in a couple of years, new research arrived under headlines claiming lab rats had died just looking at an egg placed outside their cages. Usually, before I could gather all the eggs in my refrigerator and seal them in lead-lined cartons for disposal, up popped the next study saying eggs are not only harmless but are my best defense against dementia or rabies or a hangnail.

Family doctors tried to help people understand the situation better by dividing the discussion into “dietary cholesterol” and “serum cholesterol” and then adding the term “lipoproteins” — divided into HDL and LDL for clarity. Fats were now called lipids for cosmetic reasons. (People were offended when their doctors said their blood was fat, but evidently could handle the idea that their blood was overly lipid.)

By the mid-1980s, new drugs were on the market to try to lower chemically the amount of the bad lipids and thus lower the cholesterol levels. Today, 50 percent of American men and 38 percent of American women are taking these drugs.

All that said, neither the greatest scientific minds nor my otherwise brilliant cat, Scooby, seems to have a clear answer to the question posed at the beginning of this column. Most “expert advice” is “moderation” — a cautionary, medical dodge similar to a Protestant minister telling a parishioner to attend Saturday night Mass at a Roman Catholic church — “just in case.”

And I must admit I am not smart enough to answer the question myself, which probably means Mom was right: I need to eat more eggs.



Herron is a retired editor and newspaper publisher who lives in Columbus. He served as publisher of The Republic from 1998 to 2007.