Are eggs bad for your cholesterol?
Over the years, I have heard many ‘truths’ about the consumption of eggs.
In 1988, we were all advised to fear eggs by that time UK minister for health Edwina Currie. We were told that “Most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now affected with salmonella”. This has since been shown to be nothing more than scaremongering and the facts are that, during that period, of the 30million eggs sold there were only 26 cases of salmonella.
So, we were free to eat eggs again. Right?
Well maybe salmonella isn’t the big issue it was claimed to be, but what about heart disease? After all, egg yolks contain high levels of cholesterol and high cholesterol causes heart disease, so eggs are still out of bounds for anyone who has any interest in looking after their health & fitness levels as well as their longevity.
Is that the truth? Is that what people believe? Well, given that I ended up having the exact same conversation last week, about this very subject, twice in the space of 2hrs, I thought it might be time to put a few truths out there for general consumption.
So where did this link come from?
Early studies of eggs have shown that eggs do indeed increase cholesterol levels in the body and these studies are the basis of the link to heart disease that has now become the accepted truth. And the fact is that these studies are perfectly true in their conclusions.
However, it is worth noting that these studies were conducted by the makers of breakfast cereals in an attempt to show their product as the healthier option when choosing your morning fuel source. That fact alone should lead to some level of suspicion as to the quality of the findings.
As I stated earlier, the facts of the study are perfectly valid and accepted. However, the conclusions are far from truthful. What these studies failed to point out is there are different types of cholesterol within the body. There are LDLs (Low Density Lipoproteins) or BAD cholesterol as well as HDLs (High Density Lipoproteins) Good cholesterol. What is important to know is it is not so much the levels of these cholesterols that are the issue, but the BALANCE.
High levels of LDLs = Bad
High levels of HDLs = Good
And what the aforementioned studies failed to mention is what the resultant balance of each of these types of cholesterol was when eggs where consumed.
The cholesterol found in eggs is of the LDL type, so it must be that right?
Not so fast!
Eggs also contain carotenoids, Vitamin A, Vitamin E and choline (which has been shown to REDUCE cholesterol levels) so it should not simply be taken at face value that this is the case (as has been the case for so many years)
What does the research show?
In recent years, a number of studies have been done to test the actual effects on the body through the consumption of eggs and the results are rather interesting.
According the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Vol 281 which tested a total of 37,851 men aged 40 – 75 and 80,820 women aged 34 to 59 (all free of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia or cancer) there was “…no evidence of an overall significant association between egg consumption and risk of CHD (Chronic Heart Disease) or stroke in either men or women.”
A Kansas State University study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2001 showed that the absorption of cholesterol from eggs is reduced by lecithin (which is also found in eggs). The researchers found that lecithin (a type of fatty acid) interferes with the uptake of cholesterol in the intestine.
In 2007, a study of 9500 people reported in the Medical Science Monitor found that eating one or two eggs every day did not increase the risk of heart disease or stroke among healthy adults. The study also noted that eating eggs may actually be associated with a decrease in blood pressure.
A University of Washington study concluded that people with and without high blood cholesterol levels are better off if they eat 2 eggs a day.
A University of Connecticut study also showed that a group of men in the study who ate 3 eggs per day for 12 weeks while on a reduced carb, higher fat diet increased their HDL (that’s the good one remember) by 20% while their LDL (Bad) stayed the same. Whereas the group that ate egg substitutes (egg whites) saw no change in either.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
In the end egg consumption has been shown to have little influence on serum cholesterol levels, but it does affect the body in many other ways.
The type of cholesterol being produced is altered by the regular ingestion of eggs. As well as the 2 different types of cholesterol (LDLs & HDLs) there are also numerous forms of LDL cholesterol. According to Maria Luz Fernandez (Dept of Nutritional Sciences, University of Connecticut) the types of LDLs being associated with a 3-fold increase in Chronic Heart Disease risk is a smaller, denser and more highly concentrated than other forms and is characterized by both its high vulnerability to oxidation and greater ability to enter arterial walls. Egg consumption has been shown to increase the amount of larger, more ‘buoyant’ LDL particles, described as “less artherogenic particles” (Fernandez 2006). Therefore, the increase in the number of larger LDL particles lowers the number of the harmful small LDL particles in the bloodstream, reducing the risk of Heart disease.
As with most things in life, there are those who are more sensitive to dietary cholesterol than others. Such people are termed “hyperresponders” and again, the general rule was therefore to reduce the amount of cholesterol (including eggs) from their diet. (This generally included the elderly as a matter of course). However, whilst such sensitivity has been shown to increase LDL cholesterol from the consumption of eggs, studies have also shown that eggs also increase HDL cholesterol, keeping the LDL to HDL ratio constant, which is important as it is this ratio that determines your risk of heart disease which, in this case, shows no increase to the risk.
The exception to this, though, would be individuals already at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. At risk individuals would include smokers as well as diabetics. Quershi et al. (2007) found long term egg consumption to be “detrimental to glucose tolerance”. Generally, diabetics and those already at risk of cardiovascular risk should always be conscious of their dietary cholesterol intake, including egg consumption.
