Scrambled eggs on toast has been my go-to comfort meal for as long as I can remember. It’s filling, nutritious, and its consistent presence in my life has made it like an old friend I can revisit anytime. That’s why it kills me to hear people besmirching my friend’s good name with claims about high cholesterol and saturated fat.
Few foods have been as controversial as the egg—it’s gone from maligned in the 1960s to accepted, albeit hesitatingly, with the popularity of Atkins in 2000. But even though plenty of studies have shown that eating eggs doesn’t increase disease risks, people are still confused about whether they’re okay to consume regularly. Not only is it okay, but there are so many qualities that make eggs both incredible and edible, avoiding them could actually do a disservice to your health.
Why Do Eggs Make Us Edgy?
Like countless other public scares, the backlash against eggs is the result of people hearing part of a story and freaking out before knowing all the facts. Remember when fat was the enemy in the 1990s and we embraced products filled with sodium and hazardous ingredients like partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) to replace the much-maligned fat? The reason we eschewed fat is that we didn’t recognize that there’s more than one kind, and that by eliminating all fat from our diet, we missed out on the healthy kinds that improve brain function, lower cholesterol, and so forth.
Similarly, eggs got their bad reputation in the 1960s when a connection between heart disease and high blood cholesterol levels was established. From that point on, egg consumption dropped steadily, hitting its low in 1991. A single large egg contains about 210 milligrams of cholesterol, and considering the American Heart Association’s recommendation caps our maximum cholesterol limit at 300 milligrams a day (for people with normal cholesterol levels), eggs became the poster child of high cholesterol foods to be avoided.
Getting All Yolk-ed Up
The focus on cholesterol levels meant that eggs’ many virtuous qualities were ignored—that is, until the Atkins diet fad erupted in 2000 and people decided the protein in eggs was worth their supposed link to heart disease. The protein in eggs is high-quality, meaning that our bodies absorb and use all of it; plus the high protein comes at a low caloric cost, with one egg averaging about seventy calories. But eggs also contain other important nutrients that are often overlooked.
Diet-conscious folks often eat egg whites and throw away the yolk because of its cholesterol and fat content. Egg whites are primarily protein, but by avoiding the yolk, they miss out on a great source of zinc, B vitamins (such as folate), unsaturated fats (the healthy kind), vitamin A, and iron.
Egg yolks also contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health. Various studies have suggested they could potentially prevent or protect against macular degeneration and other eye diseases. Yolks can also boast a healthy supply of choline, which is related to healthy brain function.
An Egg a Day …
It’s true that eggs contribute a considerable amount of cholesterol to our diets, but what people don’t realize is that the majority (roughly two-thirds) of people’s blood cholesterol levels aren’t affected by dietary cholesterol. What mostly affect it are the kinds of fats we consume. If our diets are high in saturated fat—i.e., we eat a lot of dairy and meat—chances are it’s going to increase our bad cholesterol levels. In fact, one study concluded that cholesterol’s absorption rates could actually be reduced by ingesting eggs. Researchers at Kansas State University published a study in a 2001 edition of the Journal of Nutrition that claimed lecithin, a phospholipid in eggs, was responsible for the absorption inhibition.
The American Heart Association took a step in the right direction in 2000 by increasing the guidelines for egg intake to one per day (from three to four a week). They must’ve finally started paying attention to the numerous studies throughout the years failing to prove a correlation between egg consumption and heart disease. The real breakthrough study occurred in 1999 at the Harvard School of Public Health. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, involved tracking the health of over 117,000 health care professionals over the course of eight to fourteen years. They found that those who ate at least one egg a day weren’t at any higher risk for heart disease than their peers who ate less than one a week. Later studies had similar results, including a Japanese study in 2006 and a 2007 study published in the Medical Science Monitor.
More Egg-cellent Attributes
Studies continue to surface emphasizing eggs’ importance in our lives. For example, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found a connection between eggs and lower blood pressure. According to researchers, once they reach the digestive system, boiled or fried eggs contribute to ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme)-inhibitory action, which promotes steady blood flow and consequently decreases blood pressure.
Eggs might also help in terms of weight management and maybe even weight loss. A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition stated that overweight women who ate two eggs for breakfast reported feeling more satiated and ate less at lunch than women who ate a bagel with the same amount of calories.
It’s important to note that eating eggs regularly isn’t recommended for everyone. The 1999 Harvard study also suggested that diabetics who did so showed an increased risk of heart problems. But as long as you’re healthy and cholesterol problems don’t run in the family—consult your doctor!—eggs won’t damage your physical wellbeing. In fact, they might just do the opposite. Just remember, like all things good and bad in life, moderation is key. So enjoy eggs in your life, just don’t live off them—that’s how good eggs can go bad.