Public Health/Nutrition
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Which Came First: The Fear of Cholesterol or the Egg?

Image from: http://www.thereformedbroker.com/2012/08/06/chicken-or-the-egg-the-actively-managed-etf-problem/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.”
  • “Nutrition: In Health and Disease” (1958) pictured with one of my favorite antiques, an 1856 print titled “Winter Fashions”

    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.]
  • 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.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Interdisciplinarity & Health: 10 Posts to Celebrate National Public Health Week | Emily Contois

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