Lifestyle

The egg controversy revisited | Timi Gustafson, R.D

Eating eggs can almost be as bad for your health as smoking, according to Canadian researchers whose findings reignited a long-standing controversy over the nutritional benefits and detriments of eggs, or more specifically, egg yolks.

For the study (http://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(12) 00504-7/abstract), which was published in the journal Atherosclerosis (http:// www.atherosclerosis-journal.com), a team of scientists from the University of Western Ontario’s medical school interviewed over 1,200 participants about their egg consumption as well as smoking habits, and then used ultrasound technology to measure the plaque build-up in their arteries.

Why the combination of egg eating and smoking? To give a better perspective on the magnitude of the effects of high cholesterol intake from egg yolk, a comparison to smoking appeared to be an appropriate marker, the researchers wrote in their report.

Egg yolk is well known for its high dietary cholesterol content – about 185 to 210 milligrams, depending on size. (The recommended limit is 300 milligrams per day.)

Over time, high cholesterol levels can cause plaque buildup in the arteries – as smoking does. In fact, the potential damage from egg yolk is about two-thirds as bad as that from tobacco use, said Dr. David Spence, the lead author of the study report, in a press release (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-08/uowo-eyc081312.php).

In response to the study, some critics (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/08/ 16/egg-study-not-all-its-cracked-up-to-be/) have rejected its findings, calling the research “flawed.” As an example, Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, expressed misgivings about the “very poor quality” of the study “that should not influence patients’ dietary choices.” According to Dr. Nissen, the research depended too heavily on participant’s self-reporting, which is notoriously unreliable, and other dietary and lifestyle factors were not or only insufficiently included.

Similar concerns were raised by Dr. David Frid, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

He didn’t think egg consumption should be equated to smoking, even though both can contribute to ill heart health. Smoking, he said in an interview with ABCNews.com

(http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/08/16/egg-study-not-all-its-cracked-up-to-be/), causes arteries to become inflamed, which can result in the build-up of plaque, however, in a different way than from cholesterol. Moreover, he said, people who like eggs, often have a preference for other fatty foods. That possibility must be taken into account as well, he added.

In defense of the egg’s reputation, the Egg Nutrition Center and American Egg Board have released a statement (http://www.incredibleegg.org/health-and-nutrition?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm+term=egg%20nutrition&utm_campaign=Int_Health), emphasizing the wide range of health benefits from essential vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants richly provided by eggs, combined with a relatively low calorie count of 70 calories on average. Even the 2010 Dietary Guidelines forAmericans (http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/dietaryguidelines.htm) recognizes eggs as “a nutrient-dense food that can be part of a healthful diet,” it says in the statement. Canada’s Food Guide (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php) also changed its recommendations to allow for higher egg consumption (http://www.cbc.ca/ news/health/story/2012/07/27/f-food-guide-70.html) after the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency voiced objections to the originally proposed guidelines.

Unfortunately, this recent controversy still leaves consumers uncertain about the safety of their egg dishes. In the face of all the pros and cons, it would appear that – as it is so often the case when it comes to food – moderation is the best way to go. Discarding the yolk and eating egg whites only is one possibility. Adding healthy items like spinach, mushrooms, peppers and the likes to your omelet can help balance potential downsides.

Ultimately, until the experts come to a consensus, using our best judgment is pretty much all we have.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter (http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/TimiGustafsonRD).

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