The Incredible Yolk – Are Egg Yolks Safe to Eat?
In our first serving of egg-related articles, we discussed nutrition facts about brown eggs vs. white eggs. Today we discuss another important topic related to eggs: should you or should you not discard the yolk when you eat your eggs? Even well educated people are confused about this topic.
In the late 20th century, research on cholesterol and its ill effects were at an all time high.Because of this indoctrination, the existing generations have been raised with the mindset that eggs are not so healthy to eat because of cholesterol content. Cholesterol leads to plaque, and plaque leads to heart attacks and bypass surgeries.
All that is true about bad cholesterol. However, is it true that eggs contribute to our bad cholesterol content? According to nutrition coach Liz Wolfe, NTP, author of “Eat The Yolks”, it may be worse for our health to not eat them. In fact, whole eggs don’t raise our risk of heart disease!
“Egg-xisting” Confusion About Egg Yolks
So here is the story of how cholesterol got a bad name: Over a century ago in 1913, scientist Nikolai Anichkov wanted to demonstrate that cholesterol promotes heart disease. So he fed rabbits pure cholesterol and noted that their arteries clogged up with plaque. The correlation was obvious. If this could happen to rabbits, why not humans? This experiment led to increased paranoia about cholesterol that has lasted decades.
However, “Rabbits have nothing in common with human bodies … and cholesterol isn’t part of their diet anyway,” as countered by Wolfe. In other words, could it be possible that humans process cholesterol consumed orally in a different way from our celery-chewing, furry friends?
Adding to the confusion was researcher Ancel Keys, who made headlines in the 1950s with his Seven Countries’ Study, where he claimed that after looking at the average diets of populations in seven different countries, hewas able to determine that those who ate the most animal fat had the highest rates of heart disease. Well, egg yolks have a good percentage of animal fat and were blacklisted too.
But his analysis had a defect. Although Keys’ data did show a connection between fat and heart disease, he couldn’t demonstrate that the relationship was causal. Furthermore, while mortality rates for heart diseasewere higher in the countries that consumed the most animal fat, deaths from other causes were lower — and overall life expectancy was higher. So, let us understand this right – animal fat provides a higher chance of having a heart attack, but a lower chance of dying overall. Something was clearly missing in the big picture.
Eggs Over Easy Now …
Earlier this year, Time magazine reversed the argument it made in a 1984 cover story that had claimed at that time that eggs and other high-fat foods were dangerous. In their reversal, they even encouraged readers to eat butter over margarine.
According to a paper in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010, “Saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or coronary vascular disease.”
“The real cause of heart disease lies in the inflammation caused by chronic stress levels, and the overconsumption of vegetable oils and processed carbohydrates. Meaning we must limit foods that come in boxes and bags.”
While this information should not be interpreted as a carte blanche to eat large amounts of saturated animal fats, it is reassuring to know that they were not as dangerous as they were made out to be. Especially when it comes to eggs.
Want to Know the “Egg-xact” Truth?
Here are the reason why you should not avoid eating whole eggs:
Whole egg consumption won’t cause weight gain, despite its fat content (as long as you watch your total daily calorie intake).
The saturated fat in yolks is necessary for hormone production and the body’s absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Egg yolks are a great source of vitamin A, which is good for skin, B vitamins for energy, Vitamins E and D, choline, which supports brain health, muscles and healthy pregnancies, biotin, selenium, folate, potassium and iron.
Here is the clincher … studies now show that the nutrients in eggs can actually help manage cholesterol levels in the blood.
Confused? Don’t blame you. Let us see if we can explain what appears to be an anomaly. If eggs have high levels of cholesterol (plenty of it being the saturated variety) and egg yolks are heavy on cholesterol, then how are egg yolks safe? The key thing to understand here is that the bulk of the body’s cholesterol levels come from the liver. The liver creates cholesterol from saturated and unsaturated fats.
According to a blog article on the Harvard School of Public Health site: “A solid body of research shows that for most people, cholesterol in food has a much smaller effect on blood levels of total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol than does the mix of fats in the diet.” While eggs may weakly affect cholesterol levels, its nutrients are essential to maintain good health and even reduce the risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is Vital for Life
What is cholesterol? It is a 27 carbon molecule that has a sterol ring system (see figure below). Cholesterol is vital to our body: it is one of the key building blocks that makes the permeable membrane that surrounds every cell in our body. Without it, our cells cannot exist. Many key hormones (known as steroid hormones) have this same ring system, because they are synthesized from cholesterol. Think estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, cortisol.
So why is cholesterol a problem? Its only so when it deposits on artery walls and forms plaque. Just because it is in the blood, doesn’t mean that its destined to become arterial plaque. Cholesterol levels in blood are indeed a risk factor, among several others, of heart disease. In a future article we will discuss how cholesterol breaks down in the body and the fact that there is really nothing to fear. Eggs Are friends, not foes.
What About People with an LDL Control Problem?
People who have elevated LDL should be watchful about how much fats they consume, including those from egg yolks, under the guidance of a doctor and/or nutritionist. The body’s inability to regulate cholesterol levels can have many reasons, but it clearly points towards metabolic problems rather than dietary abnormalities. For the same reasons, diabetics should be cautious about their overall fat consumption, which puts them at risk for heart disease.
Whats the bottom-line? Eating eggs won’t hurt your health as long as you monitor your overall calories. However, if you’re trying to hit certain macronutrient numbers for a diet, or just want to restrict calories, having a few white-only eggs can be appropriate. Refer to your nutritionist to see how well your current food choices stack up against your health and fitness goals. Based on a study done at the University of Connecticut, which studied people who consume 3-4 eggs (with yolk) per day, virtually everyone showed either no change or beneficial changes in their blood lipid levels.
We are not promoting eating 3-4 eggs a day, of course. All we would like you to take away from this article is that egg yolks are possibly nature’s most powerful multivitamin, while providing essential fats and protein necessary for your everyday functioning. All studies show that eggs do not cause problems with overall health. So, go ahead, eat your scrambled eggs or omelette or eggs easy over – without cholesterolic fear.
What Should You Eat: Egg Whites or Whole Eggs?
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