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The Egg Gets Redeemed


eggOne day eggs are good. The next, eggs are bad. On a third, maybe they are not so bad. The medical industry has waivered for years as to whether eggs are good or bad for heart health. However, the “incredible, edible egg” as the industry advertising has boasted gets redeemed further in a new study that adds more weight to the argument that regularly eating a food that is a considerable source of cholesterol does not lead to heart disease.

Eggs, particularly the yellow yolk, contain a wealth of nutrients and vitamins. They also are a source of dietary cholesterol, which had been ties to heart issues. That fear spawned new egg-white-only dishes in diners and McDonald’s, but the new Finnish research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that eschewing the yoke is overkill. The yellow center was unfairly blamed as a primary cause of heart health issues.

Dr. Jyrki Virtanen from the University of Eastern Finland, the study’s author, reported that their work adds to growing research that shows that focusing on one aspect of a food—like the cholesterol in eggs—is not a reliable way to gauge that food’s health impact The focus should be placed on overall healthy or unhealthy dietary habits and all of a person’s risk factors for heart disease.

The research that redeemed the yolk and other food items with high cholesterol was based on data gather on 1,032 healthy men between the ages of 42 and 60 who participated in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study in the 1980s, which included food intake information. That information was used as a baseline and the team tracked the men’s diets and health for the subsequent 20 years.

For more than 800 of the men, the researchers had access to information on their carotid artery thickness, a measure of atherosclerosis. Approximately one-third of the men were carriers of APOE4, a gene variant commonly associated with an increased risk for heart disease. As a result, people with the gene variant are advised to be extra careful about their diet.

Over the two decades, however, the men consumed an average of 2,800 milligrams of cholesterol per week. For most, they achieved this by eating approximately four eggs (each with about 180 milligrams of cholesterol) during every week.

After looking at their health data and controlling for age, education, body mass index and smoking, the researchers found no link between their cholesterol consumption and heart problems that developed in the men, whether they had the APOE4 gene. There was also no apparent correlation between the men’s carotid artery thickness and their consumption of cholesterol in their omelets or frittatas.

Unlike sugar and calories, there is no recommended daily level of dietary cholesterol in the national health guidelines, but moderation is important. The researchers caution that, while the data does redeem the yolk and shows that eating some eggs each week did not have an heart disease impact, it does not mean people should eat several of them every day. They caution that the men in the study ate four eggs per week on average, which is less than one per day.

Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Associations of egg and cholesterol intakes with carotid intima-media thickness and risk of incident coronary artery disease according to apolipoprotein E phenotype in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study
New York Times: Foods High in Cholesterol Don’t Raise Heart Risks
TIME: You Asked: Are Egg Yolks Unhealthy?
Medical Daily: High Cholesterol Foods, Such as Eggs, May Not Always Cause Heart Disease

Photo courtesy of Marshall Astor’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons license