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Are Eggs Healthy for You and Good for Weight Loss?

Debunking Myths: Eggs, Cholesterol, and Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of, if not the leading cause of death in the world (World Health Organization, 2022). Early scientific literature and subsequent recommendations put forth by the American Heart Association suggested that dietary intake of cholesterol and cholesterol-containing foods (e.g., eggs) be kept at less than 300 mg/day. Since then, research findings have been inconsistent at best, which led to the removal of the 300 mg/day maximum cholesterol intake in the 2015 – 2022 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Nonetheless, there has been continued discussions within the scientific community as to whether high cholesterol-containing foods increase the risk of CVD. One food source that has continued to be in these discussions are eggs. Eggs have a higher cholesterol content than other foods, which initially raised concern among some as to whether there was a risk of CVD in those who were high consumers of eggs. However, recent evidence suggests that this association may not be as strong as originally thought based on the inconsistent findings published in a 2023 systematic review by Dr. Sarayah Carter (Carter, 2023). This article aims to provide a further discussion surrounding the myths related to eggs, cholesterol and CVD risk.

The Cholesterol Myth

As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article, early scientific literature promoted the thought that eggs, due to their high cholesterol levels, led to CVD. This thought focused on the premise that consuming high cholesterol-containing foods increased cholesterol levels in the blood which resulted in CVD.

This argument has since been largely dispelled due to continued research on the topic. A systematic review by Carter and colleagues observed that there was either no risk or reduced risk of CVD with regular egg consumption (Carter, 2023). This study also showed no or minimal differences between egg consumption and other known CVD risk factors such as one’s lipid profile (i.e., LDL and HDL levels), triglycerides, adiposity (i.e., fat mass), and blood pressure (Carter, 2023).

Another article in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found similar findings around regular consumption (1 egg per day) and no changes in CVD risk (Alexander, 2016). Interestingly, in the same meta-analysis by Alexander and colleagues, regular consumption of eggs was found to lower the risk of stroke by 12%.

It is important to further consider reasons why the existing literature is rather mixed when examining the role of egg consumption on CVD. Most scientific literature that has been published on this topic has been observational in nature; observational studies are studies in which a population of interest is studied in their free-living environment.

While observational study designs allow researchers to study people in their natural habitat, it prevents the ability to identify causative effects. This is primarily due to being unable to remove other influencing factors associated with the outcome of interest (e.g., CVD for the topic of this article).

We must not forget there are other factors associated with increased CVD risk that co-exist with egg consumption. For example, those that typically consume eggs regularly may also consume foods such as bacon, which contains higher levels of saturated fats. Data also shows that egg consumption is associated with other health behaviours low levels of physical activity, smoking increased consumption of saturated fats in the United States (Vu, 2021), where CVD risk is high.

Very few published studies have adjusted for some of the above-mentioned confounding factors (e.g., smoking and/or sedentary behaviour), thus making it difficult to determine the independent effects of egg consumption on CVD risk. Further, the promotion of egg consumption by itself as a contributing factor of CVD should be questioned given the interactions between dietary intake, physical activity, and genetic predispositions.

To date, the best evidence that we have for CVD risk reduction is implementing an overall healthy dietary pattern rather than identifying foods that should be isolated from one’s diet entirely (Pallazola, 2019).

Eggs as a Superior Protein Source

Eggs are regarded as a high-quality source of protein within the human body, particularly since they contain all 9 essential amino acids (i.e., the amino acids that your body does not produce but are required for normal cellular function). Furthermore, the biological value of egg protein is far more favourable than protein sources such as whey or soy. Biological value is defined as the efficiency of the body to utilize the protein that is contained within a food. With eggs having a biological value of 100, the high-quality protein contained therein can be digested easily and effectively.

When considering how this may apply to a real-world scenario, we can look at a study by Layman and colleagues that found egg protein was the superior protein source for muscle repair and growth (Layman, 2009). Based on these findings, fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders, who rely on efficient protein sources to aid in muscle growth and recovery, may want to consider prioritizing egg protein in their diet.

Not only does the protein content of eggs (there are 6 – 8 grams of protein in every large egg) help promote muscle growth and recovery/repair, but the additional nutrients contained in eggs also provide substantial benefits. For example, eggs are a great source of the amino acid Leucine, which has been shown to have a critical role in protein synthesis (van Vliet, 2015). Eggs also contain significant amounts of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and selenium (Kuang, 2018). These vitamins and minerals play crucial roles in maintaining healthy bones, eyesight, brain function, and immune system function.

What about Specialized Diets?

Today, there are a number of different diets that one may choose to follow (e.g., Keto, Carnivore, Paleo, etc.). For individuals following these dietary behaviours, eggs are an invaluable source of nutrients given their overall nutrient density and protein content.

There are also suggested benefits of egg consumption with weight management given eggs’ ability to increase perceptions of “feeling full” after a meal (Vander Wal, 2005). From a weight management perspective, this may be very advantageous as one’s feeling of stomach fullness throughout the day may result in reduced caloric intake throughout the day as well. Given this, meal planning should factor in the inclusion of eggs among those following these specialized diets.

The versatility of eggs from a meal preparation perspective is certainly advantageous for those following one of these specialized diets. A combination of both methods of cooking (e.g., boiled, scrambled, poached, baked, etc.) as well as how they can be incorporated into various dishes allows for eggs to be well-suited to fulfil various tastes and dietary preferences.

