Two years ago, eggs (more like egg whites!) were a crucial part of my morning wake-up.

A quick crack, and then I’d use the shells to sift out each egg white, leaving the yolk for the drain.

If even a little yolk escaped to the pan, I would grab a spoon and carefully scoop it out so none of the whites were contaminated with the “bad” yellow part (can we say OCD?!).

You, in fact, or someone you know may even be on this same Egg Beaters or egg-whites-only bandwagon.

But, unbeknownst to me at the time, besides wasting food (for all the Dutch out there!) by throwing away the yolks, I was missing out on a lot:

1. I was throwing away the most nutritious (and scrumptious) part of the egg.
2. I ate only regular, white eggs (a.k.a. non-organic, non-free range, etc.), again skimping on nutrients.

Fat Phobia 

How was I supposed to know that the yolks were good when the newsstands and media were and are always barking about fat, fat, fat and cholesterol? 

We’ve been brainwashed to be egg phobic and fat phobic, for that matter.

I know that I’ve certainly been discriminated against when I’ve ordered four (or maybe five if I’m really hungry?) eggs at a breakfast joint. The waiter’s look is always the same; a mix of fear and pity, like my heart is going to implode at the table.

In fact, while on vacation in Austria with my sister last fall, I once got asked by an overweight waiter if I always ate that much!? I wish you could’ve been there; it was quite hilarious between the disgusted look on his face, and my blushing face explaining that it’s actually bread that makes people fat.

I love irony.

The conventional wisdom shift from from what our grandmothers thrived on in the form of lard, butter, eggs and bacon, to trans fats, margarine and cereal grains as the base of the Food Pyramid has certainly stuck around, though.

And our nation’s health has continued to decline.

In fact, Harvard School of Public Health reports:

“In the 1960s, fats and oils supplied Americans with about 45 percent of calories; (1) about 13 percent of adults were obese and under 1 percent had type 2 diabetes, a serious weight-related condition. (2,3) Today, Americans take in less fat, getting about 33 percent of calories from fats and oils; (4) yet 34 percent of adults are obese and 11 percent have diabetes, most with type 2 diabetes. (5,6)”

As health has declined, so has our economy. But, as one of the cheapest foods out there at less than 15 cents a piece,  little do most people realize that eggs (and the whole egg at that) may be one of the most nutritious as well!

The Crack on Eggs

As one of the best sources of protein at 6 grams per eggeggs provide numerous other health benefits:

  • They contain iodine, which is important for a healthy thyroid. (1)
  • Egg yolks contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants important for eye health and macular degeneration prevention. (2)
  • Egg yolks are one of the few foods high in choline, a B vitamin important for brain function and health, especially in fetal brain development and prevention of birth defects.
  • One egg contains 41 IU of vitamin D (mostly in the yolk!!!), 10% of our RDA and an important part of calcium absorption and strong bones.
  • Egg yolks are also a great source of iron, crucial for energy release; vitamin A, essential for healthy skin, eyes, growth and reproduction; and vitamin B12, important for brain and nervous system function.

So… you got the memo about egg yolks, right?!

And despite conventional wisdom regarding eggs and cholesterol, they do promote heart health.

  • Organic, omega-3 eggs (from chickens fed flax seed) are one of the rare sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids that help protect against heart disease.
  • Vitamin E in eggs protects against heart disease and some cancers.
  • This study shows that carb-restricted diets involving consumption of 3 eggs each day significantly decreases body weight, increases HDL cholesterol, improves plasma triglycerides and decreases risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. 

It is crucial to buy ORGANIC, pasture-raised eggs, though, because they have more omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E, A B12 and folic acid.

The Cholesterol Myth 

You’re probably gawking about the fact that eggs promote heart health. What about eggs causing high cholesterol and heart disease!?

Despite rumors and media, there is no significant correlation between total cholesterol and heart disease.

First off, cholesterol is crucial for hormone production, building and maintaining cellular and organ structures, insulating neurons, producing bile, and metabolizing fat-soluble vitamins.We need cholesterol!! (See my related post here).

A whooping 25% of body cholesterol is even accounted for by the brain!

As for the source, the liver produces about 80% of cholesterol and the rest comes from food. And believe it or not, the liver has feedback mechanisms that regulate cholesterol production based on consumption. Hence, a low cholesterol diet does not typically decrease a person’s blood cholesterol by more than a few percent.

“Bad” LDL Cholesterol

Regarding the mistaken “bad” LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol, all LDL cholesterol is not the same.

One type is large, fluffy LDL particles that aren’t linked to atherosclerosis or the development of plaques. The other type consists of small, dense LDL particles that are strongly associated with arterial plaques and this can increase the risk of heart disease.

Funny thing is, consuming diets high in processed foods and carbohydrates is what increases the small, dense LDL cholesterol (bad kind), and decreases HDL cholesterol (“good” kind, so not good!).

On the contrary, a study in 2005 showed that partial substitution of carbs with either protein or monounsaturated fat can further lower blood pressure, improve lipid levels, and reduce estimated cardiovascular risk.

Major Takeaways 

Chris Kresser, L. AC, sums it up well:

  • Replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates – which has been recommended by the American Heart Association for decades – reduces HDL and increases small, dense LDL, both of which are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
  • Dietary cholesterol has a negligible effect on total blood LDL cholesterol levels.
  • However, eating eggs every day reduces small, dense LDL, which in turn reduces risk of heart disease.
  • The best way to lower small, dense LDL and protect yourself from heart disease is to eat fewer carbs (not fat and cholesterol), exercise and lose weight.

And, heed the advice of Catherine Shanahan, M.D.:

“Fifty years of removing foods containing [saturated fat and cholesterol] from our diets – foods like eggs, fresh cream, and liver – to replace them with low-fat or outright artificial chemicals … would have starved our genes of the chemical information on which they’ve come to depend. Simply by cutting eggs and sausage from our breakfasts to replace them with cold cereals would mean that generations of children have been fed fewer fats, B vitamins, and collagenous proteins than required for optimal growth.” (3)

I encourage you not to hesitate in ordering a hefty quantity of eggs at a local diner, but hold on the bread!

Join me in educating the (potentially) overweight, scoffing waiters and waitresses that are in disbelief about the eggs-celent (I had to, sorry) health benefits of eggs.

References

1. Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods. George Metaljan Foundation: Seattle, Washington, 2007.

2. Egg Nutrition Center. August 8, 2012. <http://www.incredibleegg.org/health-and-nutrition>.

3. Shanahan, Catherine and Shanahan, Luke. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food. Big Box Books: Lawai, HI, 2009.