Feb. 12, 2020

Debunking Cholesterol and Egg Myths

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The reputable science website Medical News Today compiled a list of the top 15 healthiest foods , and it’s no surprise to me that eggs made the list, alongside nutrient-dense powerhouses such as broccoli, almonds and blueberries. Eggs are protein-rich, and are a source of 14 key nutrients , including iron, folate and vitamin B12. In fact, a whole egg contains all the nutrients needed to turn a single cell into an entire chicken! Wow.

This idea was summed up perfectly in a 2019 review study , which says: “Egg is an encapsulated source of nutrients that meet all requirements to support embryonic development until hatching. The perfect balance and diversity in its nutrients, along with its high digestibility and its affordable price, has put the egg in the spotlight as a basic food for humans.” I like to add that they are versatile and delicious too!

Unfortunately, some people still worry about the cholesterol in eggs, or believe in outdated heart health research, which has since been proven wrong. So, today I’ll share the most current research on eggs, cholesterol and heart health, so you can feel confident that eating eggs (even daily!) is a healthy decision.

The alarm bells about eggs went off in the late 1960s, but it was a slow climb until a nation was united in the concern over eggs and cholesterol. If you were into nutrition in the 1990s, you’ll remember the height of the concern. Nutrition guidelines were directing people to be cautious about the cholesterol in egg yolks. Even Jerry Seinfeld was ordering egg white omelets at Monk’s Café! But as the 1990s ended, so did this poor advice.

In 1999, a Harvard study found that eating an egg daily is unlikely to have substantial overall impact on the risk of heart disease among healthy men and women. That led to a tidal wave of change, and more research has been conducted since that day. A University of Connecticut study from 2006 found that healthy populations experience no risk of developing heart disease by increasing their intake of cholesterol, and may actually benefit from including eggs in their regular diet.

The most recent research, including this 2018 review study , shows that dietary cholesterol does not negatively affect blood cholesterol levels, and in some cases it even appears to improve some measures of cholesterol, specifically HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. These studies also note that they cover the likely effects of eggs and cholesterol for about 2/3 of the population, and results may differ for people who have different medical responses to cholesterol (known as hyper-responders ), or people with type 2 diabetes. Studies are ongoing in these populations.

So – that’s an important point. It appears that the response to eating whole eggs depends on the individual. Studies show that for most people, HDL or good cholesterol goes up , and total and bad cholesterol levels usually remain unchanged , but sometimes increase slightly. When it increases, it’s often a change in the “bad” LDL cholesterol particles from small to large . People with predominantly large LDL particles have a lower risk of heart disease , so even if eggs cause mild increases in total and LDL cholesterol levels, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern.

Cholesterol is actually important for the body, and helps make steroid hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Most cholesterol is made in the liver, and does not come from the food we eat.

The bottom line? Studies show that most people can eat eggs daily -- up to seven eggs a week -- without increasing cholesterol levels or their risk of heart disease. One recent study showed that even 12 eggs per week can be healthy too! Bonus: studies show that egg consumption may even help prevent heart disease certain types of stroke and a serious eye condition called macular degeneration that can lead to blindness. You can read more about that in a previous blog post, found here .

Margaret Hudson

President, Burnbrae Farms