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  • Dr Thor Conner

Whats the deal with eggs? Healthy or not?

First, eggs good for you, then they are bad, then good again. Now they are bad? Do they clog your arteries and lead to heart disease? (No, that’s more sugar than cholesterol, another discussion.) Let’s examine the recent evidence to find out more about whether eggs are good or bad.

Can you remember what you ate for breakfast last Monday? What about 4 weeks ago? If you can’t, then you understand the issue with studies based on dietary recall sometimes for years or as much as a decade. A new review, published in the medical journal JAMA, found that people who ate two eggs a day had a 27 percent higher risk of developing heart disease. But it mostly relied on dietary recall to collect data and dietary recall is unreliable.

Another issue with the review is that it failed to take other lifestyle factors into consideration. What other foods were the other components of the participants’ diets? How much did they exercise? Did they smoke? How much alcohol did they drink? What were other pre-existing health conditions entering the study? None of these were measured by the cohort studies this study is based on. So we really have limited new knowledge from this particular review study.

Previous studies have shown that dietary cholesterol itself does not cause heart disease. In fact, it is a very important and biologically active molecule needed to make cell membranes, hormones, bile and vitamin D. Just knowing your HDL/LDL/Trigs (most cholesterol screens only look at these three variables) is a small window into actual cardiovascular risk. There are other lab tests that can provide different markers for disease risk, but the testing is not standard.

Eggs are a great source of protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals and are nutrient-dense breakfast. What might matter is how you cook them and where you get them from.

On egg quality

Eggs are a concentrated package of good nutrients, the yolks particularly so, as that's where the most of the nutrients are concentrated. People have eaten eggs throughout our history, and most animals will take the opportunity to relish eggs as well. (I've even seen squirrels raid nests.) But all eggs are not equal, and there are a few things about eggs that are important for you to know. The deep rich orange color of an egg yolk is an indication of its nutrient density, and when we compare eggs from different sources, it's easy to see how the regular market egg pales in comparison to the dark pastured yolk. The yolk of the supermarket egg might even be white were not the hens forced to eat orange dyes mixed into their food. Even the organic egg pales in comparison to the pastured.

Although they are technically "cage free," chickens producing organic eggs are mostly raised in the gloom of big dark barns, not on pasture, and they never see the sun. Despite the fact that chickens are omnivorous like us and happy to eat meat as part of their natural diet, indeed like many other birds, in captivity they're fed a diet of corn and soy, and if their eggs are to be sold as "omega-3 fortified," a their corn and soy has a little flax seed is thrown in. The eggs from hens treated in this way are sold in whole food stores as the deceptively labeled product of "vegetarian" hens. Remember, chickens are NOT vegetarian and cannot thrive on a diet of corn any better than cows or humans.

For our own health, and for the sake of the animals, we should not buy such eggs, but rather get our eggs from pastured, or free-range hens allowed their natural diet.

Where to get eggs

If you live anywhere near someone who raises chickens, ask them if they'll sell you a dozen eggs. In the Midwest, a short drive in the country will usually bring you across folks with an “Eggs for Sale” sign on their mailbox. You can also check out sellers of pastured eggs at local farmers markets, or have a look at the resources of the Weston A. Price Foundation, whose local chapter leaders can often point you in the right direction. If you're feeling intrepid, raise some chickens of your own! There are lots support groups around this topic springing up. Check out Urban Chickens. People are increasingly raising their own hens, including in the heart of big cities like Chicago and New York.

Cooking methods

The yolk of a raw egg contains a good dose of cholesterol, almost all of it HDL (good) cholesterol and it has been shown that raw eggs can raise HDL. As the yolk cooks, the cholesterol oxidizes and becomes LDL (bad) cholesterol. So choose methods that minimize heat to the yolk. Here’s my recommendations for cooking:

  • The best way to eat an egg is raw. The risk of illness is minimal in healthy eggs. But may not be very appetizing. Made marginally better by making it a Prairie Oyster, with hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

  • Soft boiled or sunny side up are the next less likely to raise cholesterol.

  • Hard boiled is next best.

  • Use egg whites for omelets

  • Hard fried and scrambled are the worst for oxidizing cholesterol, so eat these less often.

As long as you are not allergic or sensitive to them, watch the cooking method, and eat eggs from healthy, happy, preferably free range chickens, eggs can be a nutritious addition to your diet. If you are concerned about how your diet affects your cholesterol or how to lower your cholesterol naturally, give us a call and come in for a visit, we can guide you on diet and screening.