By Dr. Laura Pawlak
The hard-boiled egg, a breakfast omelet, and fancy deviled eggs — these are favorites among Americans. Eggs are also a good source of protein, along with meat, fish, and poultry. But, is the egg considered a healthy choice?
In 1980, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began releasing dietary recommendations for Americans with a focus on cardiovascular health. Dietary cholesterol was stated as a major contributor to heart disease. Eggs, the number one source of cholesterol in the diet, took the spotlight.
While dietary cholesterol can be found in all foods derived from animals, one egg has about 200 mg. of cholesterol while a serving of beef, pork, or chicken has less than 100 mg. per serving. The dietary limit for cholesterol (300 mg. per day) significantly limiting the choice of egg-based meals and snacks.
Decades of research have led to a very different interpretation of the role cholesterol plays in heart health. There was no direct evidence to support the link between egg consumption and blood levels of cholesterol — the risk factor for heart disease. The liver produces most of the cholesterol measured in the blood.
By 2015, dietary cholesterol was no longer considered “the nutrient of concern” for healthy people. New dietary guidelines reflected an emphasis on whole foods, rather than individual nutrients. For example, fish provides essential omega-3 fatty acids and protein, not just cholesterol. Red meat contains multiple substances beyond cholesterol that negatively affect heart health.
Eggs made a comeback, but included a warning to eat eggs in moderation — only one or 2 eggs per day. Further restriction was recommended for persons with Type 2 diabetes: Limit eggs to four per week.
This year, new research by Victor Zhong and colleagues (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2019) rekindles the debate about the role of dietary cholesterol from eggs and red meat in cardiovascular disease and all cause mortality, but official guidelines remain unchanged.
According to Dr. Frank Hu, of the Harvard School of Public Health (2019), “For persons who are generally healthy, eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes and lower [the] consumption of red and processed meats and sugar. A low to moderate intake of eggs can be included as part of a healthy eating pattern, but they are not essential. There is a range of other foods one can choose for a variety of healthful breakfasts, such as whole grain toast with nut butter, fresh fruits, and plain yogurt.”
Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita. She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.” On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.