The study, published in the journal Atheroscolerosis, found that people who ate more eggs per week had significantly greater plaque buildup – almost two-thirds as much as smokers. One reason why this could be is that one large egg yolk can contain as much as 237 milligrams of cholesterol, according to lead author Dr. David Spence who contends that diets low in cholesterol are key for heart health in people of all ages. “Just because you’re 20,” he warns, “doesn’t mean egg yolks aren’t going to cause any trouble down the line.”
This may be true, but it seems studies come out suggesting one thing and then two weeks later suggest another, which makes it hard to know where to stand on health topics such as this.
Martica Heaner, PhD, a nutritionist, adjunct associate professor in nutrition at Hunter College, and research associate at Columbia University Medical Center, points out that observational studies like this suggest links and associations and don’t state hard-line facts, which is why this news shouldn’t send everyone into a panic about their diet.
Unlike an observational study, a cause-and-effect study would’ve analyzed patients for a longer period of time and strictly monitored their overall diets, exercise habits and other factors that may also contribute to heart disease and high cholesterol levels. Because of this, results from this particular study aren’t as applicable to the general population as some may think.
So what does the average person need to know about this study? For one, it shouldn’t make people without heart disease all of the sudden fear eating eggs, because a) they’re a healthy source of protein, vitamins and minerals, and b) the participants in this study already had heart disease to begin with.
In addition, Heaner points out that the participants who ate more eggs may have also exercised less, ate fewer vegetables and ate more meat, which also could’ve contributed to heart disease and higher cholesterol levels.
Eggs do contain a high amount of cholesterol, and poor blood cholesterol levels can contribute to the development of heart disease-causing plaque in the arteries, says Heaner. “This is why one of the recommendations for people with poor cholesterol and/or existing heart disease is to avoid or limit excess dietary cholesterol and saturated fat.”
But people with healthy cholesterol levels can generally handle higher amounts of dietary cholesterol from foods like eggs, because their bodies will ‘down-regulate’ its own production if they eat more.
“This is only one observational study. It does not prove cause-and-effect,” said DietsInReview.com’s Registered Dietitian, Mary Hartley, RD. “What’s more, the researchers used diet information obtained from self-administered questionnaires about eating habits in the past, which makes the answers questionable.”
And perhaps more importantly, Mary contends that “no other diet or lifestyle factors were considered, such as intake of fatty meat, weight, waist-size, exercise habits, family history, or anything beyond egg intake and smoking.”
Mary also points out that The American Heart Association acknowledges that it’s possible “to fit an egg a day into a healthy diet.” She agrees saying, “Eggs are a highly nutritious low calorie, high protein food with 13 essential vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants. Eggs fit in to a balanced diet but, like all foods, they should be eaten in portions needed to maintain a healthy weight.”
The Chicken Before the Egg
Another factor to consider? The chicken that produces the egg. Heaner points that our society has become very focused on what’s in our food, but sometimes neglects to consider the source.
“People tend to think that dairy foods like chickens and cow products are safer, but chickens are often in horrifying living conditions when they are forced to produce eggs for us to eat. We don’t know a lot about the quality of those eggs and how they affect our health,” she said. “But part of our eating choices should be formed based on the ethical issues around how the animals that provide food for us are treated.”
For many people, this means avoiding animal products entirely to ensure they’re not contributing to animal cruelty. For others, it’s about making certain that their food comes from animals that are treated ethically. But no matter where you may fall on the subject, know that the quality of the food you eat matters to your health.
In summary, smoking is a habit everyone should avoid. But when it comes to eggs, those without heart disease shouldn’t be too concerned.