For many years eggs have been knocked down as one of the foods to avoid on a heart healthy diet because of their high cholesterol content. Based on a highly publicized report by the The American Heart Association (AHA) in the 70′s, it was believed that an egg is one of the sources of extremely high cholesterol and its intake should be reduced. Is this information all that it is cracked up to be? Are eggs really bad for cholesterol?
Cholesterol Content in Egg
Recent research conducted by USDA has indicated that the nutritional content of eggs is very different now compared to what it was years ago and eggs these days contain about 14% less cholesterol (and 64% more Vitamin D) than they did ten years ago. The changes in the nutritional quota of the humble egg are attributed to a difference in the diet the hens eat and the way they are reared in modern-day farming.
Ten years ago a large egg would have contained in the region of 215mg of cholesterol but today studies reveal that an egg of the same size only comes in at 185mg. The recommended daily allowance of cholesterol for people who have normal cholesterol levels sits at 300mg, whereas people who already have high cholesterol levels are advised to keep it down to 200mg a day, so a 215 mg of cholesterol egg would have been pushing the limits, when considered in the context of the cholesterol that was consumed over a day. At only 185 mg of cholesterol however, enjoying an egg these days still allows some leeway for a little more cholesterol from other food sources. Free-range hens who can forage for their own food and that are not commercially-fed have also been proven to produce eggs with a lower cholesterol content.
Nutritional Value of Eggs
Research has furthermore highlighted that eggs are an almost pure protein source and the highest source of protein out of all the foods, second only to human breast milk. While it is true that an egg’s cholesterol is contained in the yolk, eating only the whites can deprive you of valuable nutrition. 43% of an egg’s protein is in the yolk as are all the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and carotenoids making the yolk a valuable source of immunity for the body. These nutrients also lower your chances of getting Cancer, maintain healthy skin, bones and teeth, and assist with healthy thyroid function. The egg yolk also acts as a balance for the white’s amino acid content and skipping it can deprive you of this.
In addition eggs contain high levels of vitamin D, a vitamin that is not found in many food sources in abundance. They are also rich in vitamin B12, vitamin E, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, iron and the essential fatty acids that the body needs.
Impact of Dietary Cholesterol on Blood Cholesterol Levels
Significantly though, further advances have revealed that dietary cholesterol, or consuming cholesterol in your food, does not necessarily elevate your total blood cholesterol directly. While there are people who are considered to be “cholesterol-sensitive” because their levels are affected by what they eat, it has also been discovered that it is the liver that produces cholesterol in the body and, because of the body’s commitment to homeostasis (or maintaining regularity in the body), it will produce less when you consume more through what you eat.
Cholesterol isn’t all bad either. We need certain amounts of it for cell membrane production, as a base for our steroid hormones and for our sex hormones so we can’t leave it out of the diet completely. In some instances high cholesterol levels could indicate that your body is fighting an injury or working hard to repair damaged cells. People who are diagnosed as cholesterol sensitive can still reap the health benefits of the egg white which provides a great deal of protein.
When it comes to the dangerous conditions that can stem from heightened cholesterol levels, scientists agree that it is saturated fat and hydrogenated fats in the diet that pose more of a threat to your health. LDL or low-density lipoproteins line the insides of your blood vessels, causing a narrower passageway and inflammation which can increase blood pressure or block circulation completely if a clot passes through, putting you at risk of a heart attack or stroke. And eggs, it emerges, are significantly low in saturated fat compared to animal by-products like red meat, dairy products and shellfish. At only 5g of fat per egg, of which only 1.5g is saturated fat, eggs are a sensible addition to your diet. They also only contain between 65 and 70 calories per egg, which is great news for people who are following calorie-restricted diets.
Practically speaking, enjoying an egg every now and then should not be a problem at all. If a good breakfast for you means two or three eggs in one sitting, then it may take you over the recommended daily threshold. But, if you are only doing this once a week, you may still fall into the safe zone.
More important though is how you eat your eggs. Frying them in dollops of butter (saturated fat) or half an inch of oil (hydrogenated fat) is definitely going to have a huge negative impact on your heart health. Boiling or poaching is the healthiest way of preparing eggs. Remember also that the yolks need to be runny to get the full extent of goodness.
Finally, if you are in the high risk category, you should speak to your doctor about your specific situation before grab your keys and head out to IHOP for a hearty omelette. The key is, whatever you do, do it in moderation, and use your common sense.