Eggs come in and out of fashion. Periodically, they are considered the healthiest food you can eat. “Nature’s most perfect food.”
At other times, we see them as a health hazard akin to smoking. It all depends on which study is getting media attention in any particular month.
It would seem that scientists can’t make up their minds on eggs.
However, I don’t see much controversy about eggs, so that’s why I won’t eat them: organic, free-range or not.
For me, eggs fall into the easy, no-brainer category of: “just don’t eat them.”
I’m excluding a few rare occasions where I might have something with eggs in it. I I believe it’s possible to cheat occasionally on a diet without hurting the benefits.
Eating eggs is a choice, and they’re not too difficult to avoid, unlike gluten.
Here’s one thing that is NOT controversial: eggs are the second overall most common food allergen (after milk in children), and they are a very common cause of food poisoning through salmonella.
You may or may not decide to worry about these things, as allergy may not apply to you, and cases of food poisoning are relatively rare considering the number of eggs consumed.
So this brings us to the actual controversy around eggs: cholesterol.
For years, common wisdom backed by science was that cholesterol in our food is a direct cause of high cholesterol in our blood, which in turn causes heart disease.
But recently, many organizations have backed out of the belief that “dietary cholesterol causes high cholesterol” and now say that it’s not a matter of concern. Paleo bloggers, who write incendiary pamphlets with names such as the “Cholesterol Myth,” also agree with this.
1) Blood cholesterol is linked to heart disease. Even Paleo bloggers have a hard time denying that truth. For more on the topic, please read my article here.
2) The real question is what causes high cholesterol and does dietary cholesterol influence blood cholesterol?
Why the big fuss around cholesterol and eggs? It’s simple: eggs are the most concentrated source of cholesterol food in the typical American diet. Other foods contain more saturated fat, but eggs pack in the cholesterol (with over 200 cholesterol per egg). All the cholesterol is concentrated in the yolk and not found in the white.
It would make intuitive sense that eating cholesterol might have an impact on our blood cholesterol, adding to the cholesterol that our bodies already produce. That was just what all the early studies on the topic have proved.
But here’s what caused the controversy: There have been many studies and meta-analysis studies funded by the American Egg Board and designed to exonerate eggs from all harm.
These studies look like this:
- We take a group of people eating a standard American diet.
- These people have “normal” cholesterol levels.
- We add eggs to these people’s diets and see what the effect will be on cholesterol.
- There is very little effect, so then we claim that dietary cholesterol has no impact on blood cholesterol
What’s wrong with these studies?
- The group of people used in those studies already consumes a diet that causes elevated cholesterol.
- In these studies, people start with an average cholesterol level of 244 mg/dl! (Much above the current guidelines).
- Because of a “plateau” effect of cholesterol, there is no impact on blood cholesterol when adding eggs, and more cholesterol to the diet.
In other words: these people were already consuming cholesterol and saturated fats from other sources, and they had high cholesterol, like most Americans. Adding more cholesterol to a diet already containing 400 mg/day will rarely cause even higher cholesterol levels.
Eggs Are a No-Brainer
I choose not to listen to the “wisdom” of egg-industry funded studies. I spent some time reviewing the studies, and they all suffer from the flaws I have outlined.
Adding eggs to a healthy diet will not improve the diet. If a person starts with a healthy cholesterol level, it will probably get her in an unhealthy range, thereby increasing her risk of heart disease.
This position will undoubtedly never be popular. The Egg Industry will continue funding studies to “prove” that eggs are healthy and those studies will get media attention. Diet gurus will always generally promote a diet of animal products because that’s what people want. On top of that, the contrarian approach is more popular — claiming that “common wisdom is wrong.”
In this case, now that most people seem to think that eggs are healthy, including many nutritionists, the contrarian approach is where I stand.