So now we’ve covered the risk of heart disease, what benefits do eggs have?
Well quite a lot actually:
The average egg contains around 60mg of potassium, at least 5 B vitamins, Vitamin D (which most people are highly depleted in), Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Choline (as already mentioned), Phosphorus and Zinc.
Eggs are also beneficial in that they contain mono-unsaturated & polyunsaturated fats including omega 3 & omega 6 essential fatty acids (Fats that are ESSENTIAL to our health and wellbeing and are far too important to be dealt with in the limited space of this article)
Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin (two similar carotenoids which act as antioxidants and are important for eye health and may also play a role in reducing oxidation of LDL cholesterol.)
In a nut shell (or in this case, an egg shell) eggs have only 75 calories, 5 grams of fat, no trans fats, are high in protein and contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals. They have been described by experts as ‘nature’s most complete food’ and should be considered an essential part of a healthy diet.
Does that mean you can go out and eat as many whole eggs as you like?
Well nothings ever that simple, is it?
If you look at the breakdown above, one egg contains 75 calories and 5g of fat. As one gram of fat is equal to 9 calories, that means one egg contains 45 of its calories from fat. That’s 60% of the calories coming from fat.
With any client, I have worked with I would rarely recommend a diet higher than 35% fat (usually less than this to start with, depending on their body type and specific goals) for the simple reason that anything higher (whilst sticking to a desired calorie intake level) would not allow for the required protein intake for maintenance or development of lean muscle tissue or would cause a severe carbohydrate restriction, which is also unbeneficial (but the subject for another debate).
Further, fat has the lowest thermic effect on the body (the number of calories burned during digestion) meaning that it is more likely, in large quantities, to cause storage of fat.
Yes, fats have their place in a balanced diet and many types of fats (EFAs) are ESSENTIAL in a healthy diet. But 60% fat is excessive. It is for that reason alone that I would recommend either consuming eggs as part of a meal that returns the balance back in favour of proteins and carbohydrates or mixing whole eggs with egg whites. A good starting point would be to use 2 egg whites for every whole egg (though again this will depend on body type & goals to determine correctly)
Not all eggs are equal
I would just like to quickly make the point that I am only endorsing the consumption of free range eggs here.
You’ve heard the adage “you are what you eat” and it is so very true. However, it is also true of chickens and as a result the eggs they lay. Chickens are designed to roam free & peck at high quality, fresh grains. They are not meant to be crammed into cages or barns and fed steroids to make them bigger & antibiotics to keep them healthy due to the unhealthy nature of their imprisonment. You will only receive the full benefits from your eggs if you get it from a natural source and that means free range.
You can possibly add to the effect by obtaining the ‘Omega 3’ variety (meaning that omega 3s were added to the diet of the chickens producing the eggs ‘slightly’ increasing the omega 3 content).
Trust me; it is not worth the small cash saving achieved in purchasing anything but free range. If nothing else, you will feel more satisfied and less likely to want to eat more with better quality nutrition which should ultimately save you more money.
In conclusion, if you were restricting your egg intake on the often-quoted basis of 3 eggs per week, I hope I’ve managed to put your fears to rest and that eggs will now become a greater part of your diet. Believe it or not, I have only touched on the benefits eggs can have to your training, dieting or general health and in today’s age of convenience foods, high sugar contents, processed ready meals etc it is nice to know that there is a nicely packaged, easy to prepare and very versatile food available to you.
One last tip – most foods, when consumed in high levels, can cause you to develop an intolerance to them. Whilst the evidence on this is a little vague regarding egg consumption, it would probably be a good idea to cycle off eggs every now and then, especially if you are consuming them at a level greater than 2 per day. Usually a simple 4-6 week change in diet removing eggs completely will be enough to reverse the trend and allow you to start experiencing the full benefits of egg consumption when you cycle back on again.
So the next time you reach for that sugar loaded cereal box in the morning or a ready meal for dinner, stop for a moment and consider the benefits of a freshly made omelette filled with healthy ingredients (spinach, onion, mushrooms, berries, peas, peppers, tomatoes etc. – take your pick the list is huge) Boil a few and put them in the fridge as a healthier snack than chocolate or crisps and take them with you along with some fruit if you don’t think you’ll have time to stop for a prepared meal. Scramble them and add smoked salmon mushrooms and asparagus or poach them and add to a fresh salad. You can add spices, garnishes or stick them in a blender with fruits and berries for a more balanced juice.
The list goes on and on.
Are Eggs Bad for Cholesterol?
by Mark Tiffney
Are You An Egg Connoisseur Already?
If eggs are already part of your regular routine, what is your favourite method of preparation?
Personally I find omelettes the easy option to add variety, so it is the most common. If I want something easy and quick (and a regression to my childhood) nothing beats eggs in a cup (mashed up with butter and some sea salt). And if I’m indulging (usually on my birthday every year) I’ll head to somewhere that prepares great eggs royale.
What about you? Share your favourite in the comments below and let’s see just how much variety and egg can bring to your plate (or cup).