We all know the world we live in is already complicated, and more so in the world of nutrition and health. If you are serious about eating healthy, get fit and stay in shape, then you will know what we mean.
Are Eggs Secretly Bad for Us?
For a long time, people have discovered many ways to cook eggs. While eggs have cemented itself as a delicious ingredient and essential in various culinary methods, nutritionists and healthcare experts have not been the most decisive bunch when it comes to the cholesterol in eggs.
Some nutritionists think eggs are beneficial to human health despite its high cholesterol content. Others are confident that they are actually harmful to us.
To throw in a new spanner in an already-crowded, confusing and oft-flip-flopping field of studies on eggs, a new large study attempts to clear the smoke.
The analysis studies data extracted from 6 large prospective studies that involved following about 30,000 subjects, with an average follow-up duration of more than 17 years. The analysis found that for every additional 300mg of cholesterol in the daily diet, it carried a 17 per cent increase in the risk of contracting cardiovascular disease and an 18 per cent increase in the risk of dying prematurely.
An egg contains roughly 185mg of cholesterol, all of which are found in the egg yolk.
The findings are, however, based on observed data and thus cannot determine the cause and effect. But regardless of how friendly one’s diet is to the heart, the more eggs one consumes, the greater is the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and premature death.
Dietary Cholesterol and Health
But eggs are not the sole culprit. It is the same for any dietary cholesterol as well: the more cholesterol you eat, the higher your risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Having written the accompanying editorial to the study, a professor of medicine at the University Of Colorado, said that the study was way more comprehensive than other reviews done previously. The authors revealed that for the past few decades in the US, Americans have not changed their intake of cholesterol much, averaging about 300mg per day. At that level, they found that dietary cholesterol is linked to an increased risk of getting cardiovascular problems.
Of course, like any health-related issues, there is never one single smoking gun. A person’s risk of heart disease involves more than just dietary factors, and the percentages quoted in the study refer to the extent of change in an existing risk from a diet high in cholesterol, so the effect is not jarring.
The study takes into account the quality of people’s diet and makes necessary adjustments, the lead author explains. The team of experts in the study stayed focused on the independent effects of eggs and other contributors to dietary cholesterol. For instance, people who live healthier tend to consume more eggs for the protein, but even for them, the effects of eggs and cholesterol were consistent.
However, it was noted that not everyone is affected in the same way by dietary cholesterol; the association between the amount cholesterol consumed and the amount in the blood is complicated and differs for each individual based on his/her metabolism and genetic factors — some can consume lots of eggs and have little of the cholesterol go into the bloodstream.
The study analysed dietary cholesterol at the population level and is unable to provide answers on an individual level since there will be many more variations in the dietary cholesterol-heart disease relationship.
We Can Eat Eggs, But Not Too Many
The general recommendations currently on dietary cholesterol can be confusing.
In Singapore, the Health Promotion Board says that individuals should aim to consume no more than 300mg of cholesterol a day and fewer than four egg yolks a week.
The Department of Health and Human Services in the US recommends that people should consume as little cholesterol as possible and maintain a healthy eating pattern.
But the Scientific Report, a publication that accompanies the US guidelines also says that avoiding eggs is not so important since cholesterol is not a concern for over-consumption. It can go on to be just as confusing with multiple studies that arrive at various conclusions on the importance of dietary cholesterol on overall health, with eggs in particular.
Several areas of this study set it apart from the others and present a more convincing report. Not only were the experts were able to isolate each of the 30,000 participants’ data, but they also were able to record an individual’s exact level of cholesterol in his/her diet and find out the effects of egg cholesterol from other cholesterol-containing foods.
In spite of the strengths of the study, we will need more studies in future to understand why findings across different studies are in conflict across different populations, and whether it is possible that eggs are bad for some people and inconsequential for others.