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.