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Eggs, Good or Bad for Cholesterol?

Eggs and cholesterol

Most people are familiar with the fact that whole eggs are high in cholesterol (specifically the yolks) and therefore may contribute to high cholesterol levels. Now a new study from a research team at the University of Connecticut sheds new light on the eggs and cholesterol debate.

The egg and cholesterol debate is not over

The new study points out that people who have metabolic syndrome and who eat whole eggs may experience an improvement in their lipoprotein levels, as well as get some help with controlling their weight. Since metabolic syndrome is a risk factor for diabetes and one-third of people in the United States have metabolic syndrome, the results can be of particular interest to many people.

Individuals are said to have metabolic syndrome if they have three or more of the following risk factors, which places them at greater risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease:

  • High blood pressure (130/85 mmHg or higher)
  • A waistline greater than 40 inches if male and 35 inches if female
  • Low “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, HDL; 40 mg/dl or lower in men and 50 mg/dl or lower in women)
  • High triglycerides (150 mg/dl or higher)
  • Increased blood sugar (glucose) levels (fasting blood glucose of 100 mg/dl or higher)

One way to help prevent cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol has been the recommendation to avoid foods high in cholesterol, which includes eggs. In fact, a recent study published in Atherosclerosis and conducted by a research team at the Stroke Prevention & Atherosclerosis Research Centre in Canada emphasized the association between eating egg yolks and plaque accumulation.

In the Canadian study, the researchers evaluated 1,262 patients at risk for cardiovascular disease and looked at their egg consumption and smoking history. They found that plaque accumulation was greater among people who ate 3 or more eggs per week when compared with those who ate less than 2 eggs weekly.

This finding led them to conclude that “regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.” They also recommended further studies be done that included more information regarding diet.

In the latest study, however, the findings regarding egg yolks were more positive regarding egg consumption. Middle-aged participants with metabolic syndrome were assigned to one of two groups: those who age 3 whole eggs daily or those who ate an equivalent amount of egg substitute daily for three months as part of a diet with restricted carbohydrates to help with weight loss.

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At the end of three months, the researchers found that:

  • Participants in both groups had increases in HDL cholesterol, decreases in triglycerides, and an improvement in lipid profiles. However, those who ate whole eggs had better improvements than did those in the egg-substitute group
  • Individuals who ate whole eggs did not show any effect on LDL or total cholesterol levels

Therefore, it appears that the results from two new studies provide somewhat contradictory results. Yet another recent study, published in September 2012 in Advances in Nutrition, summarized the latest research and noted that “because eggs are a healthful food, it is particularly important that sensible strategies be recommended for inclusions of eggs in a healthy diet,” although it should be noted that the report came from the Egg Research Institute in Park Ridge, Illinois.

Weight control and disease

It’s been shown that controlling weight is a way to stop the development of metabolic syndrome and other chronic conditions. Therefore, diet and exercise are the obvious factors people need to address to accomplish this.

Starting the day with a high-protein breakfast (versus a high-carb meal such as pancakes, toast, or bagels) helps people feel satisfied longer and can reduce the amount of calories they consume the rest of the day. Eggs are one high-protein food people can eat for breakfast, but there are others, such as tofu, seitan, turkey bacon, yogurt (soy or regular), nut butters, fortified soy and almond beverages, and low-fat cheese.

Although the new study from Connecticut researchers indicates that eating whole eggs can be beneficial for people who have metabolic syndrome and not have a negative impact on cholesterol and triglyceride levels, other research has not concurred. Individuals who are concerned about high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions should discuss their concerns regarding egg intake, diet, and exercise with a knowledgeable healthcare professional and continue to follow the ongoing research in this area.

Blesso CN et al. Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Metabolism 2012; doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.08.014
Kanter MM et al. Exploring the factors that affect blood cholesterol and heart disease risk: is dietary cholesterol as bad for you as history leads us to believe? Advances in Nutrition 2012 Sep 1; 3(5): 711-17
Spence JD et al. Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque. Atherosclerosis 2012 Oct; 224(2): 469-73

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