Few other foods have fallen victim to the same nutrition fickleness as that of the incredible edible egg—or at least it’s golden yellow center. Up until about 40 years ago, it was s highly regarded and undisputed dietary staple. In 1961, American’s were warned that eggs (particularly the yolks) were high in cholesterol and therefore associated heart disease. After warnings from the American Heart Association and the federal government, eggs were labeled as a dangerous food and per capita, egg consumption dropped by 30 percent.
Over the next 54 years, scientists, researches and nutrition experts continued to weigh in on the implications of these otherwise nutrient powerhouses on heart health.
The common belief was that dietary intake of cholesterol was linked to high cholesterol in the blood. And high cholesterol (particularly LDL-cholesterol) had been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease. It seemed logical—eat too much cholesterol and you’ll have high cholesterol. I can’t blame the experts who came to that conclusion. But the reality was—there was no evidence that dietary cholesterol had any impact on the cholesterol in our blood.
Based on these cholesterol conclusions, the dietary guidelines committee developed recommendations stating individuals should consume no more than 300mg of cholesterol/day. One lowly egg contains over one third of that recommendation. Again, it only seemed logical. But still the evidence was lacking.
In 2010, newer research emerged that contradicted the notion that eggs caused heart disease. This research looked at intake of one egg per day on cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. No cause or correlation was observed in this large study and newer recommendations were made that allowed for an egg a day. However, the dietary guidelines published in 2010 still warned the public against excess intake of total dietary cholesterol and kept recommendations at 300mg/day.
Fast forward five years and we’ve now got a new story on our hands (or in our kitchens). For many years, nutritionists and dietitians have believed and taught that dietary cholesterol plays little, if any, role in our blood cholesterol. And now the government and nation’s top nutrition advisory panel agrees. In fact, in May of 2015, they decided to drop cholesterol from the list of “nutrients of concern”—a move that shocked and confused many people. But research supports this conclusion, revealing instead that excessive intake of saturated fat and sugar pose a much greater risk to heart health than dietary cholesterol.
So what does this mean for the incredible edible egg? There has been no recommendation made for servings per day but recent studies are beginning to suggest that eggs may actually have cardio-protective qualities that until recently went unnoticed or misunderstood.
While the verdict is still out on the egg itself, it looks that the nutrient that has created all the turmoil may no longer be the nutrition villain we once believe it to be. Eggs contain a perfect protein profile and numerous beneficial vitamins and minerals. They are satisfying, versatile and inexpensive. For these reasons, my recommendation is simple; enjoy your omelets, quiches and frittatas and don’t feel obligated to create them sans yolk—that’s where the cholesterol lives innocently and harmoniously with the many other health-promoting nutrients housed in the incredibly misunderstood egg.