by Selva Wohlgemuth, Co-op News contributor
Selva Wohlgemuth, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist
Dear Nutritionist: Although I love the taste of eggs, I try to avoid eggs because heart disease runs in my family. Are eggs safe to eat or should I limit them entirely?
With spring in the air and Easter around the corner, eggs are making their appearance on the table in more ways than just a breakfast scramble. Although eggs are a very nutrient-dense food including protein, cholesterol, choline, and vitamin A, previous dietary recommendations for the public encouraged limited consumption of eggs to reduce the risk of heart disease. Today, new research has found the opposite (1).
Epidemiological studies have suggested that a diet high in eggs, more than six eggs per week, can be safe for the general public.
Epidemiological studies (research studies that follow humans over multiple years) have suggested that a diet high in eggs, more than six eggs per week, can be safe for the general public. Results from a Framingham study found no association between the amount of eggs consumed and heart disease. Furthermore, cholesterol levels were not affected by diets either low (1 egg per week) or high in egg consumption. Many other large-scale epidemiological studies support the above findings as well (1).
cholesterol levels were not affected by diets either low or high in egg consumption
Additional findings from multiple well-controlled studies that followed high-risk populations (those with a high risk of developing heart disease, already have heart disease, or with type 2 diabetes) found that eating 2 to 4 eggs per day for 4 to 8 weeks had little to no effect on total and LDL cholesterol. Some even noted a beneficial increase in HDL cholesterol, otherwise known as good cholesterol (1).
More recently, two studies published earlier this year found that eating 2 to 3 eggs per day for 2 to 4 weeks improved satiety more than oatmeal by reducing the hunger hormone ghrelin, and improved lab markers for heart disease (2,3). They also found a decrease in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and an increase in HDL cholesterol and choline.
Choline is a very important nutrient for brain, heart, and liver health; fertility and pregnancy; and reducing inflammation. Interestingly, only approximately 11 percent of Americans are meeting their daily requirements of choline and as many as 50 percent have genetic variances which makes it necessary to consume even more than the average recommended amounts of choline (4,5). Eggs are the most concentrated source of choline in the American diet, providing about 150mg per egg. The most concentrated source of choline is liver, providing 350mg per 3-ounce serving.
However, when the epidemiological studies looked at subgroups of the population, a positive association between high egg consumption and development of type 2 diabetes was seen. For example, in the Physician’s Health Study, men and women who ate seven or more eggs per week had a 58 percent and 77 percent (respectively) higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes (6). Other studies found similar results (7).
Before deciding how many eggs are safe to eat, one must first look at the big picture. Did the individuals with high egg consumption possibly eat less fruits and vegetables than those with lower egg consumption? Did they eat less whole grains and beans? Did they exercise daily? Did they smoke? Although all these factors affect the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, most epidemiological studies do not or cannot control for all of these factors (7). Interestingly, in the Physician’s Health Study, the men with high egg consumption did exercise less and smoked more than those with lower egg consumption (1). So, was it the eggs that promoted the development of diabetes or rather the other poor lifestyle choices? I would think the latter.
The key to health is to eat a variety of whole foods that are minimally processed.
Therefore, based on the current research, eating eggs regularly can be safe and may even provide additional heart benefits. Just keep in mind that if you only eat eggs you may be pushing out another food item that also provides health benefits. The key to health is to eat a variety of whole foods that are minimally processed, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and quality meats and fats. Eggs fit into that picture, especially those that are pasture-raised, which naturally contain higher concentrations of the potent antioxidants vitamins A and E than their conventional counterparts. And finally, for even more heart health benefits, enjoy daily exercise.
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