Do Nutritious Eggs Raise Cholesterol Levels?

How many eggs is a good number to eat each week? Most people would say no more than two to four, and some people avoid egg yolks, and only eat the egg white protein, to avoid the cholesterol raising fats in the egg yolk. Yet nutrition experts in Australia have overturned that advice, and seriously suggest people eat at least six eggs a week.

They came to this conclusion after looking at all the evidence surrounding eggs’ nutritional makeup and their effects on people’s cholesterol levels.The Egg Nutrition Roundtable Report was prepared by a group of leading Australian healthcare professionals who looked at research worldwide on the nutritional aspects of eggs.

The group of included a cardiologist, an endocrinologist, a general practitioner (family doctor), nutrition researchers, and a dietitian. Some were members of the Egg Nutrition Council (ENC), providing nutrition advice to the Australian egg industry and to Australian healthcare professionals.

Despite receiving some funding from the Australian Egg Corporation, The Round Table report is completely independent.

The Myth of Eggs and High Cholesterol

ENC member and leading lipidologist and cardiologist, Dr Karam Kostner, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Queensland, Mater Hospital, Brisbane said, “There is no doubt, due to the long-standing nutritional myths that have surrounded eggs for decades, many Australians have been missing out on essential nutrients by unnecessarily limiting eggs in their diet.”

He explained that it was the saturated fat in eggs that led to them being stigmatised as causing high cholesterol, based on studies done in the 1970s on rats and rabbits.

Early epidemiological research looking at population effects on cholesterol did find an effect from increasing the intake of dietary fats, but more recent studies with better statistical controls have shown a much lower effect of dietary cholesterol on an individual’s total cholesterol levels. In fact there may be no effect at all.

Good News about Eggs and Heart Disease

Dr Kostner said the new studies showed that eating eggs had little or no effect on a person’s serum cholesterol levels and did not contribute to cardiovascular disease.

“The value of the chicken egg as a nutrient-rich food, which has minimal impact on serum cholesterol in most people, is now fully recognised by leading health bodies both in Australia and around the world,” he said. “Eggs are nutrient dense, rich in high quality protein and omega-3 and are a valuable source of many essential micro-nutrients.”

Following another recent review of evidence surrounding the effect of dietary fats on health, The National Heart Foundation of Australia now recommends up to six eggs a week can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet, which is low in saturated fat.

Omega-3 and Eggs

One of the benefits eggs supply – crucial for people at risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia – is good amounts of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

Sharon Natoli, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Founding Director, Food & Nutrition Australia, said that two eggs supply an almost equivalent amount of long chain omega-3 as a serving of fish.

Regularly eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to help protect the body against cardiovascular disease.

Make the Most of Nutrient-dense Eggs

Ms Natoli said eggs provided a valuable source of essential nutrients, and should be a regular part of a low-saturated fat diet. They are particularly suitable for children, vegetarians and elderly people who have difficulty eating or have poor appetites. She stressed that eating six eggs a week is also safe for people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

Being a complete food to nourish the developing bird before hatching, eggs are a very nutrient-rich food, high in vitamins A, B12 and D, as well as nutrients beneficial to the eyes and eyesight – lutein and zeaxanthine.

“Eggs also have high quality protein that helps maintain muscle mass, and they are easy to cook and easy to eat,” she said.

What’s in an Egg

Each egg contains 12% protein, 11% fat (of which a third is saturated fat) and 4% carbohydrates, all for approximately 68 calories. Nutrients include:

  • vitamin A – retinol, beta carotene and carotenoid
  • vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6, B13 and niacin
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • folate
  • vitamin K
  • pantonthenic acid
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • omega -6 fatty acids
  • lutein
  • zeaxanthine

Valuable minerals found in eggs include:

  • boron
  • calcium
  • chromium
  • copper
  • fluoride
  • iodine
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • molybdenum
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • selenium
  • sodium
  • zinc

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