March 18, 2019

Bad News for Egg Lovers

Eggs are the perfect protein, but eating more than three or four eggs a week is risky for your heart.

The connection between eggs and your heart is scrambled once again. Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy your morning eggs, a new study renews old warnings.

When the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released, there was no longer a limit on dietary cholesterol or how many eggs were safe to eat. In fact, eggs were encouraged as an affordable, accessible source of protein. Americans now eat about 280 eggs per person per year, a significant increase over the number consumed before the latest version of the dietary guidelines.

Eating three to four eggs a week led to a six percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and an eight percent increase in the risk of death from any cause.

Using dietary information collected from nearly 30,000 people over 31 years, researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that people who ate 300 or more milligrams of cholesterol per day had a 17 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Eating three to four eggs a week led to a six percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and an eight percent increase in the risk of death from any cause. Over the 31 years represented by the data, there were 5,400 cardiovascular events diagnosed and 6,100 deaths.

“Our study showed if two people had the exact same diet and the only difference in diet was eggs, then you could directly measure the effect of the egg consumption on heart disease,” said study author, Norrina Allen, in a statement. “We found cholesterol, regardless of the source, was associated with an increased risk of heart disease.”

The effect of eating dietary cholesterol or eggs on cardiovascular disease and death has been a topic of debate since the 20th century. Before 2015, the dietary guidelines recommended eating less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day.

Eggs are one of the highest sources of cholesterol in the American diet with nearly 200 milligrams in a yolk. All animal foods contain cholesterol since it is a part of every cell in the body. Meats of all types (red meat, poultry, seafood) and dairy foods contain cholesterol in varying amounts.

In light of their findings, the researchers recommend a re-evaluation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The message for concerned consumers is: Don’t cut eggs out of your diet completely. They are an inexpensive source of high-quality protein. In fact, they are the perfect protein, containing all of the essential amino acids in just the right ratios.

As with everything you eat, follow the principle of moderation. Maybe you shouldn’t eat eggs every day. In cooking, you can dump some of the yolks, and use just the whites of the eggs which contain all the protein, but not the cholesterol.

It's also important to keep in mind that eggs aren’t the only source of cholesterol in your diet. Other animal foods you eat contribute to your total daily cholesterol intake. Meatless meals can also help lower the amount of cholesterol you eat.

The study is published in JAMA.

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