Be a Good Egg
Following decades of good press, the mighty egg has started to take a ‘beating’ of late with a cascade of accusations being hurled against it.
Particularly concerning are claims that eating eggs can increase your risk of heart disease. This belief is based on several studies, the most damaging of which is a 2019 analysis (1) that found that every 300 mg of cholesterol consumed daily increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease by 17%.
One large egg contains 186 mg of cholesterol, and researchers in the study reported that eating even 3-4 eggs weekly was linked to a 6% increased risk of cardiovascular disease (1).
While this may all sound worrying, in reality, there is ongoing debate around whether raised cholesterol is actually associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The cholesterol myth
The blame for heart disease has long been pointed at raised cholesterol. But, in truth, many factors may be involved in the disease, including inflammation, high blood pressure and smoking.
While cardiovascular disease is often driven by the lipoproteins that carry cholesterol around the body, dietary cholesterol in itself may have little to no effect on this. Indeed, numerous well-respected studies report that dietary cholesterol is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease (2).
Determined to get to the bottom of this issue, researchers began looking at cofounding factors. One question in particular kept cropping up: is the egg the concern, or rather the food consumed with the egg? Often eaten with bacon and/or sausage, the egg may just be the healthiest part of the breakfast of those studied, rendering it innocent of the claims made against it.
Reinforcing this line of thought are two studies which found eggs do not raise the risk of heart disease and may even protect against it. The first analysis (3) looked at how eggs affected 128 people with type 2 diabetes (and therefore at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease). Half the group consumed 12 eggs weekly, while the other half ate two eggs per week. Each participant otherwise followed the same eating plan, avoiding saturated fats such as butter and including healthy fats like avocados and olive oil.
Following up after six months, the study no significant difference in cardiovascular risk factors, including high levels of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels, between the two groups.
The second study (4) looked at the eating habits of 416,000 people with an average age of 50 who were free from heart disease and diabetes. The participants were tracked for nine years. Over this period, researchers found that those who consumed one egg per day had a 28% lower risk of stroke and an 18% lower risk of death from heart disease compared with those not eating eggs.
Having shown that it is unlikely egg consumption can lead to heart disease (and may even reduce this risk), it is now time to highlight some of the unquestionably great reasons eggs should be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
- Supports liver function and brain health
Choline, a nutrient, plays a key role in supporting brain and liver health. The liver depends on choline to function optimally, and low levels of choline in the diet are associated with fatty liver disease (5).
Regular choline intake is also associated with better memory performance and may also be neuroprotective (6).
- Maintains healthy skin
By slowing down the oxidative damage that can play havoc on your skin, lutein and zeaxanthin found in eggs may filter out damaging blue spectrum rays. This can help reduce signs of ageing while also optimising skin and eye health (7).
- Naturally encourage weight loss
High protein foods, like eggs, are known to make us feel fuller for longer. Eggs score particularly highly on the satiety index, meaning they help to prevent hunger pangs and those familiar cravings for snacks in between meals (8). If you are looking to achieve a more balanced weight, try swapping cereal or toast for an egg-based breakfast.
- Rich in health omega-3
Not all eggs are equal. Chickens raised free-range or on an omega-3-enriched diet are likely to produce eggs with a better nutrient composition. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce blood levels of triglycerides, a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease (9).
- Highly nutritious
Eggs contain a little bit of nearly every nutrient your body needs. Choosing free-range or omega-3-enriched eggs is even better: they have higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and are higher in vitamins A and E (11).
- Eggs can help to build muscle
Protein is needed to repair the tiny tears in muscle tissue caused by strength training, helping muscles to grow bigger, faster. This makes eggs the perfect snack after a gym session, with each one containing about 6 g of protein. A small study showed that those who ate three eggs directly after a strength workout experienced greater muscle building than those who only ate egg whites (12).
- Safeguarding for pregnant women
Choline is critical for foetal brain development and for preventing birth defects. Indeed, pregnant women who consume high amounts of choline may boost cognitive development for their offspring in later life (13, 14). Two large eggs contain 50% of the RDA of choline, making eggs an easy option for pregnant and breastfeeding women looking to ensure optimal choline intake.
In summary it does appear that the health benefits of eggs far outweigh the risk. But remember, to receive the greatest health benefit from eggs it is important to always choose organic and free-range. These eggs have the highest nutrient composition and ensure the highest ethical standards in the rearing of the hens.
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2) Jones, P.J.H. (2009). Dietary cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients: a review of the Harvard Egg Study and other data. International Journal of Clinical Practice, [online] 63, pp.1–8. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19751443 [Accessed 6 Apr. 2020]
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8) Holt, S.H., Miller, J.C., Petocz, P. and Farmakalidis, E. (1995). A satiety index of common foods. European journal of clinical nutrition, [online] 49(9), pp.675–90. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7498104 [Accessed 5 Mar. 2020]
9) Balk, E.M., Lichtenstein, A.H., Chung, M., Kupelnick, B., Chew, P. and Lau, J. (2006). Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on serum markers of cardiovascular disease risk: A systematic review. Atherosclerosis, [online] 189(1), pp.19–30. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0021915006000694 [Accessed 6 Apr. 2020]
10) Jiang, Z. and Sim, J.S. (1993). Consumption of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid-enriched eggs and changes in plasma lipids of human subjects. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), [online] 9(6), pp.513–8. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7906572 [Accessed 5 Apr. 2020]
11) Karsten, H.D., Patterson, P.H., Stout, R. and Crews, G. (2010). Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, [online] 25(1), pp.45–54. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/vitamins-ae-and-fatty-acid-composition-of-the-eggs-of-caged-hens-and-pastured-hens/552BA04E5A9E3CD7E49E405B339ECA32 [Accessed 6 Apr. 2020]
12) van Vliet, S., Shy, E.L., Abou Sawan, S., Beals, J.W., West, D.W., Skinner, S.K., Ulanov, A.V., Li, Z., Paluska, S.A., Parsons, C.M., Moore, D.R. and Burd, N.A. (2017). Consumption of whole eggs promotes greater stimulation of postexercise muscle protein synthesis than consumption of isonitrogenous amounts of egg whites in young men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 106(6), pp.1401–1412. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/106/6/1401/4823156 [Accessed 6 Apr. 2020]
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14) Korsmo, H.W., Jiang, X. and Caudill, M.A. (2019). Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies. Nutrients, [online] 11(8), p.1823. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6722688/ [Accessed 5 Apr. 2020]