Eggs Exonerated

Eggs have flown the coop, escaping decades of undeserved suspicion that they might increase blood-cholesterol levels.

That myth has finally been cracked wide open thanks to the USDA’s newly issued Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. The guidelines not only acquit eggs of any wrongdoing, they also removed the 300-mg daily limit on dietary cholesterol. Healthcare providers are now free to tell patients to scramble, poach and hard-boil.

“Removing limits on cholesterol and egg consumption is a good move – there should never have been limits in the first place,” commented Richard Feinman, PhD, professor of cell biology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

“There is simply no relation between dietary cholesterol and any disease state, partly because your body makes cholesterol and if you reduce intake, there is a compensatory increase in synthesis.”

Circumstantial Evidence

“Eggs are back and I’m thrilled,” said Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, a nutrition communications consultant and advisor to the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC).

“The guidelines change every five years,” Zelman explained, “and during those five-year intervals there is a very prestigious advisory panel that combs emerging literature. But dietary recommendations don’t change overnight. First there must be a mountain of evidence, not just a single study.”

So why were eggs indicted in the first place? Circumstantial evidence, it would seem.

“Eggs have gotten a bad reputation without a great reason,” answered nutritionist Lori Enriquez, MPH, RDN, LDN, CHES, FAND, owner of Eat Fit Health in suburban Philadelphia.

“Eggs are a whole food, full of nutrients, cost-friendly, and easy to prepare. It is actually man-made trans fat we should avoid; trans fat can raise low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and contribute to heart disease,” she explained. “Eggs do not contain any trans fat. As for cholesterol concerns, our liver makes more cholesterol, about 1,000 mg/day, than one would generally eat in a day.”

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Zelman offered additional support for the egg’s acquittal. “There is 40 years of research that has brought us to the understanding that saturated fat (which is linked to heart disease), not dietary cholesterol, is impactful on blood cholesterol. I believe in eggs fervently,” she said with enthusiasm.

First of all, a large egg is just 70 calories and contains 6 grams of protein per egg, Zelman noted.

“Eggs are one of the highest biological value proteins – the purest form of protein for the body – because it contains all the amino acids in a perfect balance,” she said. “It also contains 1.5 grams of saturated fat, and that amount it is not a concern. It helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins.”

Enriquez added: “Eggs provide many important nutrients including protein, choline, iron, B12, and vitamin D. And because eggs are a high biological value protein, that protein is easily absorbed.”

Sugar Takes the Hot Seat

Zelman pointed to another significant change in the guidelines, worthy of note: a recommendation for a limit on added sugars in the diet.

“We’ve been eating way too much ‘added’ sugar. This is not sugar naturally occurring in dairy or fruit or vegetables. This is sugar added to foods. It doesn’t matter if it is agave, brown sugar or honey – it is all just sugar once it gets into the body,” she warned.

The new recommendation says people should cut added sugars to 10% or less of the daily diet. That means in a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, no more than 200 calories should be in the form of added sugars. For a 1,200 calorie-per-day intake, that allowable number drops to 120 calories in added sugars.

“Current food nutrition labels list ‘sugars,’ but not ‘added sugars,’ however the government is revising those labels. There will be a breakout under sugars to tell how much of that total is from added sugars,” said Zelman. “It will be a big help – and a huge wake-up call – for consumers.”

Feinman contended that the dietary guidelines should make another correction to revise public understanding around fats.

“It has not been shown that dietary saturated fat, by itself, causes heart disease,” he noted. “Saturated fat is deleterious only if there is also high carbohydrate present. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said that the USDA should have dropped that as well.”

So while there are still public dietary problems to solve, now is the time to celebrate the victory of the re-emerging egg.

As Mitch Kanter, PhD, director of ENC, stated in oral testimony to the Dietary Guidelines Committee back in 2013: “Food insecurity and obesity often coincide as ‘leading public health challenges.’ Given that one in six Americans is struggling to put food on the table, yet two in three adults are overweight or obese, affordable and accessible nutrient-rich foods, such as eggs, can help Americans build healthful diets. For just 70 calories and 15 cents, one egg provides 13 essential vitamins and minerals, including many shortfall nutrients, and as high-quality a protein as exists.”

As if those were not reasons enough to return to egg consumption, Enriquez added one more, “I just enjoy eating them.”

Valerie Neff Newitt is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact:

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