After years of warnings to limit our consumption of eggs, a recent study suggests eating one a day might actually lower rates of heart disease and risk of stroke.
A local cardiologist says the benefits depend on who's eating the egg.
The observational study followed a half million people in China who reported whether they ate eggs or not. Participants ranged from people who didn’t eat eggs at all to people who ate eggs on a daily basis. The ones who ate them on a daily basis had the lowest risk of heart disease and dying from heart disease — in particular, stroke.
Dr. Anand Rohatgi, a cardiologist with Parkland Hospital and UT Southwestern Medical Center, says one of the problems with observational studies is the company that it keeps.
"Oftentimes, the people who eat eggs in this case are just different than the people who don’t eat eggs," he said. "You can try to account for that as much as you can, but there are still some innate things about the people who have certain lifestyle factors — for example, like drinking wine or alcohol. In this case it’s the same and that’s why we see inconsistencies. "
So, should you eat eggs or not? Dr. Rohatgi says in a diet including fruits and vegetables, he would consider one to two eggs a day as one source of protein (along with chicken, fish, nuts, etc.) a moderate, reasonable part of a healthy eating pattern.
The benefits of eggs: Eggs have been with us since the beginning of time, and they’re an important source of nutrients and energy. They contain cholesterol and fatty acids. They also contain protein and antioxidants.
The previous concern of cholesterol: The reason why we do focus on cholesterol because higher levels of it build up plaques in the arteries and that can lead to the heart attacks and strokes. When you eat dietary sources of cholesterol, like eggs, your cholesterol can go up.
What we know today: The cholesterol in eggs doesn’t raise the cholesterol levels the bloodstream all that much. Eggs do have something called phospholipids or fatty acids, and that can actually increase all levels of cholesterol, including that LDL and HDL. So eggs themselves aren’t primarily a source of the cholesterol in your bloodstream, but they can change the levels.
About this study: This was a study of about a half million people in China. But it was an observational study. People reported whether they took eggs or not, and they ranged from people who didn’t eat eggs at all to people who ate eggs on a daily basis. The ones who ate on a daily basis had the lowest risk of heart disease and dying from heart disease – in particular, stroke.
One of the problems with observational studies is that it’s the company that it keeps. Oftentimes, the people who eat eggs in this case are just different than the people who don’t eat eggs. You can try to account for that as much as you can, but there are still some innate things about the people who have certain lifestyle factors — for example, like drinking wine or alcohol. In this case it’s the same and that’s why we see inconsistencies.
Prior studies have shown differences by risk status — for example, diabetes. In patients with diabetes, eggs seem to be correlated with either high risk or no relationship at all. American studies have shown no relationship between egg consumption and heart disease risk.
Should you eat eggs or not? If the overall goal is to prevent heart disease, then in terms of diet, it’s about the overall dietary pattern: lots of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Going away from red meat, going away from saturated fats. And eggs can be one of the sources of protein, like chicken, fish, nuts and legumes. If you’re eating one to two eggs a day, that’s very moderate, reasonable and part of a healthy pattern.
There’s the kind of person who might eat one or two hard-boiled eggs with some yogurt and a bowl of fruit. On the other hand, you might have a person eating eggs with bacon, sausage, fried food and a heavy beverage. The amount of eggs is the same, but you can clearly see the difference in the dietary pattern. And you can see some of this gets complicated and it’s really about the whole 20,000-foot picture of what’s healthy.
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.