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You may have noticed recently that there was yet another big hoopla about eggs and the health “risks” associated with them. This is all thanks to a correlation-based epidemiological study that was released just in the last couple of weeks.
The authors of this study argue that consuming dietary cholesterol or eggs is associated with incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality. They suggest that caution is warranted and that there is no “safe” level of egg consumption.
So eggs are “bad” for us. Again. Or are they? (Are we seriously having this debate still?)
Normally, I don’t get too worked up about these kinds of studies that come out every other week. If I did, I’d probably increase my risk of heart disease and death just from the stress of trying to stay on top of all of these ridiculous, back-and-forth arguments.
Nutrition research is notoriously overblown and full of hyperbole. I hate to say it, but I’m pretty skeptical of any nutrition research that comes out these days!
But since I was asked to contribute to an article over at MindBodyGreen on the topic, I figured I’d share my thoughts in greater detail on the blog. It’s important that you all know that there’s no need to be afraid of healthy, whole foods like eggs.
My mission is to help women have the least restrictive, healthiest, and most enjoyable diet possible. Including eggs in your diet regularly is no exception.
Here are my brief responses to the questions I was asked about whether or not we need to worry about eating eggs. Be sure to click on the links in each paragraph if you want to dive into the nitty-gritty details of each topic I cover.
If Not eggs, What are the contributors to high cholesterol levels and heart disease?
The truth is there is significant controversy over whether or not total blood levels of cholesterol is a reliable indicator of heart disease risk in the first place. Arguably the best blood lipid-related marker of heart disease risk is the total-to-HDL cholesterol ratio, which ideally should be below 4 (3-4 is optimal).
In addition, things like insulin-resistance, inflammation, and liver function have significant impacts on our cholesterol balance and how that cholesterol in our blood impacts our arterial health. Simply zeroing on total cholesterol levels is not helpful when it comes to predicting a person’s heart disease risk.
Beyond that, in the study that came out recently, the diet questionnaire was completed only one time during their 17-year study, and this limited data was the basis of their conclusions. These diet questionnaire studies are notoriously inaccurate, and to draw any firm causative conclusions from this type of data is impossible.
Finally, the risk increase the authors found from eating eggs was only 6-8%, which even if it were based on completely accurate data, is still such an insignificant increase compared to the true risk factors for heart disease. Compare that to smoking cigarettes, which increases your CVD risk by 200-400%, or taking the birth control pill, which increases your risk of a heart attack by 50-80% in some cases!
Truly, skepticism is an appropriate response when it comes to most nutrition studies. We need to be focused on the true heart disease risk factors, not be splitting hairs about the pros and cons of consuming nutritious real foods like eggs.
What are the Health Benefits of Eggs?
Eggs are an awesome, convenient source of protein, especially at breakfast. A high protein breakfast can help keep our blood sugar more stable during the day.
And egg yolks, where all the cholesterol is found, are truly a superfood that’s packed with nutrients. Egg yolks contain most of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need for good health, but there are three nutrients in particular that they contain in significant quantities.
First is choline, a nutrient that is critical for brain and liver health, and especially important to consume large quantities of during pregnancy. 100-grams of egg yolks contains 683 mg of choline, which is ten times more choline than what even the most nutrient-dense vegetables contain. Choline is absolutely critical for fetal brain development during pregnancy, yet most women consume less than the recommended 450 milligrams per day.
Second is Vitamin K2, an under-appreciated fat-soluble vitamin that is actually protective against heart disease by preventing arterial calcification. In our Western diet, egg yolks are one of the biggest contributors to our K2 consumption since we don’t eat much goose liver or natto! By avoiding egg yolks, we would almost certainly be minimizing our intake of vitamin K2.
Finally, a third nutrient that egg yolks contain large quantities of is biotin, a nutrient that is well-known for supporting hair, nail, and skin health. One egg yolk contains 10 mcg of biotin, which provides over a third of the biotin we need each day.
How many eggs per week would deliver meaningful nutrients without putting people at risk for health problems?
My typical recommendations for general health is that people can consume an average of 2-3 eggs per day without any concern of excessive intake.
And to be honest, the main reason I’d be concerned if someone was eating far more eggs than that is the potential for developing food sensitivities, since eggs are one of the more common food allergens.
I’m not really concerned about someone developing heart disease strictly from eating too many eggs. Especially if the rest of their diet and lifestyle is generally heart-healthy. Again, the purported risks do not outweigh the benefits of eating eggs regularly for the vast majority of people.
as long as you’re eating a nutrient-rich, whole foods-based diet, Can eggs be a healthy part of that?
Absolutely! Not only does the dietary context matter, but the lifestyle context might be even more important to consider.
The biggest risk factors for heart disease are smoking, uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure), physical inactivity, obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, and uncontrolled stress and anger.
If someone is active, doesn’t smoke, has good blood sugar control, and generally keeps their stress levels low, they’re already doing so much to keep their heart disease risk under control.
Add a nutrient-dense, real food diet into the mix, and minimize the use of unnecessary medications like the hormonal birth control pill, and I think the exact foods the person chooses are far less meaningful to keeping them healthy as they age. I’d be more concerned that someone is eating enough variety of fiber-rich plant foods and reasonable quantities of nutrient-dense animal foods, rather than the exact quantity of eggs they’re eating.
Are there any people who may, in fact, want to avoid or scale back on eggs?
If someone is allergic or has a bad reaction to eggs, then, of course, they should avoid them. The only other clients I suggest to try eliminating eggs are those who are dealing with an active autoimmune disease. Occasionally eggs can be a trigger for autoimmunity. But we always try reintroducing them later to see how they tolerate them. Otherwise, I don’t know of any client I would ever tell to stop eating eggs. Certainly not the hormone-health focused women I tend to work with every week!
What should people look for when purchasing eggs to ensure maximum nutrition?
Pasture-raised eggs are far higher in vitamin K2 likely due to the fact the chickens are eating grass, and they convert the vitamin K1 from that grass into K2 in their eggs. A good indicator of the K2 content of egg yolk is the color of the yolk. Egg yolks that are a deeper yellow or even an orange color are likely to have higher levels of vitamin K2. In addition to K2, pastured egg yolks have twice as much vitamin E, 38% more vitamin A, and 2.5 times more total omega-3 fatty acids than conventional caged eggs.
And let’s face it, pasture-raising animals is a far more ethical and environmentally friendly way to include animals as part of our diet. So any time you have the means to choose pasture-raised or wild animal products, you should do it!
Just Eat the eggs!
I hope this brief blog post has given you some points to consider when deciding whether or not to include eggs in your diet. Eggs are a nutrient-dense powerhouse food that helps us get a wide variety of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals that can keep our bodies healthy in so many ways.
Of course, there are ways to get the nutrients you need when you can’t eat eggs. But if you can eat eggs, why the heck wouldn’t you? They are delicious, incredibly versatile, and truly one of nature’s multivitamins.
Now you tell me… do you eat eggs regularly? Are you going to keep eating them? Share your thoughts in the comments below!