Fresh off the presses, a Journal Of The American Medical Association (JAMA) paper has found that more eggs and especially more cholesterol in your diet increases risk of heart disease and death.
In what seems like one of the most contentious and controversial back and forth debates in contemporary nutrition, the authors of this study claim that they’ve done a better job than any previous papers when it comes to controlling for confounding behavioural and dietary factors ( ie: saturated fat consumption) in their analysis.
Cholesterol, for those who may not know, is a non-essential nutrient found exclusively in animal-based foods that is used for hormone production and other cellular functions.
A healthy human body manufactures its own cholesterol, meaning you don’t necessarily need to eat any amount from food to function properly.
You never hear of vegans taking a cholesterol supplement for this reason.
Eggs, Cholesterol And Your Heart
To cut right to the chase, the primary study finding is that each additional 300 mg of cholesterol consumed per day resulted in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (~3% increase) and death by any cause (~4%).
The effect of having more total dietary cholesterol was much more relevant than the effect of having eggs specifically, but the topic of eggs remains relevant because 2 large eggs contain about 350 mg of cholesterol and eggs are the number one contributor of cholesterol to the American diet ( 25% of total cholesterol), meaning that those with higher cholesterol consumption are also statistically more likely to be high egg consumers.
Foods of animal origin tend to contain some level of cholesterol, but on a per serving basis no conventionally consumed foods contain more than eggs.
Based on the data linked above, I calculated that another 25% of total cholesterol intake can be attributed to a group of foods that are individually lower than eggs in cholesterol but higher than eggs in at least one of three unfavourable categories: saturated fat, preservatives or sodium.
This list includes: beef, burgers, cheese, sausages, bacon, ribs, pork, and cold cuts.
Not necessarily foods we associate with good health outcomes, eh?
Eggs, as compared to the foods listed above, contain vitamin D ( which many people don’t get enough of) , anti-oxidants ( Lutein and zeaxanthin) and potentially a reasonable amount of omega-3 fatty acids ( depending on the egg variety).
You can take from that comparison what you will and it does not change the fact that eggs are the single largest cholesterol contributor to the American diet, but none the less, they do have something meaningful to offer from a nutritional perspective.
The story doesn’t end there though.
The Bigger Picture
Let’s run with the notion that high cholesterol consumption, which is not exclusively but more likely to be brought on by high egg consumption, does in fact modestly increase your risk of heart disease or death by any cause.
The next question to ask, I suppose, is whether or not that matters to YOU and then beyond that, to the public at large.
So let’s answer that question!
The foods that tend to be associated with reduced risk of death by any cause include: vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and fish.
Do you eat these foods regularly and in ample quantity?
If you do, then almost certainly the protection these foods offer against death and disease will render whether or not you have a few extra eggs a week much less relevant.
If you don’t ( which probably characterizes a fair portion of the population at large…), then almost certainly your energy should be spent, first and foremost, on incorporating these foods more regularly, independent of how high or low your cholesterol or egg intake may be.
Still Concerned About Your Cholesterol/Egg Intake?
Guess what dish has a similar amount of protein and iron to scrambled eggs, with a fraction of the saturated fat and sodium, NONE of the cholesterol, and the same great taste at the SAME COST per serving?
If you answered tofu scramble, we have a winner.
They say variety is the spice of life, and that it’s good for you, right?
So what’s holding you back from trying? I guarantee you it tastes better than you think.
I strongly believe that the single greatest thing that ANYONE can do to improve their health is alter their ratio of plant to animal-based protein.
And just in case you haven’t seen the new food guide yet, Health Canada tends to agree.
Let me ask you this:
How many eggs have you had in your life?
How many bricks of tofu have you had in your life?
Maybe it’s time to alter that ratio.
Until next time,
Andy De Santis RD MPH