By Leslie Ballentine
From Bad Egg to Good Egg
By Leslie Ballentine
It has taken nearly 40 years for U.S. government nutritional guidelines to catch up to Canada. In February, the top nutrition expert panel in the U.S. lifted its warning about consuming cholesterol. The recommendation comes from the Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee.
In its regular five-year review of dietary guidelines the Advisory Committee recommended lifting restrictions on consuming cholesterol, saying it is “not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” This important recommendation will be considered by the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) as they develop the 2015 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
It’s a move that reverses nearly 50 years of U.S. government warnings about cholesterol-rich foods and whose guidelines influence millions of people. The recommendation validates what research and the egg industry have long been saying.
The announcement is also a significant win for the Canadian egg industry, who has battling cholesterol scare since the 1970s, when research studies began reporting that high-cholesterol foods, especially eggs, raise blood cholesterol levels leading to a higher risk for heart disease. And, as egg farmers know, when people began to think of an egg as a cholesterol time-bomb. That thinking took hold and by the 1980s and ‘90s, food manufacturers were labelling their products as “cholesterol free.” The change in the U.S. recommendation reflects a new evaluation of the existing data that show diets high in saturated or trans fat, not dietary cholesterol, are mostly responsible for increases in blood cholesterol levels.
Scientists have long concluded that the earlier link between eggs and blood cholesterol was largely exaggerated. Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation have recognized that dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol in the general population. But in the U.S., government dietary guidelines continue to advise limiting egg consumption and other cholesterol containing foods. This advice has perpetuated the myth that eggs are bad for your heart.
In general, studies show that for healthy people with no history of heart disease, diabetes or high blood cholesterol, eating an average of one egg per day does not increase the long-term risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown the same to be true for double that intake. Sadly, the “eggs are bad” myth survives where the exact opposite may be true.
In fact, avoiding or restricting egg consumption due to cholesterol concerns may actually be harming not helping us. One large egg contains no trans fat, 70 calories, six grams of high-quality protein and five grams of total fat, most of which is the healthy, unsaturated type that lowers “bad” cholesterol. Ironically, eggs also provide benefits that may actually help to protect heart health. These include antioxidants like the vitamins A, D and E, carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as B vitamins like folate, B6 and B12. Egg yolks are a significant source of iron which, as with the iron in meat, is highly bioavailable. Iron together with folate and vitamin B12 are important for healthy blood.
Nutritionists who’ve commented on the new report say that health warnings about cholesterol all these years may have also caused people to shift to foods high in carbohydrates and sugar which are known to increase heart disease and obesity.
In a complete 180, eggs are now entering the “functional foods” category. A functional food is one that provides health benefits beyond its basic nutrient content. One recent study by a Purdue University nutrition researcher found that adding boiled eggs increases the carotenoid absorption from raw vegetables. Prof. Wayne Campbell, concluded that: “Americans under consume vegetables, and here we have a way to increase the nutritive value of veggies while also receiving the nutritional benefits of egg yolks.”
And according to new research from the University of Eastern Finland, egg consumption may actually lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. In some studies, high-cholesterol diets have been associated with risk of type 2 diabetes. That is why diabetics are still advised to limit their egg consumption. The Finland study found that men who ate approximately four eggs per week had a 37 per cent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than men who only ate approximately one egg per week.
Here’s the Point: It takes science to refute science and science takes time.