To help highlight the ease in which eggs can be incorporated into these specialized diets, some examples of meals/dishes are provided below.

The Keto Diet

  • Egg-based breakfast: Start out the day with scrambled eggs that are cooked in either butter or coconut oil and topped with cheese, avocado, and bacon.
  • Egg Salad: For a quick and satisfying lunch, use hard-boiled eggs and mix with mayonnaise, mustard, and spices to your taste preference.
  • Crustless quiche: A crustless quiche is an excellent meal choice and can be made using eggs, heavy cream, and keto-friendly vegetables (e.g., spinach, mushrooms, bell peppers).

The Carnivore Diet

  • Egg and bacon breakfast: Alongside crispy strips of bacon, use the bacon fat to fry eggs and enjoy a hearty meal.
  • Steak and eggs: Cook a nice, juicy steak and pair it with either a fried or poached egg.
  • Egg drop soup: Add a beaten egg to simmering beef or chicken broth for a nourishing soup.

The Paleo Diet

  • Vegetable omelette: Cook an egg omelette and fill it with chopped vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes.
  • Baked avocado eggs: Slice an avocado in half and crack an egg into each half once the pit is removed. Bake the avocado until the eggs are cooked and enjoy for either a breakfast or a snack.
  • Egg muffins: Mix eggs and diced vegetables and herbs and place them into muffin tins and bake for a quick grab-and-go breakfast or snack.

The Case for Pasture-Raised Eggs

Eggs in and of themselves are nutritious and serve as a great source of essential nutrients that our bodies require. But, are there added benefits of eating pasture-raised eggs? Chickens raised on pastures on not treated with antibiotics or hormones. Additionally, these chickens typically produce eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E; nutrients that are essential for promoting cardiovascular health and antioxidant protection (Karsten, 2010).

We must also not neglect that there are ethical considerations in the support of pasture-raised eggs. These chickens generally experience an overall improvement in their quality of life and welfare, which can actually impact the quality of the eggs that they produce (Jones, 2010).

Eggs are a highly nutritious food, that are rich in protein and essential amino acids necessary for muscle building and overall health. Eggs are also beneficial for protein-centric diets such as Keto, Carnivore, and Paleo diets. By incorporating eggs into one’s diet, one can significantly contribute to a balanced, healthy diet that supports physical health practices.

References:

World Health Organization. The top 10 causes of death. [https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death Accessed 1 May 2024].

Carter S, Connole ES, Hill AM, et al. Eggs and Cardiovascular Disease Risk. Current Atherosclerosis Reports. 2023;25:373-380.

Alexander DD, Miller PE, Vargas AJ, et al. Meta-Analysis of Egg Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke. J Am Coll Nutr. 2016;35(8):704-716.

Vu T-HT, Van Horn L, Daviglus DL, et al. Association between egg intake and blood pressure in the USA: The International Study on Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (INTER-MAP). Public Health Nutr. 2021;24(18):6272-80.

Pallazola VA, Davis DM, Whelton SP, et al. A Clinician’s Guide to Health Eating for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. Mayo Clin Proc Innov Qual Outcomes. 2019;3(3):251-67.

Layman DK. Dietary Guidelines Should Reflect New Understandings about Adult Protein Needs. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2009;6(12).

van Vliet S, Burd N, van Loon LJ. The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant- versus animal-based protein consumption. J Nutr. 2015;145(9):1981-91

Kuang H, Yang F, Zhang Y, et al. The Impact of Egg Nutrient Composition and its Consumption of Cholesterol Homeostasis. Cholesterol. 2018;2018:6303810.

Vander Wal JS, Gupta A, Khosla P, et al. Egg Breakfast Enhances Weight Loss. Int J Obesity. 2005;32(10):1545-51.

Karsten HD, Patterson PH, Stout R, et al. Vitamins A, E and Fatty Acid Composition of the Eggs of Caged Hens and Pastured Hens. Renewable Agriculture and Foods Systems. 2010;25(1):45-54

Author

  • William Adams

    William has a PhD in Exercise Science with a focus in physiology, health, fitness, nutrition, sports medicine, and human health and performance. William has published extensively in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has contributed to edited textbooks as both a chapter author and book editor. To date, William has published over 115 articles, chapters, or books on topics related to sport and exercise science, physiology, nutrition, fitness, and optimizing human health and performance. Credentials: - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) with a specialty of Kinesiology and Exercise Science from the University of Connecticut - Master of Science (MS) with a specialty of Kinesiology and Exercise Science from the University of Connecticut - Bachelor of Science (BS) with a specialty in Athletic Training

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William Adams
William has a PhD in Exercise Science with a focus in physiology, health, fitness, nutrition, sports medicine, and human health and performance. William has published extensively in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has contributed to edited textbooks as both a chapter author and book editor. To date, William has published over 115 articles, chapters, or books on topics related to sport and exercise science, physiology, nutrition, fitness, and optimizing human health and performance. Credentials: - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) with a specialty of Kinesiology and Exercise Science from the University of Connecticut - Master of Science (MS) with a specialty of Kinesiology and Exercise Science from the University of Connecticut - Bachelor of Science (BS) with a specialty in Athletic Training

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