Can Be Good for Health
Whether brightly colored and delivered by bunnies for Easter
or served as part of a Passover Seder, eggs are spring holiday
fixtures. But how do they fit into a healthy diet? Advice on the
subject is often confusing. After developing a bad reputation
among some health advocates, the egg was given a bit of a reprieve
in 2000 when new American Heart Association dietary guidelines
upped the limit from three or four a week to one a day.
But the guidelines were recently clarified again amid concerns
that people would believe they could eat them carte blanche. The
AHA now says if you choose to eat an egg a day, you need to keep
an eye on your total cholesterol intake. That's because the average
large egg contributes a whopping 213 milligrams of cholesterol
toward the total 300 milligrams recommended daily maximum.
While essential for some physiological functions, the body tends
to produce all the cholesterol it needs. So extra cholesterol
from the diet can be problematic. Having too much cholesterol
is a risk factor for heart disease the No. 1 killer in
But how does egg consumption fit into this picture when
estimates by the American Egg Board say that every person in the
United States will eat 261 of them in one form or another this
Some research indicates that the egg may not contribute as much
to heart disease as you may think, and others laud the egg for
its numerous health benefits even for those watching their
cholesterol intake. Moderation, as always, is the key.
Cholesterol's Only Icon?
The egg has become a symbol of high cholesterol, unhealthy eating
habits, and by extension heart disease.
"For 30 years now, [the egg] has been the icon of dietary cholesterol,"
acknowledges Donald McNamara, executive director of the Egg Nutrition
Center in Washington, D.C.
But recent research suggests that eggs might not be a major
contributor to heart disease after all.
One study, conducted by Harvard researchers and published in
the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999
looked at the egg consumption of more than 100,000 men and women.
It found that eating eggs on their own was unlikely to contribute
to heart disease and stroke in healthy individuals.
Moreover, the study found that people who ate eggs were more
likely to engage in certain heart-unfriendly behaviors like consuming
bacon, high-fat whole milk, and smoking.
"Eggs often get a bad rap, perhaps because they are often paired
with [artery-clogging foods like] bacon and sausage," adds Dr.
Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert
Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. and spokesperson
for the American Dietetic Association. "I'd actually rather see
people skip the bacon and sausage and keep the eggs."
But the fact remains that eggs are high in cholesterol and research
has shown that going over the recommended daily limit of 300 milligrams
can raise LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels increasing heart
"The best recommendation that we can make to the general public
is that if you want to keep your LDL low, then there should be
a reasonable limitation of cholesterol intake," says Alice Lichtenstein,
vice-chair of the American Medical Association's Nutrition Committee
and professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, Mass.
Because all of an egg's cholesterol is confined to the yolk,
many people avoid them altogether. But the yolk is also the most
nutrient-dense part of the egg.
"There's more to eggs than cholesterol, much more," says Jackie
Newgent, registered dietitian and culinary instructor at the Institute
of Culinary Education in New York. "They're an inexpensive nutrition
powerhouse containing high-quality protein, 13 essential vitamins
and minerals including folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin D, and
nutritive compounds all within a 70-calorie package."
Among those nutritive compounds are lutein and zeaxanthine,
which are thought to prevent macular degeneration the leading
cause of blindness in Americans age 65 and older.
Research also suggests that eggs are critical for women who
are pregnant or nursing, as they are a rich dietary source of
choline, which is depleted during these periods. Choline is thought
to be essential for normal fetal brain development.
"It concerns me, as a pediatric nutritionist, when parents want
to eliminate them from children's diets," says Ayoob. "They have
a higher quality protein than even meat or fish, and they're fast
Working With What's Left
"The recommendation is to keep your cholesterol intake below
300 milligrams a day," says Lichtenstein. "Whether you do that
by eating an egg a day and then limiting other sources of cholesterol,
or you don't eat eggs it's personal preference."
If you do opt for that egg a day, and want to stay within the
recommended daily range for cholesterol you're left with
87 milligrams before you're over the limit. That doesn't sound
like much, but it might be easier than you think.
"Surprisingly, that's still a lot to play with," says Newgent.
"The only foods that we need to keep a cholesterol check on are
basically meat, fish, poultry, dairy, butter and some high-fat
Foods that are plant-based like fruits, vegetables, beans and
nuts are cholesterol free and low-fat and fat-free dairy
foods contain very little. And of course, there is always the
option to skip the cholesterol-laden yolk and choose egg whites
or egg substitutes.
And experts say, instead of counting cholesterol day to day,
keeping track of your weekly average and staying below 2100 milligrams
might be easier to swallow. The bottom line is that the
egg can be A-OK, as long as you keep your eye on the big picture.
"Don't eat 12 of them," adds Will Clower, research scientist
at the University of Pittsburgh and author of The Fat Fallacy.
"But a moderate level can actually be good for you."
Reference Source 104