Eggs – peeling back the mystery

Why we eat 4 eggs a day… Each.

2.5 dozen of white chicken eggs in an open carton with a face drawn on the egg in the foreground and a speech bubble that says "I'm Yummy"

Posted by Kyle

Nutrition on the whole is an incredibly tricky topic to discuss. There is so much information/misinformation out there in support or against any given diet that it is hard to separate fact from fiction. A lot of times it is actually both fact and fiction because depending on the individual – what is best for you might not be best for someone else.

As I shared previously, we choose to lead a low carb lifestyle.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best possible way my family can eat. This choice it means that a good portion of our diet comes from fats and protein – which brings me to the focus of this article. Eggs. We eat eggs. A lot of them. In fact on any given day of the week we have about 8-10 dozen eggs in the fridge, consuming on average 9 a day as a family. We have yet to get our own birds (it is definitely on the list for next year and will be a topic for another post in the future) but we get our eggs from a local farm which is important to us.

Eggs are an especially contentious food. I can’t think of a food that is more hotly debated in the nutrition world than the fragile but extremely delicious egg. Over the years eggs have received a pretty bad rap from mainstream media namely because the delicious yellow yolk is chock-full of cholesterol. Bleh. I can almost hear the echo after that word as it has become synonymous with heart disease and stroke. If you have high cholesterol your risk is up to 160x higher to develop heart disease or have a stroke. So why in the world would you go out and purposefully consume a food that is rich in cholesterol?

Science alert. Goggles on. 

Let me start by saying that cholesterol itself is a naturally occurring component of your body. It is produced in the liver and is an essential component of your cell walls.  You need cholesterol for your body to function properly. Secondly, there is a BIG difference between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. The two have been minimally correlated at best… Even in the studies that were able to show that increased dietary cholesterol caused increased blood cholesterol levels, it was only in a fraction of the population (about 10%).

A single white chicken egg laying on its side in a large spoon in front of a stainless steel refrigerator
A picture of an egg to break up some of the dull science stuff

Finally it is important to note that not all cholesterol is created equally. There are two main types of cholesterol: LDL’s (Low Density Lipoproteins) and HDL’s (High Density Lipoproteins). LDL’s are the ones generally considered bad cholesterol and for the record, they are actually bad. They grab on to your arterial walls and start to gum up your lines like a dirty dishwasher drain. It has been proven that people with high LDL counts in their blood stream are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. However, saying that having a high LDL count automatically puts you at higher risk is incomplete science. It is the HDL’s job to remove LDL’s from your blood stream. So while high LDL’s can be bad, it is not the absolute level of LDL’s in your system that is important – rather it is the ratio between the two that matters. When LDL’s rise out of step with HDL’s that is when you can develop issues. But if you have a high enough HDL count to take care of the high level of LDL’s then generally speaking, you are okay.

Alright, science done. Back to eggs. Thanks for sticking it out there, I know it was dicey for a minute. A stack of white chicken eggs in a green glass bowl on a stone counter top in a kitchen

For me, where the wheels fall off the wagon so-to-speak is the correlation that cholesterol = bad, eggs contain cholesterol, ergo eggs are bad. That’s kind like saying, fiber is good, honey nut cheerios contain fiber, ergo honey nut cheerios are good for you. Like somehow the presence of fiber makes up for the incredible amount of sugar in the cereal. It’s the same sort of thing you see on energy drinks for example, just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it should be in your body.

With cholesterol in particular though, what egg detractors fail to point out is that dietary cholesterol almost never ends up in the blood stream in any appreciable quantity. It usually just passes through you and goes on its merry way.  Furthermore, by not eating eggs (or even if you only eat egg whites) you are missing out on a TON of great things like protein, vitamins, minerals and carotenoid antioxidants (which can even help your body fight things like cancer).

The trouble I have with any study trying to point the finger at a given food is that it does so in a vacuum. It doesn’t look at eating habits as a whole but instead focuses on one component.  Humans are incredibly complex organisms and our own experiences, lifestyle choices, diets, activity level and genetics all have a role to play in how our bodies respond to nutrients… And all of these things work in conjunction with one another so it is almost impossible to pinpoint the source of the problem. What I am trying to say is it can be very easy to blame eggs for heart disease because they contain cholesterol; when in reality there are any number of other issues with average Joe’s diet that could be the culprit and everything is working in symbiosis.

I’ll leave you with one final thought to chew on. There are a growing number of studies out there that point at inflammation as the true leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Inflammation has been directly related to your diet with grains recording some of the worst inflammatory responses of any food type. Inflammation has also been linked to cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s which are pretty much my worst nightmares combined. So, I would rather get my fiber from broccoli, blackberries and delicious brussels sprouts and skip the inflammatory response from carbs any day of the week. Bonnie gets joint inflammation from grain (her “wheat knees”… and elbows) so badly that it can be difficult for her to walk after she consumes it. Have joint pain? Maybe after a week on a low carb eating plan you will feel improvement like she does.

A bagel will cause an inflammatory response in your body 10/10 times but you know what won’t? Eggs. Nuff said.

 

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