Today we’re going to talk about cholesterol in eggs.
A few weeks ago a woman posted a picture on my favorite Google+ community, and she was explaining that her new diet consisted in egg white omelets.
Egg white omelets?! It seems that people (and doctors alike) are still afraid of egg yolks! But there is absolutely no reason for that for most people.
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods, and they are a great way for us to provide our body with plenty of nutrients. Of course this isn’t the case of bad quality eggs, and that’s why it’s important to choose the right type of eggs.
That said, it is important to understand that the cholesterol in eggs (and other foods) is not directly related to your blood cholesterol levels.
You will find people like me who eat about 8 to 10 eggs per week, cook with butter and eat animal fats, have a great blood cholesterol level, while people who eat egg white omelets and avoid butter like the plague have a high blood cholesterol.
Now, let’s watch the video to see how this works:
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Cholesterol in your body
Cholesterol is essential because it is needed for many processes in the body, and it is an essential components of cell membranes.
Our body actually manufactures cholesterol every single day.
Realize this: for a man of about 150 pounds, the body produces about 1 g (1,000 mg) of cholesterol per day, and total body content in cholesterol is about 35 g. It is mainly located within all the membranes of our cells. (1)
About 20–25% of total daily cholesterol production occurs in the liver; other sites of significant cholesterol synthesis include the intestines, adrenal glands, and reproductive organs.
And what’s even more interesting is that cholesterol production in the body is regulated. This means that a higher intake of cholesterol from food leads to a decrease in the production of cholesterol in the body. And lower intake from food has the opposite effect: your body will produce more cholesterol, because it NEEDS it.
Now we know that eating bland, egg-whites omelets makes no sense, because eliminating cholesterol from the yolks will make our body compensate by producing the cholesterol itself. And not eating the yolk will prevent you from getting the important vitamins, minerals, and choline, that your body needs.
Now, it’s good to mention that according to research, there are mainly 2 cases when you should really be careful with eggs: if you already have cardiovascular disease, and if you have diabetes. But for overall healthy people, eggs are really good and healthy.
What research says about eggs and cholesterol
So, now, here is what research studies say about dietary cholesterol from eggs, cheese, meats, etc.:
A 2009 paper (2) stated that:
For many years, both the medical community and the general public have incorrectly associated eggs with high serum cholesterol and being deleterious to health, even though cholesterol is an essential component of cells and organisms.
It is now acknowledged that the original studies purporting to show a linear relation between cholesterol intake and coronary heart disease (CHD) may have contained fundamental study design flaws, including conflated cholesterol and saturated fat consumption rates and inaccurately assessed actual dietary intake of fats by study subjects.
Newer and more accurate trials, such as that conducted by Frank B. Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health (1999), have shown that consumption of up to seven eggs per week is harmonious with a healthful diet, except in male patients with diabetes for whom an association in higher egg intake and CHD was shown.
It is evident that the dynamics of cholesterol homeostasis, and of development of CHD, are extremely complex and multifactorial
In plain English:
1/ our body needs cholesterol
2/ the original studies linking dietary cholesterol and CHD were flawed
3/ you can eat one egg per day and be healthy except if you have diabetes
4/ CHD is caused by a multitude of factors, that are still not well understood to this day.
A 2006 paper (3) stated that:
Dietary recommendations aimed at restricting egg consumption should not be generalized to include all individuals. We need to acknowledge that diverse healthy populations experience no risk in developing coronary heart disease by increasing their intake of cholesterol but, in contrast, they may have multiple beneficial effects by the inclusion of eggs in their regular diet.
In plain English: eggs are good for you if you’re overall healthy.
A 2000 paper (4) stated that:
Several studies have examined egg intake and its relationship with coronary outcomes. All but one failed to consider the role of other potentially confounding dietary factors. When dietary confounders were considered, no association was seen between egg consumption at levels up to 1 + egg per day and the risk of coronary heart disease in non-diabetic men and women.
In plain English: the observation of populations has shown that eating one egg per day (or less) is not associated with a higher risk of CHD, except in diabetic people.
And finally, a 1982 (that’s more than 30 years ago!) paper (5) stated that:
The Framingham Study has investigated the effect of host and environmental factors on the development of coronary heart disease since 1949. Serum cholesterol level was determined to the one of the risk factors for coronary heart disease. A review of this material has permitted an estimate of egg consumption on each of 912 subjects.
No relationship between egg intake and coronary heart disease incidence was found. It is concluded that within the range of egg intake of this population differences in egg consumption were unrelated to blood cholesterol level or to coronary heart disease incidence.
In plain English: egg consumption is not related to CHD.
To sum things up, eggs are a perfectly healthy food in moderation (up to 7 per week) unless you already have CHD or diabetes.
But there is more to the topic of eggs and cholesterol, and this is very seldom talked about. It has also not been studied that much.
What You Really Need to Consider: Oxidized Cholesterol in Eggs
The fundamental point to understand is that cholesterol (as well as the other fats contained in eggs) can basically be either pure or pathological. Cholesterol (just like fats) may be damaged by exposure to either heat or oxygen.
And if it is damaged, it can no longer perform its job; it fails to wear well and keep the lining of arterial cells lubricated, which may result in arterial disease.
Damaged cholesterol thus promotes both injury of the arterial cells and buildup of plaque in the arteries.
So, which foods should you avoid?
Damaged cholesterol is found in a number of processed foods and all foods that have been heated to high temperatures: eggs and meats that have been cooked at high temperatures in frying and other processes, powdered eggs, and powdered milk (added for example to low-fat milks).
Consequently, cholesterol will not be an issue for overall healthy people if it stays pure and is not altered by heat or oxygen. This is why it is important to consume foods that have not been over-heated, and thus have not been oxidized, which always occurs with industrial processes.
A fried egg, while it might taste good, is not a good idea from a cholesterol point of view.
A raw egg yolk (fresh from free-range hens), a poached egg, a soft-boiled egg, and a delicately scrambled egg are much better options. Simply put, they will provide the cholesterol that your cells need, and they won’t damage your arteries.
So, here is the takeaway for you today:
1) Your body needs cholesterol. It will manufacture it if you don’t eat enough, so you don’t have to worry about this.
2) What you have to worry about is to avoid feeding your body damaged cholesterol, because this oxidized cholesterol will still end up in your cells and may cause arterial disease over time.
3) If you already have cardiovascular disease or another metabolic disease, make sure to consult your physician and a dietician.