Lately it seems that advice on the benefits and risks of eating eggs is just plain scrambled. For years, physicians, nutritionists and nurses have recommended avoiding eggs in one's diet. The reason? Eggs, specifically the yolks, are full of cholesterol. One little egg yolk has 200 mg of cholesterol in it, which is almost the entire amount that we are supposed to eat in one day.
Yet recently, opposing recommendations are surfacing and grabbing media attention. The sudden acceptance of eggs and cholesterol has sparked a dietary debate that plainly misses the mark. Perhaps a little history lesson is egg-sactly what is needed here.
Thirty years ago, Americans started gaining weight. As our waistlines expanded, we attributed this to too much fat in our diets. In response, the healthy recommendation was to reduce fat and cholesterol intake, which of course, included the egg. Soon supermarket shelves were lined with products labeled "cholesterol free" and "reduced fat". Thinking this was the responsible choice; many people reached for these products and altered their cholesterol intake.
Yet despite this change, Americans are still overweight and wrestling with dietary-influenced chronic illnesses like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. This is because, in an effort to avoid fatty foods, we began ingesting the easy alternative of simple carbohydrates like breads, bagels and pasta. These foods are no better, as the body treats these white flour products just like sugar. It turns them into fat, causing weight gain and blood vessel inflammation.
Which means one thing is certain; the buzz about eating eggs is not what it is all cracked up to be. People tell me all of the time that they are confused about medical and dietary advice because it seems to change all of the time. No one knows what to believe and this debate about eggs just increases this confusion. The egg debate is merely serving as a distraction from more valuable heart health nutritional information.
So what can we eat? A nutrition plan like the Mediterranean Diet — rich in omega 3 fatty acids, and other sources of polyunsaturated fats as well as monounsaturated fats — can lower our cholesterol values, decrease inflammation, and decrease heart attack risk. Examples of foods that are recommended in the Mediterranean Diet include lots of fruits and vegetables, lean chicken, turkey or fish as sources of protein, low-fat or fat-free yogurt, cottage cheese, skim or low-fat milk. A recent trial showed just how powerful this diet could be to prevent a heart problem. Spanish researchers found that a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with either olive oil or nuts decreased the chance of having a heart attack or stroke by 30 percent in a group of adults, compared to a similar group who followed their usual diet.
As a cardiologist, my major concern is that my patient's focus be on the importance of diet, weight loss and exercise, instead of relying on medications like statins to lower cholesterol levels. Sometimes, they are medically indicated, but they should not be a replacement for dietary control and healthy lifestyle habits.
The famous egg Humpty Dumpty may be sitting pretty this week, but the reputation of the medical world for giving good advice has taken a great fall, and can only be repaired by advocating careful healthy living, exercise and perhaps egg white alternatives. That's no yolk!