Let me admit my bias up front. I love eggs. Sunny side up on an English muffin, soft-boiled with toast soldiers, hard-boiled with a little salt, or in a spectacular omelette filled with mushrooms and onions. Eggs were also a corner-stone of my weight loss program and are a key part of my weight maintenance. I eat 2-3 eggs for dinner 1-2 days a week. This is my fallback low calorie-high protein meal when the kids want something that I just don’t have enough calories left in the day to eat or don’t care to eat. Three eggs with a high fiber English muffin is 340 calories and very filling.
Unlike me, medicine has long had a love hate relationship with the egg. While a great source of protein (6 g per egg) and pretty low-calorie (70-90 calories depending on the size), eggs have a lot of fat. One egg has 4.5 g of fat and a good whack of it is saturated fat (believed to be less healthy than unsaturated fat). One egg also has 215 mg of cholesterol, but The American Heart Association wants us to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol a day. Using that math an egg a day pretty much dooms you to graze on vegetables for all your other meals.
Fortunately for me (and hopefully you) there is a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that scrambles that because-eggs-have-cholesterol-eggs-must-be-bad-for-you belief. This study is a meta-analysis of cardiac risk and egg consumption. The researchers looked at all the higher-quality studies and found that one egg a day was not associated with heart attack or stroke. In fact, more than one egg a day was also not associated with an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. The results were less clear for those with pre-existing diabetes and the researchers admit that risks or benefits of egg consumption in diabetics should really be taken with a grain of salt given there were fewer studies from which to draw data. This study did not look at pastured eggs (chickens that eat bugs and dirt and the stuff chickens evolved to eat) versus those fed commercial chicken feed nor did it look at how the eggs were prepared.
If you don’t have diabetes this study confirms the equivalent of an egg a day will not increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. How is this possible given the amount of cholesterol in an egg? Well, not all fat is bad. Man made fats, the trans fats (modified in a lab so they can be used more freely commercially) are evil. There is no question. Avoid those like the plague. But not all saturated fats (steak, butter, mild, chocolate, coconut oil, palm oil, to name a few sources) are equal in their negative effect on blood cholesterol. Eggs also have unsaturated fat, and so risk may be less about the individual nutrient breakdown of a food and more about, well, the food itself. Cholesterol is just one part of an egg, but when we eat an egg we don’t just eat the cholesterol, we get the unsaturated fat and the protein too. So in our global efforts to reduce the negative effects of diet on heart disease and stroke, let’s give the egg a break.