One of the reasons I went to public health school was because the public tends to think that eating well is a complicated endeavor from a nutrition perspective. If one allows herself to be buffeted by the waves of new research studies with their ever-conflicting results, then yes, eating well does become a daunting task.
New research on eggs has brought these thoughts to the forefront, yet again. Hence, I quip, which came first: the fear of cholesterol or the egg? If you’re not familiar with the flip-flopping advice to either abstain or enjoy eggs, here are a few (totally randomly selected) studies that demonstrate the ever-oscillating status of eggs in the American diet.
- 1958: First published in 1928, Nutrition: In Health and Disease, a reference collectively written by Lenna Cooper, Edith Barber, Helen Mitchell, and Henderika Rynbergen—which I bought at a used bookstore in Duncan, Oklahoma—imposes no limits on egg consumption, rather recommending, “The ideal standard is 1 egg a day if possible.”
1999: The International Task Force for the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease recommended limiting egg consumption to two eggs per week. You can read the full text article here. [If you're anything like me, you get a bit of a thrill over FREE full text articles.]
- 2001: A meta-analysis of 17 studies confirmed that dietary cholesterol increases the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol and came to the remarkably wishy-washy conclusion that “the advice to limit the consumption of eggs and other foods rich in dietary cholesterol may still be important in the prevention of coronary heart disease.” [Despite its frustrating conclusion, you can still read the FREE full text here.]
- 2006: Harvard Medical School (consistently ranked the best medical school in the U.S.) wrote that eggs aren’t the dietary demons they’re cracked up to be, concluding that it should be just fine to eat an egg a day.
- 2011: New USDA data revealed eggs to be lower in cholesterol than previously thought, thus “eggsonerating” eggs, and again giving the all clear to egg-lovers that an egg or two a day can be part of a healthy diet.
- 2012: And then BAM! A new study released this month found that eating egg yolks regularly increases plaque buildup about two-thirds as much as smoking does.
So what’s an egg-loving girl to do? Unless you’re a bodybuilder (like my darling husband) and eat dozen-egg breakfasts during training, Cool Hand Luke betting you can eat 50 eggs in a single sitting, or Rocky drinking raw eggs upon waking, your egg consumption is likely a non-issue. Truthfully, there’s more compelling evidence for being concerned with eggs from a food safety perspective than for their cholesterol effects. [You can read up on egg food safety on Marion Nestle's awesome blog, Food Politics.]
The key to a healthy diet consistently recommended throughout history, however, is moderation and balance. Love your eggs. Eat them. Just eat other things as well. A life of only omelets will grow boring. Your outlook and your cholesterol levels may both benefit from the spice of life—variety.