Egg and Cholesterol Paranoia
The graybeards among us remember the great cholesterol scare of the last century when people stopped eating eggs, or at least whole eggs. The mere sight of a whole egg was almost enough to cause a health conscious person to clutch their chest and self-administer CPR.
The chickens, no doubt, saw it as payback. It's as if they'd colluded to take revenge on humans for having fried, baked, broiled, and fricasseed so many of them for so long; their way of awkwardly extending a scaly middle toe and saying, "Cluck you, Colonel Sanders."
Thankfully, most of that egg and cholesterol paranoia has subsided, washed away by the ceaseless tide of a growing body of nutritional science. But many people are still a little wary of eggs.
Oh, they'll eat one or two a couple of times a week, but deep down, they'll still imagine fat and cholesterol particles getting into a major traffic pileup on one of their major arterial highways.
But that residual fear of eggs is unfounded. In fact, the findings of a recent study don't just suggest that you're "allowed" to eat an egg or two a day; it actually shows that eating one, two, or preferably three eggs a day will make your heart healthier.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut rounded up 40 healthy men and women between the ages of 18 and 30. All underwent a two-week "washout" period where they were instructed to consume no eggs.
They then began eating eggs, ramping up consumption as they went. First they each had one egg a day, then two, and then three. This continued for 4 weeks.
After each period (between ramp-ups of egg consumption), scientists took blood samples and tested for lipoprotein subfractions, plasma apolipoprotein concentration, lutein and zeaxanthin concentration, and activities of lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase, cholesteryl ester transfer protein, and paraoxonase-1.
The results proved bittersweet to all chickens. Gone were all hopes of revenge, but at the same time, the chickens' breasts swelled with pride because eating eggs did nothing but good things to the test subjects. Here are some of the things the researchers noted:
- Eating eggs improved particle size. The concentration of large HDL cholesterol particles and large LDL cholesterol particles increased. That's good, because you want big, "fluffy" cholesterol particles floating around instead of beady-eyed little ones.
- Eating eggs improved levels of cholesterol "efflux" and HDL transport. That means the rate at which excess cholesterol was kicked out of the body increased.
- Eating eggs increased antioxidant levels. Participants saw a 20-31% increase in plasma lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that have a cardioprotective effect.
The researchers concluded that, "Overall, intake of eggs favored a less atherogenic LDL particle profile, improved HDL function, and increased plasma antioxidants in young, healthy adults."
Cholesterol and heart disease were once thought to be irrevocably linked, but we've since learned otherwise. Sure, cholesterol levels still matter, but science has redefined what they mean.
For instance, HDL function might be more important than HDL concentration in figuring out risks for cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, particle size and ratios of HDL to LDL are more important than raw numbers (what the standard metabolic blood panel tells you).
So, unless you have some specific, genetically determined problem where your cholesterol is in a race with the DOW to hit new records, go ahead and eat your eggs. In fact, this study found that the more eggs the participants ate (up to 3) every day, the better their heart-health numbers.
Of course, I have to point out that the study only lasted 4 weeks. It's of course possible that long-term consumption of this many eggs could have unforeseen effects. Still, at the very least, it's time to look at eggs afresh. And definitely eat your yolks. The days of restaurants offering "heart healthy" platters with their pathetic albino scrambled eggs are over.
- Dimarco DM et al. Intake of up to 3 Eggs per Day Is Associated with Changes in HDL Function and Increased Plasma Antioxidants in Healthy, Young Adults. J Nutr. 2017 Mar;147(3):323-329.