Unscrambling Eggs: Health Food ... or Bad Yolk?

"Love to eat eggs? U.S. panel now says they're not a health risk," reported Reuters inFebruary.

"Cholesterol in the diet: The long slide from public menace to no 'appreciable' effect," ranthe headline in the Washington Post.

Both articles were referring to a report from a panel of scientists that the government willrely on this year as it revises its Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Did the report get itright? And should you avoid eggs--the food that supplies our biggest dose of cholesterol?

Cholesterol Confusion

"Cholesterol: And Now the Bad News," announced the March 1984 TIME magazinecover.

"Cholesterol is proved deadly, and our diet may never be the same," the magazinereported.

Oops. Not for the first (or last) time, the media mixed up the dangers of cholesterol inblood and cholesterol in foods.

The article was about a major study showing that reducing high blood cholesterol lowersthe risk of heart disease. It wasn't about eggs. But since eggs contain more cholesterolthan most other foods, eggs got more than their share of the blame, even though foodsrich in saturated fat (like red meat, cheese, and butter) are bigger culprits.

"The saturated fat in foods has a greater effect on the average person's LDL, or bad,cholesterol levels than the cholesterol in foods," says Frank Sacks, professor ofcardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health, And theconfusion hasn't disappeared.

This past February, when the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued its report,the New York Daily News mangled the distinction between foods that are high incholesterol and foods that are high in saturated fat.

"It's ok to dig in to red meat," explained the newspaper. "Embracing red meat and eggsmarks a shift from previous versions of the report, which used to cap cholesterolconsumption at 300 milligrams a day--the amount in a stick of butter, a 10-ounce steakor two eggs."

In fact, the report urged Americans to eat less red meat. And it urged us to limit saturatedfat. But the panel did scrap the previous 300-milligram daily cap on cholesterol in food.

Why?

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The Evidence

"After reviewing scores of studies that showed no correlation between dietary cholesteroland serum cholesterol, or 'bad' cholesterol present in the blood, the committeedetermined that cholesterol was not 'a nutrient of concern for overconsumption,"'reported Reuters.

Really? If the panel reviewed scores of studies, it didn't say so.

The panel's only explanation was brief: "Available evidence shows no appreciablerelationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol,consistent with the conclusions of the AHA/ACC report." (1)

Only one problem: that's not consistent with the 2013 report from the American HeartAssociation and American College of Cardiology. That report concluded that there was"insufficient evidence" to know if eating less cholesterol would lower LDL cholesterol inblood. (2)

"No evidence doesn't mean the evidence is no," says Robert Eckel, a professor ofmedicine at the University of Colorado Denver who chaired the AHA/ACC panel.

"A three-to-four-egg omelet isn't something I'd ever recommend to a patient at risk forcardiovascular disease," adds Eckel, who says that he still uses only egg whites for hisomelets.

For decades, experts have relied largely on studies in which people were fed or sent homewith either eggs or cholesterol-free egg substitutes.

"When we looked at 17 of those high-quality studies, we showed that eating one egg a dayraises LDL cholesterol by 4 points," says Martijn Katan, an expert on diet andcardiovascular disease and an emeritus professor at VU University Amsterdam in theNetherlands. (3) An earlier meta-analysis got virtually identical results. …

 

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