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Dietitians Dish: Eggs and coronary heart disease

Sept. 20, 2011 at 4:20 a.m.

Stephanie Markman

Stephanie Markman

By Stephanie Markman, RD

Eggs . so versatile, economical and delicious, but are they good for our cardiovascular health? An important and often debated question because of their popularity.

Over the years, eggs have gotten a negative reputation because egg yolks are the most concentrated source of cholesterol in the diet. On the other hand, eggs are nutrient rich and an excellent dietary source of many essential nutrients, vitamins A, B12 and D, iron, zinc, folate, choline and two powerful antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin. Eggs also provide 6 grams of protein. Actually, the protein found in eggs is the gold standard in which all other proteins are compared to.

The relationship between eggs and coronary heart disease is the cholesterol content in the yolks and its role in increasing LDL-cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol). LDL-cholesterol has been identified as the most influential component in our blood that causes the hardening of blood vessel walls. Therefore, decreasing LDL-cholesterol has been the main goal of most American health professionals in decreasing risk of CHD.

Throughout the past few decades, as more research is gathered there has been no significant evidence that dietary cholesterol alone increases LDL-cholesterol. However, there is a great deal of evidence showing that an overall heart-healthy lifestyle does improve LDL-cholesterol. This includes avoiding saturated and trans fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats. The risk of developing CHD can also be reduced by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise and consuming adequate fiber.

Currently, the dietary cholesterol recommendation from the American Heart Association for healthy adults is 300 mg/day. For those with an elevated LDL-cholesterol level, 200 mg/day is recommended. Keep in mind one egg yolk contains around 200 mg of dietary cholesterol. This is why organizations, such as the National Cholesterol Education Program, recommends only two yolks per week. Since yolks are high in cholesterol it is near impossible to consume 200 mg of cholesterol or less per day when incorporating them into your everyday diet.

Research is shifting our view on the relationship between dietary cholesterol and CHD risk by finding that an overall healthy diet and lifestyle is more effective in reducing CHD risk than cutting out dietary cholesterol alone.

With that in mind, enjoy your eggs, just try to limit your yolks to no more than one per day, and don't save them all up for a seven egg omelet on Sunday, your body can only handle so much cholesterol at one time.

A heart-healthy compromise can be choosing egg whites or an egg substitutes instead of a whole egg, as these are both cholesterol free and protein rich choices.

So enjoy your eggs in moderation, and make it your goal to find a balance between enjoying food and taking care of your body; you only get one.

Stephanie Markman is a registered dietitian

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