Eggs - the whole truth
Did you catch the news about eggs being as bad for your arteries as smoking? Before you strike Sunday's poached eggs from your menu let me eggs-plain how the facts have been over-eggs-aggerated (sorry, I couldn't resist!)
It's amazing how often a small research study's press release is turned into a news story that has us believing that yesterday's “superfood” is today's latest health-threat. Understandably scientists want their research to get as much publicity as possible – and the more dramatic their findings sound
The trouble is sometimes that means one small study is reported out of context of all the other research on that topic leading to scaremongering and ultimately confusion. If we believed every health headline we read we probably wouldn't feel safe eating anything at all! So here's a quick overview of the science behind the headlines on eggs and health to put your minds at ease.
Are egg yolks as dangerous as smoking?
The news story on eggs was over-simplified. It was based on a study of 1262 patients at a Canadian hospital. The researchers estimated how many egg yolks each of them had eaten during their life (based on their age and how many eggs they said they ate each week) and asked them about their smoking habits. They then measured how much plaque each patient had on an artery in their neck to get an indication of how furred up their arteries were overall. The group with the lowest egg intake had a little less plaque build up than the group who'd eaten the most eggs.
But the high-intake group were on average 12 years older than the low-intake group - plaque does tend to build up as you get older. And the researchers didn't study other things that have could have caused the plaque to build up – maybe the people who ate lots of eggs were less active drank more alcohol or ate the eggs as part of a fry-up for example!
Previous much bigger studies that have tracked egg consumption over time found no relationship between eggs and heart health. It always used to be said that eggs increased the risk of heart disease because they're one of few foods high in cholesterol – which has been associated with the build-up of fats in the artery walls. One of the things that this study illustrates is that eating eggs does not raise cholesterol. The truth is that we can make plenty of cholesterol inside our bodies from fat and refined carbohydrate – so eating an egg yolk or two a day is less likely to harden the arteries if your diet is good overall than a diet high in junk food. And some cholesterol is good for health because it helps make cell membranes and synthesise Vitamin D.
But it should be noted that associations have been observed between eating a lot of eggs and heart disease in people with diabetes so ask your doctor if you have any concerns.
Do eggs have any health benefits?
One egg contains just 71 calories yet provides 6g of protein – so it helps you feel full without piling on the pounds. The fat saturated fat and cholesterol is all in the yolk – but eggs are not a high-fat food. The yolk is also where you'll find most of the vitamins and minerals such as folate vitamin B12 and selenium along with choline (important for brain health) and lutein and zeaxanthin (important for eye health). That said egg whites are very low in calories and contain plenty of protein so even if you decide to limit egg yolks egg whites can help with weight loss.
Should I cut down or not?
There simply isn't enough evidence to suggest that eggs are bad for you and for healthy people an egg - or even two - a day won't do you any harm. But if your doctor has advised you to cut down on cholesterol or you're concerned about a family history of high cholesterol or diabetes you may want to limit your intake of egg yolks to a couple a week.
— Hu F.B. et al. (1999) A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA. 281(15):1389-94.
— Spence J.D. et al. (2012) Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque. Atherosclerosis. Aug 1 [epub ahead of print]"