Some folks within the vegan community got wind of my remark about occasionally consuming an organic, free-range egg. I have been asked about it, so I am going to address it here. It’s something that I do sporadically to semi-regularly, but not on any scheduled basis. And I buy humanely raised eggs, which is important to me. And such a thing is possible. I know a woman who operates, at her own expense, an animal sanctuary in New Mexico. And it includes birds, including chickens. And she gives them a wonderful life. And the chickens produce eggs, as chickens do, and they are invariably unfertilized eggs because she has no roosters. And once laid, the eggs hold no interest to the chickens. So, she started gathering them, and at first she just gave them away. But eventually, she decided to eat a few, herself, apparently because there were so many. Anyway, the point is that she’s an animal lover to the max, but even she eats eggs to some extent, stemming from the special circumstances that she is in. As she says, the eggs have no chance of becoming chickens, and it makes no difference whatsoever to the mothers.
But, as to why I do it, it’s partly just a matter of indulgence, although again, I do take care about how I source them. But, there are also some specific nutritional considerations that also prompt me to do it. For one thing, eggs are very high in choline- probably the highest source available. The RDA for choline for men is 550 mgs/day, but some studies have shown benefit from getting more than that, such as 800 mgs/day. A single egg yolk has around 250 mgs, depending on size. You do get choline from plants, but it’s hard to get your choline number up on a vegan diet. Very hard.
Then, there is taurine. Taurine is an amino acid, but it’s a functional amino acid, not a structural one. Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in the heart. Half of the content of free amino acids in the heart consists of taurine. Another way to put it is that there is as much taurine in the heart as all the other free amino acids combined. So, it must have great importance. Yet, there is no taurine in any plant food. Vegans are entirely dependent on the conversion of methionine or cysteine (which, like taruine, contain sulfur) into taurine. But how efficient is the process? Well, we humans are better at it than cats, who can’t do it at all. And when they don’t get taurine, they go blind. Taurine is very crucial to the eyes as well. But, some researchers have classified the human capacity for taurine synthesis as “marginal” or “limited.” Without taurine supplements, vegans tend to have much lower blood levels of taurine. And the longer you stay on it, the lower it goes. Is it a problem? I really don’t know, but if vegans wind up with sub-optimal taurine in their hearts, which seems possible, it’s worrisome. Taurine is involved in helping to regulate cardiac excitability and impulse transmission. The concern is that dangerous arrhythmias could develop, and keep in mind that arterial blockages are not the only way that people die from heart problems. Arrhythmias can kill too. There is also concern that sub-optimal taurine status in vegans may encourage platelet “hyperaggreability.” Among researchers, the taurine status of vegans is a major concern, but I have never heard any vegan doctor address it. Dr. John McDougall, for instance, advocates a taurine-free vegan diet, and he brags about the fact that his particular diet is also lower in methionine. And if you look at the charts that he provides of food comparisons, you can see that it's quite a lot lower. So you not only don’t get taurine, but you get less of the primary substrate from which taurine is made. Is it unsafe to do it? Well, I really don’t know, but I don’t think he knows either. And where are you going to err in a case like this? Are you just going to be a stalwart, a zealot, and ignore something that could develop into a serious problem? I say you err on the side of caution, and it’s clear what side that is in this case.
Now, keep in mind that there is some taurine in eggs, but definitely not as much as is present in other animal foods, such as seafood and organ meats. But, there is a lot of methionine in eggs, so at least you’re getting the thing from which taurine can be made. I should also mention that there is also the option of taking taurine supplements- but Dr. McDougall doesn’t recommend that either.
Moving on, there is the issue of Vitamin K2, menaquinone. There is none in plants. There is a ton of K1 in plants, but no K2. Vegans are entirely dependent on gut bacteria to make K2 for them. How efficient and reliable is that? I really don’t know, but I’m not going to rely on it. K2 is too important. It is what drives calcium into bone and keeps it out of arteries. Egg yolk is a rich source of K2. Again, I should point out that there are K2 supplements. I should also point out that you can get K2 from Natto, which is a fermented soybean product, but I can't eat that stuff.
Moving on, there is Vitamin D in egg yolk. I realize that sun exposure is the normal way to get Vitamin D, but it’s not guaranteed. As we age, we lose the ability to make Vitamin D from cholesterol in the skin. One study found that among adults living in Honolulu and getting an average of 11 hours of sun exposure per week, half were still found to be sub-optimal in their Vitamin D status. Where does that leave the poor schmoe living in Detroit? Of course, I realize there are Vitamin D supplements. But, if you’re going to take one, make it Vitamin D3, even though it’s not vegetarian. Vitamin D2 is a drug. It was developed as a prescription drug, but then it went off-patent. But don’t take it. Virtually all of the toxicity from Vitamin D reported in the medical literature has resulted from taking D2 and not D3. Hey, don’t listen to me. Listen to Dr. John Cannell at the Vitamin D Council. Read what he has to say about Vitamin D2. What I will tell you is that if you take that toxic stuff, you are being an idiot!
Moving on, there are the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (EPA and DHA) which you can get from egg yolk but which you cannot get from plants. And the free range eggs from pastured chickens that I eat contain more of these essential fatty acids. Vegans are entirely dependent on the conversion of the shorter chain ALA into EPA and DHA, but how efficient is the process? Not very, according to the experts. Check with The Omega Institute at http://www.dhaomega3.org/Overview/Conversion-Efficiency-of-ALA-to-DHA-in-Humans . And, it has been found that older men (of which I am one) have appallingly poor ability to make that conversion. So, I definitely want to get some pre-formed EPA and DHA in my diet. Of course, there are algae supplements that you can take that have DHA. But, they’re expensive, and typically they provide only 100 mgs DHA per capsule and no EPA. That isn’t much. Frankly, I think a high-quality fish oil supplement makes much more sense. And the one I prefer is ProOmega from Nordic Naturals which we offer here. It’s so purified it doesn’t even smell or taste fishy. Hey, you can do what you want, but I wouldn’t turn a blind eye to this. It’s a very important issue, so don’t blow it off just because some pundit or zealot says that all’s well in the world of veganism.
Then, there are other “carnonutrients” such as carnitine and carnosine, which you can’t get from plants, and which you may not synthesize adequately. They are found in animal foods, including eggs. And, I suppose the granddaddy of all the carnonutrients would have to be Vitamin B12. Of course, you don’t have to eat egg yolks to get Vitamin B12, although it has it. You can just take a Vitamin B12 supplement, and fortunately, most vegan doctors, including Dr. McDougall, advise doing that. Some years ago, the International Association of Hygienic Physicians released a position statement on Vitamin B-12, urging vegans to take it, and I am the one who spearheaded it and brought it to fruition. Vitamin B12 is absent from plant foods, and bacterial synthesis in the gut most definitely does not suffice for humans. That has been proven repeatedly. And it should give us pause because what it means is that there were no successful long-term vegans prior to the latter half of the 20th century. So, pure, absolute veganism isn’t old; it’s new. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad. But if it’s new, it means that if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right and make sure you take care of all the loose ends. Yes, there have been people and cultures who have eaten plant-based diets for generations, meaning diets predominated by plants. But they have not been exclusively vegan. The number of natural geographic populations of human beings who have been long-term pure, uncompromised vegans, reproducing themselves generation after generation down the line on pure vegan diets, is and has been exactly and precisely zero. So, if you are a vegan enthusiast, that’s fine, but, for your own sake, don’t get too darn cocky about it. There is a world of difference between a diet that is mostly and predominantly plant-based and one that is rigidly and exclusively vegan.