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Eggs: Healthy or Not?

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Eggs: They're just one of those foods. Seems like every other week there's an egg controversy.

Are they good for you, bad for you, or somewhere in between?

As a Ph.D.-trained nutritional biochemist and a full-time nutrition coach, I've long been fascinated with this debate. In fact, I've often wondered...

How did eggs get so controversial in the first place?

I guess a lot of it has to do with cholesterol. A large egg contains about 185 mg of cholesterol. And since the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a limit of 300 mg per day, eat two eggs and you've exceeded that limit.

(Cue up the post-breakfast guilt and shame.)

So, eggs are bad then?

Not so fast. There happens to be a problem with the AHA's recommendation. It assumes that when you eat more cholesterol (from eggs and other animal foods), your blood cholesterol increases.

Assume that and, of course, it makes sense to eat fewer eggs. Your blood cholesterol would be lower. Your heart and arteries would stay healthier for longer.

But here's the AHA's dirty little secret: Your body doesn't work that way.

Indeed, the research consistently and reliably shows that the cholesterol you eat has very little impact on how much cholesterol is in your blood.

If that sounds weird, maybe this will help...

You see, your body makes cholesterol. Lots of it, in fact. Every single day you produce between 1 and 2 grams of it on your own. (That's 5-10 times the cholesterol in a large egg.)

The interesting twist? When you eat more cholesterol from foods like eggs, your body produces less of it. And when you eat less cholesterol from foods like eggs, your body produces more.

That's because you have a cholesterol "set point." Think of it like a thermostat that's largely determined by your genetics, exercise habits, and stress. Funny enough, diet plays a surprisingly small role.

And here's another thing... cholesterol isn't so bad for you anyway.

In fact, cholesterol happens to be one of the most important nutrients in your body.

It's in every cell membrane (outer layer). It's a requirement for growth (in infants and adults). And it's required for the production of many hormones.

If all this is true, then why do so many people tell you to avoid eggs?

Simple: Egg paranoia has been based on the old assumption that eating the yolks will raise blood cholesterol (and increase your risk for artery and heart disease).

And even though the research has disproven the hypothesis -- for most of the population -- the medical community has been slow to reverse recommendations.

Of course, I get it. Most of us aren't in a rush to admit we're wrong. Especially when we've been wrong for years. And on the world's largest stage.

Regardless, researchers have looked at the diets of hundreds of thousands of people. And they've suggested that consuming eggs every day is not associated with cholesterol problems or heart disease.

(There's only one possible exception here: diabetics and the 0.2 percent of the population with familial hypercholesterolemia. More research has to be done to confirm this.)

Interestingly, in controlled trials -- the best kind of research -- where people were instructed to eat up to three eggs per day while on a weight loss diet, good things happened.

These folks lost weight, decreased inflammation and either maintained or improved their blood cholesterol levels.

(They were consuming 555 mg of cholesterol every day from eggs alone!)

Bottom line: Unless you have diabetes or a rare genetic disorder, eating a few eggs every day is not bad for you.

Interestingly, there's a more important question here that few people ever think to ask...

Could eating whole eggs every day (including the yolks) actually be good for you?

A lot of experts think so.

You see, egg yolks are one of the most nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich and vitamin-laden foods on the planet! (Compared to the yolks, the whites are pretty much protein and water.)

Egg yolks contain 90 percent of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, pantothenic acid and B12 of the egg. In addition the yolk contains all of the fat-soluble components, such as vitamins A, D and E, not to mention the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Egg yolks are also a rich source of some other very interesting nutrients such as choline, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Choline is essential for cardiovascular and brain function. Eating more of it may mean mean less inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimers, and more.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the major antioxidants in eggs. They protect the eyes by filtering harmful light wavelengths and lowering risk of macular degeneration.

Indeed, those people eating only egg whites -- or avoiding eggs entirely -- are missing out on many of these key nutrients.

But, is there ever a time to ditch the yolks?

There probably is. For some; but not most.

We already discussed diabetics and those with familial hypercholesterolemia. For those individuals, it's probably best not to eat three eggs every single day.

For athletes competing in weight-class sports, every calorie counts. When cutting weight, removing the yolks can help keep protein higher (which helps preserves muscle mass) while keeping calories lower.

(Each egg yolk contains 6 g of fat and 54 kcal. So even though they're full of nutrients, they still do contain calories.)

And one more consideration: people on high sugar and high carbohydrate diets.

Of course, diets high in sugar aren't ideal, whether you eat eggs or not. But, eat a lot of carbohydrates, sugar, and fat (from eggs or any other high fat / high cholesterol food) and many disease risks go up.

In the end -- for most people -- eggs won't increase blood cholesterol or the risk of heart or artery disease.

In fact, assuming the diet's not high in sugar or carbs, eggs are probably even an awesome addition to the diet.

However, there's no reason to get crazy -- as some have done -- and try to convince everyone to eat whole eggs every single day. I, for one, don't even do that myself.

That's not because I'm afraid of eggs, mind you. I actually like them and think they're great for me. Rather, it's because I vary my diet, rarely eating the same foods every single day.

And that's really my hope for everyone interested in better health:

  • Avoid sensationalistic food fads (like banning eggs)
  • Eat a varied diet of nutrient-rich whole foods (including eggs)
  • Seek out the help of a coach when more fine-tuning is required

John Berardi, Ph.D., is a founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest online nutrition coaching company. In the last 5 years, Dr. Berardi and his team have personally helped over 20,000 people lose over 300,000 pounds of body fat through their renowned coaching program, Lean Eating.

For more by John Berardi, PhD., click here.

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