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October 8, 2012 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Are Egg Yolks Really As Harmful as Smoking?

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Did you hear about the latest research on eggs and health?

Essentially it claimed that eating egg yolks will cause two-thirds as much damage to our arteries as will smoking. Quite dramatic, wouldn’t you say? Well, before you kick your eggs to the curb, let’s take a look at the actual research to find out if it is truly advice worth listening to… 

5 Reasons I Don't Trust This Study

While the authors of this study did a great job of grabbing the headlines, this seems to be a poorly designed study for several reasons…

  • #1. It's A "First-Step" Type Study: For one, it is epidemiological which means they are drawing together the most logical correlations rather than true conclusions. These types of studies are typically just the first step in a long line of research - providing the grounds to build a hypothesis which will then be tested in an experimental study.
  • #2. Limited to Stroke Victims: The study also limited their population to only those who already had a stroke which immediately skews the results as it is clearly not a reflection of the American population as a whole.
  • #3. Relied On Self-Reporting and Memory: It also relied on food-frequency questionnaires to gather all of their data, surveys which are not the most accurate as they rely on human memory for the past weeks or months.
  • #4. Other Contributing Cholesterol Sources Not Considered: What I may find most distasteful is the fact that the researchers did not seem to give any attention to other sources of dietary cholesterol (red meat, gravies, shellfish, etc.), nor any attention at all to saturated fat and trans fat. Not surprisingly, neither did they concern themselves with waist size or activity levels, two additional aspects which would have surely played a role in heart health outcomes.
  • #5. Biased Source: The cherry on top? It seems the lead physician and communication group working to release this study have fought to cut down eggs in the past… vendetta, anyone?

Another Voice

One nutrition blogger and PhD student pointed out yet another blatant aspect of the study, and one I am disappointed to find was not highlighted by the media. Rather than summarizing his view, I have pasted a portion below as I think he summed up the data perfectly:

"There are important differences in the makeup of each group in the study. The group that ate the most eggs had an average age of 69.77 years compared to only 55.70 years for the group who ate the least eggs. The group who ate the most eggs also smoked the most and had the highest rate of diabetes. Surprisingly, the group that ate the most eggs had the lowest total cholesterol, lowest LDL cholesterol, highest HDL cholesterol, and lowest body mass index...

...According to their data, it seems that eating lots of eggs actually promotes a healthier cholesterol profile and lower body mass index. Amazingly, the authors do not address this in their paper nor do they hypothesize on what mechanism is causing high egg consumption to increase plaque buildup...

...Perhaps the eggs actually had a protective effect allowing those who ate the most eggs to withstand more plaque buildup and live the longer before having a stroke. Those individuals who ate the fewest eggs had a stroke an average of 14 years earlier than those who ate the most eggs. Perhaps if they would have been eating more eggs, they would have lived longer without a stroke." - Bonnie Minsky - Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist

The Egg-tastic Truth

Are eggs safe, even for those at risk of heart disease? Absolutely!

If they weren't, the American Heart Association would advise us to omit them from our diets entirely rather than recommending that we simply limit egg yolks to 3-4 per week. The National Cholesterol Education Program offers a more stringent approach with a mere 2 yolks per week to reduce the risk of heart disease, but as the white portion does not contain cholesterol, it is more of a freebie (also the portion that comprises products such as Egg Beaters®).

The most famous long-term studies involving egg consumption include the Framingham Heart Study and the Harvard Egg Study, both of which found absolutely no correlation between the consumption of up to 1 egg per day and the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke in normal, healthy adults.

It has also been found that simply by cutting out egg yolks alone, your cholesterol levels will not magically plunge down to perfection. While eggs do provide dietary cholesterol, there are many other dietary factors that come into play (overall intake, saturated fat, trans fat...) and also other dietary sources of cholesterol - all aspects which should be considered when aiming to follow a heart healthy diet.

This Dietitian's Take:

Eggs are one of many nutrient-rich, whole foods that may come together to create a well-balanced diet. In fact, the egg includes lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health, choline which may aid memory support and brain function, folate which is well known to help prevent birth defects, as well as vitamin B12, riboflavin, A, D, and K. Furthermore, a single egg provides 6 grams of of highly absorbable protein, making it an egg-cellent snack choice at less than 100 calories.

Eating Eggs The Healthy Way

If you are worried about your risk of heart disease or simply trying to reduce your risk, follow these tips for a heart healthy diet:

  • Moderation: Limit egg yolks to 4 per week and simply enjoy the whites alone if you are craving eggs on other days. You can easily stretch your yolk by making an omelet, frittata, or scrambled eggs, with only 1 yolk and 2-3 whites.
  • Consider Other Fat Sources: Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7% of your total diet. Saturated fat is found in animal products, tropical oils, baked goods, fried foods, and more. Click here for more specifics on this recommendation.
  • Avoid Trans Fats: Limit trans fat to less than 1% of your total diet. These sneaky fats are found in any product that includes partially hydrogenated oils, such as baked goods, fried foods, and margarine. Click here for more specifics on this recommendation. 

For more fun facts about the incredible egg, check out my previous blog post, “Cracking the Top 5 Egg Myths”. 

What are your thoughts on the matter? Will you continue to include eggs as a part of your diet?

More from Health Coach Jessica Corwin MPH RDN Others Are Reading

2 Comments

  • Jessica thanks for the information - yes I will continue to include eggs in my diet. I do like (as an alternative) to use egg beaters "white" on my English muffin sandwich periodically.

  • Thanks for sharing, Nancy! Egg Beaters are a very popular alternative to using the whole yolk and as many come with the ingredients for a tasty scramble alredy mixed in, they make for a quick and easy breakfast.

    For those who are not willing or able to spend the extra money on Egg Beaters, you can make your own by separating your own eggs and using the whites alone, or by following this recipe: http://strivetosimplify.com/homemade-egg-beaters-for-egg-substitute/

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