For several decades, the humble egg has been maligned because of its cholesterol content and the concern that eating eggs raises coronary heart disease risk. Most of this concern appears to be theoretical, however, since more recent data from population studies indicates that moderate egg consumption does not significantly raise cholesterol levels, nor does it represent a risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease.
Debunking a myth.
In a report published in the British Medical Journal, the results of eight studies evaluating the risk of eating eggs on the development of coronary heart disease and stroke were pooled. This method of combining results, called a “metanalysis,” provides more reliable conclusions than an individual study. Following the author’s analysis, they found that “higher consumption of eggs (up to one egg per day) is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke”.
There were two subgroups of study subjects in which the results varied from this conclusion. In diabetic patients, egg consumption did appear to be associated with a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease. In another subgroup with the highest reported consumption of eggs, their risk for a particular type of stroke (hemorrhagic) was reduced by 25%.
Nutritional value of eggs.
Eggs are a uniquely nutritious food. Each egg, at around 75 calories, packs 7 grams of the highest quality protein of any food. The fat content is approximately one-third monounsaturated, considered to be the healthiest type of fat. Eggs also contain iron, vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients like lutein, omega-3 fatty acids, and choline, important for vision and brain health.
Dietary vs. Blood Cholesterol.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day. At 200 mg of cholesterol per large egg (all within the yolk), it would seem that egg consumption should be limited or eliminated in order to avoid going over the AHA’s recommended limit. Actually, most of the cholesterol that circulates in the blood stream does not come from cholesterol in foods but is produced in the liver in response to eating saturated and trans fat. In American diets, the majority of saturated fat comes from animal products such as beef, pork, butter, cream, cheese and other full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are found in many fried foods and baked goods such as pastries, pizza dough, pie crust, cookies and crackers.
Guilt by Association.
The biggest problem with eggs may not be the eggs themselves, but the company they keep at mealtime. Combining eggs at breakfast with cheese, sausage, hash brown and biscuits will almost certainly raise your cholesterol level as well as expanding your waistline.
The Bottom Line.
Based on current evidence, it appears that eggs, eaten in moderation, can not only contribute to our eating pleasure but are also an important component of a healthy diet. Moderate consumption is commonly set at one egg per day or seven eggs per week. People who have elevated total or LDL cholesterol, may want to decrease this number or choose to eat egg whites instead. Likewise people with diabetes or heart disease should reduce their egg consumption to around three per week.
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