Nutrition-wise blog

Eggs and heart disease — still controversial

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. September 19, 2012

If you're like most people, you're not too concerned about the cholesterol in your diet and your risk of heart disease. However, some researchers suggest it's time to reopen the discussion on eggs and heart disease. A recent study published in the medical journal "Atherosclerosis" found that egg yolk consumption appears to damage and thicken the arteries, almost to the same degree as smoking.

The study looked at egg yolk consumption in about 1,200 people with a history of transient ischemic attacks (small strokes where symptoms disappear). It found that those who ate three or more yolks a week had significant amounts of plaque build-up compared with those who ate two or fewer yolks a week.

Narrowing of the arteries was on average about two-thirds of that seen in studies of heavy smokers — a finding that both eggs and smoking accelerate plaque build-up. These findings remained after adjusting for other coronary risk factors such as of gender, blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body mass index, diabetes and smoking.

Although three or more yolks a week significantly increased plaque build-up in people already at risk for heart disease in this study, other studies have shown that eggs (specifically the cholesterol in yolks) do not have adverse effect on blood lipids and that yolks contain antioxidants which may be protective.

What is my take?

  • The yolk of one large egg has about 185 milligrams (mg) cholesterol — one of the most concentrated sources of cholesterol.
  • Current recommendations from the American Heart Association are that Americans eat less that 300 mg daily to help maintain normal cholesterol levels. Consuming less than 200 mg of cholesterol daily can further help individuals at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans found that the average cholesterol intake among men is about 350 mg a day and among women it's 240 mg a day.
  • The Dietary Guidelines also state that egg and egg dishes contribute a whopping 25 percent of our cholesterol intake.

What's the take-home message? Although eggs don't seem to be associated with heart disease risk in healthy people, the same is not true for people already at risk of heart disease. You should know your risk for heart disease. If you're at risk, you're better off eating fewer yolks. If you're not at risk, you should still be sensible about cholesterol intake, especially when there are so many healthy food choices available.

Opinions are welcome!

- Jennifer

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Sep. 19, 2012