The anti-egg campaigns that began in the 1980s, when health organizations started publicizing the fact that high cholesterol was connected to heart disease, urged us all to drastically limit our egg consumption. So now, despite more recent evidence that eggs are not to blame for high blood cholesterol levels, many people continue to avoid eggs like the plague.
That’s too bad, because eggs actually are an excellent source of protein and other important nutrients. If you, too, are still scared of eggs, we hope that a huge new study helps convince you that eggs won’t give you a heart attack—and may even protect you against a certain type of stroke.
Here’s why it’s A-OK to have an egg as often as every day…
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis, looking at numerous existing studies that specifically examined the association between egg consumption and the risk for coronary heart disease or stroke. Their analysis included data on nearly 264,000 participants for heart disease…plus more than 210,400 participants for stroke.
Egg consumption had been reported in food frequency questionnaires at the start of the study periods. Although the egg-consumption categories varied from study to study, they generally fell along the lines of less than one egg per week…two to four per week…five or six per week…or seven or more per week. (Some of the studies considered foods in which eggs were main ingredients. While this leaves out foods in which eggs are minor ingredients, such as pancakes or meatloaf, the researchers said that the egg content of such foods was relatively small and unlikely to affect the results of the analysis.)
By the end of the study periods, which ranged from eight to 22 years, there were 5,847 cases of coronary heart disease and 7,579 strokes. So just who developed heart disease or suffered a stroke, and how was egg consumption associated with those outcomes?
Well, there was happy news for egg lovers! After pooling the results, the researchers did not find any association between higher intake of eggs—up to one per day, on average—and increased risk for heart disease or stroke. In fact, people who ate an average of one egg daily had a 25% reduced risk for hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke compared with people who ate fewer eggs. (The study did not report any conclusions about higher levels of egg consumption, such as two per day.)
Possible exception: Subgroup analyses suggested that, for people with diabetes, daily egg consumption was associated with a slightly increased risk for coronary heart disease. However, this finding was based on only limited data, so further research on this is needed.
HOW EGGS DO A BODY GOOD
So why have eggs gotten a bad rap over the years? One large egg has about 208 milligrams of cholesterol, and cholesterol in the blood is implicated in cardiovascular disease.
However, although overall diet is an important factor in the amount of cholesterol in our blood, eating cholesterol doesn’t have a very large effect on our levels of blood cholesterol. Rather, we now know that the primary dietary culprits in high blood cholesterol are trans fats, found in many commercial baked goods and fried snacks…and saturated fats, found in many dairy products and meats, especially cheese and processed meats. Eggs do contain some saturated fat (all in the yolk), but not much—about 1.6 grams per egg, which is about half as much as in an equal-weight portion of ground beef. Earlier studies that did implicate eggs in heart risk may have been skewed by failure to control for these other dietary habits.
The fact is that eggs have many health benefits. They are an inexpensive source of protein—and some studies suggest that substituting protein for carbohydrates in the diet helps reduce blood pressure, improve blood lipid levels and reduce cardiovascular risk. One large egg provides about 6.3 grams of protein for only about 75 calories. It also provides 41 milligrams of vitamin D, a nutrient that has multiple health benefits—and one in which many people are deficient. In addition, eggs are a good source of choline, which has been linked with preserving memory…and lutein and zeaxanthin, which may protect against vision loss.
So when you’re contemplating what to have for breakfast each morning, don’t be afraid to go ahead and cook yourself a nice egg.