Unscrambling the Ongoing Debate About Whether You Should Eat Eggs3 years ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Before a woman in Italy named Emma Morano died about a year ago, she celebrated her 117th birthday!
And she partly attributed her longevity to eating eggs on a daily basis.
“When I first knew her she used to eat three eggs a day,” her doctor said.
But are eggs really good for you?
There is an overwhelming and often times conflicting amount of information about what foods you should and should not eat.
And it certainly appears that eggs have gotten a bad rap.
For example, people have been discouraged from eating eggs due to their high cholesterol content. Various studies like this study, published in the reputable medical journal Atherosclerosis, have suggested that “regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.”
“A large, new Northwestern Medicine study reports adults who ate more eggs and dietary cholesterol had a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death from any cause,” according to this report discussing a study published in March 2019.
The study suggested that eating three to four eggs per week was associated with 6 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 8 percent higher risk of any cause of death.
The reason why eggs are such a target when it comes to dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease is because eggs (mainly the yolks) are one of the highest sources of dietary cholesterol. And eggs are a pretty common in the American diet. (In 2018, the U.S. consumption was estimated at 278.8 eggs per person, according to Statista).
Some reports even compare eating eggs as being just as damaging as smoking cigarettes (when it comes to heart health).
(And, of course, anyone who follows a vegan diet is not going to be an advocate for eggs, usually due to moral and health beliefs).
On the other hand, you may be familiar with that catchy slogan: “The Incredible, Edible Egg,” from the American Egg Board. Obviously, this organization is a fan of eggs, but there is also medical research that supports the consumption of eggs.
Recently, a study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating up to 12 eggs a week for a year did not increase cardiovascular risk factors (like cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure) in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
The research was an extension of a previous study that found similar results over a three month period.
Participants of the study consumed either a low egg diet (less than two eggs per week) or a high egg diet (12 eggs per week). Both groups also went on a weight loss diet while still maintaining either the high or low egg diet. Not only was there no difference in cardiovascular risk markers for each group, but both groups also “achieved equivalent weight loss,” according to this report.
"While eggs themselves are high in dietary cholesterol - and people with type 2 diabetes tend to have higher levels of the 'bad' low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - this study supports existing research that shows consumption of eggs has little effect on the levels of cholesterol in the blood of the people eating them," said Dr. Fuller, one of the leads on the study.
“Despite differing advice around safe levels of egg consumption for people with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, our research indicates people do not need to hold back from eating eggs if this is part of a healthy diet.”(emphasis added)
To emphasize, it appears eggs may be fine to eat if they are an addition to an already healthy diet. So if you are eating a lot of fried foods, meat and full-fat dairy (other foods high in cholesterol), the addition of eggs may not be good for you.
But if you are eating a diet rich in nutrient dense fruits and vegetables (these foods are cholesterol-free and benefit the heart by being anti-inflammatory), then eating up to a dozen of eggs a week may not appear to pose any threats to your health, even if you already have some type of metabolic disease.
(The Heart Foundation suggests eating 6-7 eggs a week will not increase your risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy eating pattern).
According to Dr. Fuller, a healthy diet as prescribed in the new study discussed earlier stresses replacing saturated fats (such as butter) with “monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (such as avocado and olive oil).”
And not only may eggs not cause harm to our health, they may actually provide some health benefits.
“Dr Fuller said the findings of the study were important due to the potential health benefits of eggs for people with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, as well as the general population,” according to the report.
“Eggs are a source of protein and micronutrients that could support a range of health and dietary factors including helping to regulate the intake of fat and carbohydrate, eye and heart health, healthy blood vessels and healthy pregnancies," Dr. Fuller said.
According to one source, “Eggs are often referred to as ‘nature’s multivitamin pill’, with ample justification, because they contain vitamins A, D, E, and a range of B vitamins, in significant amounts.”
“They are also an oval treasure trove of minerals, 10 of them – calcium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, potassium, sodium, copper, iodine, magnesium and iron; and more obscure, but nevertheless vital micronutrients, choline, lecithin, lutein and zeaxanthin. If ever there was a genuine ‘superfood’, the egg is it.”
“While it’s true that just one egg yolk has 200 mg of cholesterol—making it one of the richest sources of dietary cholesterol—eggs also contain additional nutrients that may help lower the risk for heart disease,” reports Harvard Health.
The minerals magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium specifically may help with heart health.
If you only eat egg whites, are you missing out?
You may be, because the yolk contains more of the essential nutrients.
How much cholesterol should you have in a day?
This is something you should discuss with your doctor, however, not long ago U.S. dietary guidelines recommended that you eat no more than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol a day (no more than 200 mg if you have heart disease or have a high risk of developing heart disease).
So if you follow this guideline, eating just one to two eggs will make you go over the limit.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t be mindful of your intake of dietary cholesterol. When it comes to diet, moderation and balance is everything. You also need to be aware of your intake of saturated fats, trans fats and added sugars (all of which are generally found in ultra-processed foods and can heighten bad cholesterol in the body).
(Learn about “good” versus “bad” cholesterol here).
And keep in mind, your bodies do need some cholesterol. Your cholesterol can even be dangerously low.
The bottom line is that a diet or specific food that may work for one person may not work for you. You have to take into consideration what you personally eat on a daily basis, what your fitness habits may be and any existing medical conditions you may have. And most importantly, you have to practice moderation and make sure your diet consists of a variety of nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and other healthy foods, like legumes and lean protein.
Finally, it is always good to be aware of food recalls, including eggs. There has recently been a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella in eggs produced by Rose Acre Farms. Food recalls sometimes happen, and we need to stay informed so that we can protect ourselves. Click here to read about everything you need to know regarding this particular recall.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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