What’s worse: the egg or the (Kentucky Fried) chicken?

by Crystal Goomansingh

Dozens of journals of medicine and countless health-related research studies are released on a daily basis. Some analyze ongoing research, some focus on future health evolutions, and some have been torqued simply to try to get media exposure.

When a news release from the University of Western Ontario crossed my desk with the headline comparing the health benefits of an egg with those of the Double Down from Kentucky Fried Chicken ("KFC's Double Down or an Egg – What's Worse?"), I knew that it would soon become the stuff of water cooler chatter around the world.

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In a review published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, three Canadian medical experts allegedly concluded that a single egg is worse than the double chicken, double bacon, double cheese sandwich at KFC, known as the Double Down.

An egg has more cholesterol, if you're willing to read past the headline of the news release, and patients at risk of cardiovascular disease are advised to limit their total dietary cholesterol to less than 200 milligrams per day. An egg has 215 to 275 milligrams of cholesterol, while the KFC Double Down has 150 milligrams.

Several registered dietitians and representatives from the Egg Farmers of Canada expressed outrage at the comparison. Canada is in the midst of an obesity crisis, gorging on foods that lack basic nutrition; type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing, and for the first time in history, there are enough overweight babies to create a category for preschool obesity. To suggest that there may be more health benefits in the KFC flavor of the month than in an egg raises some questions.

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I called the University of Western Ontario to request an interview and obtain a full copy of the review. I was told that Dr. David Spence, the expert quoted in the news release, was out of the country, but Dr. Jean Davignon of the Clinique de Nutrition Métabolisme et Athérosclérose in Montreal, one of the other medical experts named in the news release, agreed to do an interview with me.

I asked Dr. Davignon a few questions about the review and challenged him on the comparison of an egg to the KFC Double Down. He seemed confused by my questions and went so far as to suggest that I had misinterpreted his work. I suggested that he go online to review the University of Western Ontario news release to see how his paper was being presented to the media. He admitted that he had never heard of a Double Down!! While looking at the computer screen he started saying things like, "This is not my statement," and "…this is like comparing bread to oranges."

Photo by David Harrigan, the Canadian Press

This story was a huge sensation and appeared on TV, in print and online, in Canada and around the world. How is it possible that one of the experts whose name is associated with the review didn't even know how it was being presented?! Worse yet, was I the only one who actually spoke with him prior to reporting on this story?!

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The registered dietitian I spoke with was appalled that one of the experts quoted in the news release was not aware of how his findings were being presented. She called the entire situation "scary" and questioned how anyone is supposed to make sense of health issues presented by the media.

KFC's Double Down or an Egg – what's worse? I'm not a doctor, but it doesn't take a Ph.D to suggest that folks who need to limit their cholesterol could skip the egg yolk. Maybe limit the daily intake of Double Downs as well.

Crystal is Global National's Manitoba correspondent, based in Winnipeg.