By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
I love eggs. They are satisfying, nutritious and tasty. I like them sometimes for breakfast or in a salad (hard boiled) or as snack. They contain quality protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate and riboflavin.
Even with the bad press eggs have gotten over the past couple years, I haven’t stopped eating them. I don’t eat them every day but they are definitely part of my weekly eating plan.
And here’s why.
The egg comeback
Much of the bad reputation eggs got in the past few decades, in terms heart disease risk, was due to their high cholesterol content. While newer studies show eggs contain under 200 mg (185mg), in the past it was thought to be over 200.
But in 2000, the American Heart Association changed its stance on eggs, saying that moderate consumption (up to one egg per day) is okay for healthy individuals. Research was showing that cholesterol in food, like eggs, didn’t have much of an effect on blood cholesterol levels. Too much saturated fat (in other high fat animal products), that happens to be low in eggs, is more likely the game changer.
The (sort of) bad news comes
Like with any good comeback story, there are setbacks. A 2012 study published in Atherosclerosis looked at egg yolk consumption in 1200 people with transient ischemic attacks (tiny strokes). Those people who reported eating eggs 3 times or more per week where shown to have more plaque buildup than those who ate less than 3 egg yolks per week. The headlines said that eating eggs is as bad as smoking in terms of plaque buildup!
But when you look closer you see a few flaws. The subjects in the study were people with established heart disease, not a healthy population. And the researchers didn’t take into account what else the egg-eaters were eating and whether or not they exercised.
More recently was a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that higher levels of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) in the gut is associated with increased heart disease risk. It just so happens that dietary choline found in foods like eggs and meat is metabolized into TMAO.
But this is preliminary research, meaning more studies are needed with many questions that need to be answered. Will lowering TMAO also lower heart disease risk? Would higher levels of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract lower this risk such as people who eat fermented foods, take probiotics or eat more pre-biotics (fuel for good bacteria)?
The researchers say this should not change egg consumption and that other healthy foods also contain choline such as wheat germ, broccoli and Brussels Sprouts.
Total diet matters most
I don’t think we will ever have an answer to the egg question because it’s just too hard to isolate single foods in studies. I prefer people focus on what to add to their diet, in terms of healthy whole foods, instead of what to avoid.
So I will continue to enjoy eggs and follow the research. But, most importantly, I will look deeper than what the latest nutrition headline tells me. And I hope the public does that too.
Has any of this news changed your egg-eating habits?