Now a new analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that eggs are bad for heart health.
Here we go again. You may have seen reports that a newly published study found that eggs, not long ago deemed healthy, are, in fact, bad for our heart health.
This is not the first time advice about eggs has flipped. Back in the late 1970s, doctors began to realize that excess cholesterol in blood was a predictor of heart disease. Thus began the low-fat, low-cholesterol diet recommendations. Because just one egg yolk has nearly 200 milligrams of cholesterol, experts recommended avoiding them. Then in 2013, the American College of Cardiology, along with the American Heart Association, concluded that dietary cholesterol, such as what is found in eggs and shellfish, was no longer a nutrient of concern. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also removed cholesterol as a concern, and the popularity of eggs soared once again.
Now a new analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that eggs are bad for heart health. The authors of the research analyzed data from six different studies involving nearly 30,000 people from 1985 to 2016. They concluded that for each additional 300 milligrams of cholesterol eaten, the risk of heart disease rose 17 percent and the risk of premature death from any cause increased eight percent. Their conclusion was that adults who ate one and half eggs or more per day had a slightly higher risk of heart disease than those who ate no eggs. The more eggs eaten, the greater the risk.
So are eggs off the table for good? Not so fast. Although the results of this study may seem alarming, especially to those who have added whole eggs back into their diets, there are many flaws with the study itself.
First, this was an observational study, meaning that it cannot prove cause and effect. So it cannot prove that eating more eggs is what caused an increased risk of heart disease. Second, the six studies used varying methods to collect diet information from the participants, resulting in inconsistent data. The studies may or may not have accounted for other heart disease risk factors, such as weight, smoking, overall saturated fat intake, total dietary pattern, family history, exercise and so on. The average follow-up time for the individuals studied was 17 years. Just one food frequency questionnaire was answered at the beginning of the study. This does not take into account things that might have occurred during those 17 years, such as diet changes, weight changes or other factors that could contribute to heart health. Do you eat the same as you did 17 years ago? Probably not.
Self-reported food intakes are always questionable, especially when asking about what you ate days, weeks or even months ago. People forget, wrongly estimate portions or quantity, or simply don’t tell the truth. Not to mention, the study did not ask how the eggs were eaten: Fried in bacon grease? Scrambled with butter or cheese? Alongside sausage or bacon?
We eat an average of 280 eggs per person, per year according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This is within the current recommendation of the American Heart Association, which says that an egg a day or seven in a week can fit into a heart-healthy lifestyle. Most previous studies agree that eating a few eggs weekly is not linked with risk for heart disease in generally healthy people.
Eggs really are a powerhouse of nutrition with one egg providing only about 75 calories but six grams of high-quality protein. Eggs also contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals, including lutein and zeaxanthin, important nutrients for eye health. Plus, eggs are one of the only foods that supply a natural source for vitamin D.
Rather than vilify a single food, it makes far more sense to take a look at the overall pattern of your diet. Is an egg or two for breakfast better than a donut or even a bagel with cream cheese? Yes. Should you eat two or three eggs every day? Probably not. The same boring advice remains: Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, and eat fewer processed foods and sugar. Do that most days, and eggs shouldn’t be a concern.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach.