Cholesterol: no longer the bad egg for heart health

By Jess Wright, Registered Dietician

Start cracking yolks – the egg is once again (incr)edible, and dietary cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern” according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for America set for publication later this year.

For decades, Americans were told a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol would increase their risk of heart disease. The decline of the april-article-imageU.S. population’s health has inspired enough research to convince the agencies responsible for issuing dietary guidelines that they had it wrong.

Data from the American Heart Association shows heart disease has been on the rise since the 1900s, despite the encouragement to follow a low-fat lifestyle.

The transition from eggs and bacon to egg whites and oatmeal has done nothing to slow down incidence of heart disease in America. In fact, some critics of the low-fat diet suggest the lack of fat and cholesterol has made Americans fatter and sicker throughout the years.

How does eating less fat make you fatter? Perhaps it would make more sense if carbohydrates were called fat because that is exactly what they become when eaten in excess.

It seems reasonable to assume a plate of greasy bacon with eggs glistening in butter could clog your arteries, but eating fat doesn’t make you fat, and eating cholesterol doesn’t cause heart attacks. High blood sugar on the other hand can increase your risk of heart attack by 300 percent.

Yes, some fats are more nutritious than others, but your body depends on dietary sources of both fat and cholesterol to perform even the most basic functions of life.

Because cholesterol is so essential for things like hormone regulation and synthesis of vitamin D, 75 percent of the body’s cholesterol is actually manufactured in house by the liver. The other 25 percent must be supplemented by the diet. In contrast, your body can function quite efficiently with a minimal amount of carbohydrate intake.

Until recently, mainstream advice suggested Americans limit their cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day – an amount easily exceeded with two whole eggs at breakfast.

Without the yolk, an egg goes from incredible to just edible, and while the cholesterol-free egg white has maintained the egg’s presence throughout the cholesterol-fearing years, the yolk is where the nutrients are. Yes, yolks are high in cholesterol, but they are packed with enough nutrients to give life to a chicken. Like the plastic eggs kids hunt on Easter, all the goodies are in
the center.

Speaking of Easter, rabbits and eggs can help us unscramble the facts on cholesterol. Which Easter basket would you give to your pet rabbit?

Basket A: Eggs

Basket B: Fresh carrots

Basket C: Easter candy

In case you didn’t choose basket B, let’s talk through why A and C aren’t the best options.

Basket A: You wouldn’t give a rabbit a basket of eggs. Why? Because rabbits don’t eat eggs – they eat carrots. In the early 1900s, a group of scientists fed cholesterol (in the form of eggs) to rabbits, causing the yolked-up rabbits to show signs of heart disease. Some believe this misconception influenced the egg’s bad reputation.

Basket C: Every kid’s dream – a jumbo basket of candy. Sure, the Easter bunny brings these sugary treats to your kids, but common sense tells us these goodies would make a rabbit sick. While there are probably no research studies confirming candy makes rabbits sick, there are many studies proving sugar makes you sick.

All these years, Americans believed the egg caused heart disease. As it turns out, it may have been the Easter bunny all along.

Feel free to email Jess Wright with questions/comments:

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