Eggs. Should you enjoy them or avoid them altogether? It depends on who you ask. There are very few food controversies bigger than the one surrounding the humble egg. We believe that it is an eggcellent food, but only if correctly consumed. Here’s why you should eat more eggs and the best type to buy.
The contentious history of the villainized egg
Eggs have been a source of food and nutrition since the beginning of time. Today, the average American consumes close to 300 eggs a year. The popularity of eggs has waxed and waned over the years, largely dependent on government recommendations.
Americans enjoyed eggs regularly until 1968, when the American Heart Association (AHA) suggested that individuals limit their cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day and reduce egg consumption to no more than three whole eggs each week.
The scientific purpose behind the recommended limits was never clear. However, Americans listened, and egg consumption declined.
The egg became a symbol of everything wrong with the American diet. Per capita, egg consumption declined from 320 a year in 1968 to 233 a year in the early 1990s.
As with many recommendations, it only took a short time until the pendulum swung the other way. A large study published in the prestigious JAMA concluded that there was no change in cardiovascular risk for individuals who consumed an egg a day versus those that consumed one a week.
As a result, in 2002, the AHA dropped its egg consumption recommendation. In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee removed their longstanding recommendation, concluding that cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption. Eggs were once again fair game to eat.
Dietary cholesterol vs. blood cholesterol
To fully appreciate the controversy over the egg and the health value it bestows, one must understand cholesterol. It’s no surprise that the word cholesterol has a negative connotation. After all, for years, we’ve been told that we need to lower our cholesterol levels to avoid heart disease. However, it’s critical to distinguish between blood cholesterol and dietary cholesterol.
Produced by the liver, cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that plays an essential role in the human body. Cholesterol is required to help make strong cell membranes, produce vital hormones in our body such as cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen, and help the body produce vitamin D.
It would seem to make sense that the amount of cholesterol in your diet directly impacts your blood cholesterol, but it’s not that simple. While the human body can produce most of the cholesterol it needs on its own, the amazing liver will slow down production to match what is coming in the body through diet. Research has found that the majority of people can self-regulate cholesterol levels.
Multiple studies agree that the link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease is weak, at best. In fact, research is emerging that egg consumption may lower cardiovascular risk in certain people.
Dietary cholesterol has been the scapegoat for decades when, in fact, sugar, manufactured trans fatty acids, and refined carbohydrates are the true villains.
Why you should eat more eggs
Eggs are a true superfood, containing numerous essential vitamins and minerals helpful for the human body. They are also rich in vitamins A, B2, B5, B12, E, selenium, and minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium and are a natural source of heart-healthy vitamin D.
Equally impressive, eggs contain all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce independently. These building blocks for life are crucial for the proper functioning of every cell in the body.
Other incredible benefits of eggs:
- Improves satiety: Eggs are incredibly filling, which can help weight management.
- Keeps the brain healthy: Eggs contain a high level of choline and lutein, two nutrients essential for brain development and memory.
- Maintains strong muscles: A protein-packed egg assists in muscle building and helps maintain strength. Don’t forget that the heart is a muscle!
- Protects vision: The antioxidants in eggs help protect eyesight, warding away diseases such as macular degeneration.
Eggs strengthen the heart
The nutritional composition of eggs lends well to a healthy heart. After all, these nutrient-dense foods are loaded with vitamins, protein, and minerals helpful to heart health.
In a recent study of half a million Chinese adults, egg consumption was associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Compared to individuals who refrained from eggs, those who ate eggs daily had an 18 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and a 28 percent lower risk of death from stroke.
You may be wondering, can you eat eggs with AFib? The answer is yes! One of the significant concerns with heart arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, is the risk of stroke. Research has found that a daily egg may decrease the risk of stroke by 12 percent. AFib patients can eat eggs with confidence, knowing that eggs could protect the heart.
Not all eggs are the same
The egg case at the grocery store can be a confusing place. The neatly arranged cartons covered with words and pictures might make you believe that farmers freshly gathered the eggs earlier that day! Should you buy cage-free, organic, pasture-raised, free-range, or natural? Unfortunately, the answer is not simple.
Most eggs on grocery store shelves come from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms. The chickens in these farms live in deplorable conditions, crammed into small spaces, and bred to produce an unnatural amount of eggs.
Fed an artificial diet of the cheapest corn, wheat, barley, soybeans, and peas, farmed chickens are hardly the picture of health. The high-stress levels also result in higher levels of cortisol circulating in their bodies.
Unable to enjoy the grass, bugs, and sunshine that would be available on a farm, factory-raised chickens lack vitamins and minerals. For example, a factory-farmed chicken will produce eggs with approximately 37 IU of vitamin D, while a chicken exposed to the sun and free to roam can have eggs with IU levels of 150.
What egg labels really mean
While some of the terms used on egg cartons seem natural, here’s what they really mean:
- Cage-free: Eggs that are labeled cage-free mean that the chickens were not confined to cages. They were permitted to roam free within a building, with access to food and water.
- Free-range: Eggs with a free-range label mean that the chickens have access to the outdoors. While this sounds nice, it does not indicate how often the chicken goes outside. Many free-range chickens seldom see the light of day.
- Pasture-raised: Egg with a pasture-raised label indicates that the chicken was raised for a portion of their lives outdoors.
Eggs that are labeled natural or farm-raised have little to no merit, as they are unregulated terms. Regardless of the label, most laying hens do not get their primary source of food from foraging. Instead, they eat artificial feed. Organic eggs are a result of chickens fed a diet that is free of pesticides and herbicides.
If you haven’t already figured it out, we are huge fans of eggs at the Natural Heart Doctor. However, the egg’s nutritional value is only as good as the health of the mother hen and you should only eat eggs from happy chickens. Eggs sourced from the right supplier will prove incredibly beneficial for your health.
When shopping for eggs, look for eggs that are organic and pasture-raised. If possible, seek out a local farm or farmer’s market and get to know your farmer. Better yet, raise backyard chickens yourself and harvest their eggs to eat.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD