There is so much information in the media about healthy foods and diets, it can be overwhelming to sort out what is true and relevant to each of us and our individual circumstances. Earlier this year, U.S. News and World Report issued its annual update on the most popular diets for weight loss and overall health. It gathered expert nutritionists and physicians who specialize in diabetes, cardiovascular health and weight loss.
They conducted a survey of the individuals, ranking diets on a host of attributes. The top diet according to this report is the Mediterranean diet, which does not have eggs as a recommended food. We have written previously about the Mediterranean diet which got the No. 1 ranking in this survey. The Mediterranean diet is a heart healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts and whole grains. Research has shown the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease and has many other health benefits, including improving cholesterol levels, decreasing risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and possibly reducing risk of cancer.
Recently, research was published in Lancet, a British medical journal, that studied dietary habits and longevity. It was found consuming vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains was strongly associated with a longer life and people who did not eat enough of those foods were more likely to die prematurely. The scientists concluded about 20 percent of deaths around the world were associated with poor diets, characterized by not enough fresh vegetables, seeds and nuts, and too much sugar, salt and trans fats.
Let’s get back to our original question: Are eggs healthy? On one hand, eggs have some important nutrients. One large egg contains 6 grams of high quality protein plus 13 essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, riboflavin, selenium and choline. In addition, eggs are inexpensive, low in calories and contain no sugar. A number of years ago, we were advised by national experts to avoid consuming excess amounts of eggs because of the high cholesterol content of egg yolks. Then in the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – in a complete reversal – no limitations were placed on daily consumption of eggs, because at the time of that publication, there was felt to be very little research showing a correlation between dietary cholesterol and heart outcomes. Then along comes a new research study from Northwestern University published just last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This is probably the most comprehensive study we have analyzing the relationship between dietary cholesterol consumption and heart disease. The study shows a significant correlation between dietary cholesterol consumption and the risk of heart disease, although this research study did not prove cause-and-effect between cholesterol intake and the development of heart disease.
So what is a person to do? My recommendation is a person with established heart disease should be limiting his or her cholesterol and egg intake to small amounts, avoiding egg yolks in general, and avoiding or minimizing red meat (for most people, the majority of dietary cholesterol intake is through red meat and not eggs). For people who do not have heart disease, my suggestion is to follow a middle of the road approach and go with a modest amount of egg consumption, considered to be no more than about four eggs per week.