What’s the buzz?
Eggs: one minute they’re in, the next minute they’re out
What does the science say?
Just when you thought it was considered healthy to eat eggs again, headlines from the latest study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association may have you questioning your morning omelet. But before you swear off your favorite brunch order, let’s take a look a closer look at the data.
For years, it was recommended that we limit dietary cholesterol to under 300 mg per day to keep blood cholesterol in check. Since one whole egg contains approximately 185 mg cholesterol (all of which is found in the yolk), eschewing yolks in favor of just egg whites was the breakfast order for the health conscious. However, years of research taught us that the consumption of dietary cholesterol actually has little effect on blood cholesterol, and in 2015 the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee lifted the dietary cholesterol limit for healthy people, bringing back the whole egg. Now, this new 2019 study shows a 17 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 18 percent increase in risk of death for every additional 300 mg of dietary cholesterol, bringing back the question: “Should we avoid eggs?”
Researchers pooled data from six research groups called prospective cohorts, which meant they had information on nearly 30,000 participants who were followed for over 17 years. From a research perspective, that’s a lot of people, and usually a sign of good information. Here’s where things get a little murky: The analysis is based on self-reported dietary recall (do you remember everything you ate yesterday?), and the participants were only asked about their diet once (how differently do you eat from one day to another or one year to another?).
The study also did not consider important lifestyle factors like stress and exercise, both of which are closely linked to heart health. So we don’t know if people who eat more foods with dietary cholesterol tend to have fewer other healthy habits — and therefore have a higher risk of heart disease and death because of the rest of their lifestyle. Most importantly, this data only shows an association between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, which does not mean that eating more than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day causes heart disease.
Although the headlines focused on eggs, it turns out that the relationship between egg consumption and heart disease or death was not statistically significant when the researchers adjusted for total dietary cholesterol. It’s possible that people who eat more eggs tend to eat a lot of bacon with them, too. Cholesterol is also found in red meat, dairy products, poultry, and some shellfish.
Moreover, eggs are filled with nutrients such as choline, vitamin D, omega-3’s, b-vitamins, and selenium — all of which are found in the yolk.
What’s the takeaway?
Expect the cholesterol conversation to continue. This study brings to light the need to further explore the effect of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol and heart disease. However, vilifying one food is not the answer. Kale will not save your life, and eggs will not kill you. Moderation doesn’t make for a catchy headline, but eating a well-balanced diet filled with a variety of whole foods — eggs included, assuming you like them — will help keep the doctor away.