A new study in the online journal entitled Risk Analysis reports that eating one egg a day accounts for less than 1 percent of the risk of heart disease, the leading killer of American men and women. This, in my opinion, helps deflate the myth that all eggs are always bad for you and can never be included in a heart-healthy meal plan.
The researchers cited lifestyle factors, such as a poor diet, smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle as chief contributors (30 to 40 percent) of someone's heart disease risk, with men having higher risks than women. Risk factors that could be potentially treated, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, accounted for a whopping 60 to 70 percent of the risk. In this light, a single egg doesn't seem so big a threat.
Eggs have gotten a lot of bad press of late. There seems to be a constant drumbeat, perhaps in the media, about eggs being off-limits if you want to keep your heart healthy. (Just today, I was seeing a patient of mine with young children and, coincidentally, one of his daughters asked me, "Are eggs bad for you?")
Instead of worrying about an egg a day, I think we should turn our attention to the potential risks of stress (especially chronic stress), physical inactivity, and poor overall diet choices (like diets high in junk foods and low in fruits and vegetables).
This research, which was (full disclosure) funded by the Egg Nutrition Center, serves to further substantiate the premise that healthy adults really can eat (whole) eggs without upping their heart disease risk significantly. And what's more, the authors noted that their analysis did not adjust for all the health-promoting benefits of eggs, which might decrease some heart disease risk.
What is it about eggs that could actually help your heart?
Eggs are high in choline, an organic, water-soluble nutrient that's usually grouped in with the B vitamins. They are also high in betaine, a nutrient related to choline. Together these 2 are associated with lower levels of homocysteine (an amino acid that studies has shown to be related to a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease). It's good to keep homocysteine levels under control because high homocysteine levels usually suggest chronic inflammation, a process that has been linked with heart disease, as well as to Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Treatment of a high homocysteine level usually involves supplementation of the B vitamin folic acid—but don't take more than 1,000 micrograms—1 gram—a day, or it can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Eggs are a great source of high-quality (or high biological value, HBV) protein; in fact, they are considered to be the best overall source of protein.
Eggs provide 13 essential vitamins/minerals, including riboflavin, an important B vitamin needed to help your body get energy from food. Eggs also contain vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin lacking in the diet of many Americans. People who are overweight and/or have diabetes are at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Eggs also help you feel full, since your body produces a hormone called PYY when you eat high-protein foods. PYY tells your brain you're no longer hungry, so if you're trying to lose some pounds, opting for a high-protein snack like a boiled egg can really help you feel full (and it's only 75 calories). I personally like the organic eggs high in omega 3 fatty acids (the healthy fats), from chickens raised without hormones or chemicals. These eggs are higher in omega 3s because of the healthier feed given to the chickens. The high-omega-3 eggs add another possible benefit to a balanced diet.
However, if, for whatever reason, you want to keep the fat and cholesterol content in your diet low, eat the egg whites and skip the yolk, since all the protein (and virtually none of the fat) is in the whites. There are even cartons of pure egg whites in the grocery store that make it easy. Or you could separate the eggs at home by discarding the yolks, or at least a few of them. This study, however, seems to be suggesting that even the egg yolk isn't anywhere near the health risk people have perceived it to be for all these years. They're also a very affordable source of protein, a big plus in today's economy!
Bottom line: If you really like whole eggs, and your doctor or dietitian thinks they're fine for you, then go ahead and enjoy them, yolks and all!
I love this for one reason and one reason only - I think egg producers across the USA, Canada and beyond have got us thinking, eggs in the grocery store are nutritious, while they are, I also believe those produced by folks like us, are significantly better.
One of my goals is to create a venue for backyard chicken farmers to validate themselves through an organizational effort. More on this soon.