CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
I'm an active 44-year-old. My profession keeps me moving, my kids keep me at a frantic pace and I like to run. Still, my weight has started to climb, so I decided to work on my diet. Because I'm always in a hurry, I need something quick and easy and I love hard-boiled eggs. But no one seems to agree whether eggs are good or bad for us. First they said they would raise our cholesterol, then that changed. Now I see a study that says we should not be eating egg yolks, and it is as bad as smoking for our health. What's your opinion of eggs? -- Lisa
Yes, over the years, the information about eggs has been a bit scrambled. Just as cholesterol was becoming a household word, health experts demonized and demoted the egg -- specifically the yolk, because it contains cholesterol.
This began a barrage of studies, all with conflicting opinions, which has served to keep both health experts and the public confused. It was decided that the yolk must raise our blood cholesterol levels. However, after hundreds of studies during the past 25 years, it was determined that the yolk didn't raise blood cholesterol, but rather it was the saturated fat we were cooking and frying them in. And with this news, the incredible egg once again became edible.
Cigarettes and eggs?
Then last year it happened again. Dr. J. David Spence, a professor of neurology at Western University in Canada, found a relationship between egg yolk consumption and the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the accumulation of plaque on the walls of our arteries, which increases heart attack and stroke risk. Spence contended this was much like the connection between smoking and arterial plaque buildup and went as far as to suggest that eating egg yolks is two-thirds as harmful as smoking!
Spence's research team surveyed 1,231 middle-aged male and female patients, all of whom either had a stroke or a mini stroke. Carotid wall thickness and egg yolk consumption were measured along with lifestyle choices such as smoking and exercise habits. From this, the researchers found that the top 20 percent of egg consumers had narrowing of the carotid artery similar to those who smoked. Note that the study did not look at overall dietary patterns.
Not what it's cracked up to be
This study has met with great opposition. Dr. David J. Frid, a staff cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, says, "A high level of blood cholesterol can lead to arterial plaque, but there are so many factors that can affect your cholesterol above eating eggs. There's the rest of your diet, whether you're overweight, whether you exercise, genetics. The eggs could be a marker of people who have poor diet, rather than an actual characteristic."
Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, agrees the study is flawed: "This is very poor-quality research that should not influence patients' dietary choices. It is extremely important to understand the differences between association and causation."
I prefer to call the egg a terrific "smack" -- meal/snack -- because it is portable, delicious, inexpensive and, because it is packed with protein, an egg keeps you feeling fuller longer. Keep in mind the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, copper, nearly all of the calcium, iron, folate and B6, and 100 percent of the vitamins A and E are found in the yolk.