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Published on September 04, 2013

The Great Egg Debate

By Sara German, RD, LN
Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

One of the wonderful things about the field of nutrition is that it changes all the time – there is always something new to learn.  That’s also one of the not-so-wonderful things about the field of nutrition. For example:

As we all know, eggs (or at least egg yolks, the whites are fine) are full of cholesterol and should be avoided to prevent heart disease. Right?

Well, as it turns out, the humble egg is a food that nutritionists have gotten wrong for a long time. Much of the concern about the egg has centered on its cholesterol content. High LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day, and a large egg contains about 185 milligrams, more than half of the recommendation. We might expect that eliminating cholesterol from the diet would prevent it from getting into our blood, but the reality is that the effect dietary cholesterol has on blood cholesterol levels is relatively small. In fact, studies have shown that people who restricted their intake of carbohydrates and ate more eggs actually had improved cholesterol levels.

In an article recently published in the British Medical Journal, researchers examined eight studies that looked at the relationship between egg consumption and the risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. They found that people who ate one egg per day were not at increased risk for heart disease or stroke. The exception was people with diabetes – diabetics who ate the most eggs were more likely to have heart disease.

On the plus side, eggs are fairly inexpensive and pack a lot of nutrition into a small package. One large egg contains six grams of high quality protein and only 70 calories, along with iron, vitamin A, and other nutrients. Eggs are also fast and easy to prepare, making them a natural addition to breakfast. Recent research suggests that eating a high protein breakfast can increase fullness and decrease feelings of hunger later on in the day, so adding an egg to your morning could actually help you lose weight.

A registered dietitian’s take on the subject:

A guiding principle in dietetics is moderation, and this definitely applies to eggs. Categorizing food as “good” or “bad” is misleading, because almost any food can fit into a healthy diet (including my favorite category of food: dessert). Based on the available evidence, eggs are not as “bad” as we used to think they were: eating an egg a day can be part of a healthy diet. Eating four eggs every morning, on the other hand, is probably too much.

It’s also important to remember that everyone is unique. It’s possible that certain people may be sensitive to dietary cholesterol, and limiting egg consumption may be helpful for them. Additionally, based on we know now, people with diabetes should be careful. But the majority of Americans don’t need to feel guilty for choosing a whole egg omelet instead of the egg white variety – and as a yolk lover myself, I think that is (pardon the pun) “egg”cellent.