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Are eggs bad for your heart?

(Photo Credit: Debbie R.)

(Photo Credit: Debbie R.)

Q: I’m so confused about eggs. One day they give us high cholesterol, the next day they’re a healthy choice. Which is it? Are eggs bad for your heart?

A: I don’t blame you for being confused. There have been a number of conflicting studies about eggs in recent years and the advice has changed.

When I studied nutrition, the prevailing notion was that – because eggs are high in cholesterol – those who are at risk of heart disease should limit their egg consumption. Well, times have changed; now we know that dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol. Far more important factors include family history, weight, fitness, and alcohol consumption.

While dietary cholesterol does contribute to your serum (that’s a component of your blood) cholesterol, it’s only about 25 per cent. The other 75 per cent is made in your body. The amount of cholesterol in your body has a sort of self-regulated set point so that when you consume more dietary cholesterol your body manufactures less. It’s your standard supply-and-demand scenario. Your body is not very effective at outpacing dietary cholesterol, so most of what you eat isn’t absorbed by your body at all.

That said, to have a healthy diet it’s still important to consume a variety of foods. Too much of anything is bad for you. Try to get your protein from a wide variety of sources, particularly from plants.

It’s still recommended that healthy people consume no more than an average of one egg per day. People with heart disease, high cholesterol, or diabetes should consume no more than one or two whole eggs a week (1) It’s quite likely, however, that we’ll see this advice change eventually. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee made headlines earlier this year when they made the statement that, “available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol” (2).

(Photo Credit: Martin Brigden)

(Photo Credit: Martin Brigden)

“What’s so great about eggs anyway?” you may be wondering. Well, one egg contains 13 grams of protein, is a good source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin A, and a respectable source of iron. Most of those nutrients are housed within the yolk.

That means that while those cartons of egg whites that were all the rage a few years ago (do people still buy those?) were a good source of protein, they weren’t providing much else. Of course you could use them to augment your single whole egg (if you’re following the current guidelines) but you still want that bit of yolk in there for all of those essential vitamins and minerals.

If you are eating eggs and using only the whites, please don’t throw away those yolks. There are lots of edible ways you can use them up (but then you may as well be adding them to your omelette in the first place, am I right?). Some more innovative ways to use them without consuming them include making a moisturizing hair product or face mask by whipping the yolks. You can even make paint.

Looking for inspiration on what to make using eggs? Obviously hard-boiled eggs make for a great portable snack (just make sure you keep them chilled). My favourite way to have eggs is in a strata or a savoury bread pudding. I love a fried or poached egg on just about any meal; stir fry, roasted vegetables, warm salad, fried rice, a sandwich, just put an egg on it and you’ve got a complete meal. They’re also great in many desserts… think home made ice cream, key lime pie, or meringue.

Eggs, they’re not just for breakfast. No, I have no ties to the egg industry, but you’re welcome to that line egg marketing boards!

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