In the late 1950s, a study on eggs and heart disease was published that changed everything. It was an enormous study in the United Kingdom called the “London Life Insurance Study” and it found that among 21,000 male physicians who ate one or more eggs every day, there were 296 deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) over an almost 20-year period. For those men who never ate eggs, there were 229 deaths from CHD. This difference seemed striking to researchers at the time because they likely had no idea how many other variables might be involved in preventing heart disease–such as smoking, exercise, weight control, cholesterol levels, and so on. But of course, these findings were taken and exaggerated beyond reason. The word went out that eggs were bad for you. In fact, both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the U.S. government still advise people to moderate their egg intake because of this study, despite all of the conflicting research in recent decades showing health benefits from eating eggs–particularly when they are part of a low-fat diet.
This includes dozens upon dozens of studies with hundreds of thousands of subjects demonstrating consistently that those who eat more eggs tend to die at slower rates overall than those who rarely or never eat them. Eggs have been associated with greater longevity, leanness, lower cholesterol levels, protection against chronic disease (including diabetes), better weight maintenance on higher carbohydrate diets, healthier pregnancies, and even healthier babies. And most importantly, eggs have not been associated with an increased risk of heart disease or cardiovascular death in healthy people.
This is not to say that eating eggs will prevent you from ever having a heart attack–but they won’t cause one either! Eggs are loaded with nutrients and it’s hard to imagine consuming too many on a daily basis. They are also affordable and easy to prepare for quick meals during the week.
Eggs and Hardened Arteries
What about those who already have hardened arteries? Do eggs harm them? We don’t know because no studies have looked at this question specifically, but we do know what happens when someone follows a low-fat diet including three whole eggs per day: HDL (good) cholesterol rises, LDL (bad) cholesterol drops, triglycerides (another heart disease risk factor) drop, and the size of small dense LDL particles actually shrink. There are also several studies showing that egg whites protect against glycation–the process by which sugar molecules bond with proteins in the body to form harmful advanced glycosylation end products (AGEs)–yet another factor involved in cardiovascular disease.
Eggs: Demonized for Over 50 Years
Sorry if all of this seems repetitive; we just couldn’t say it enough: eggs improve most cardiometabolic markers all the time! So why are they still considered unhealthy? The first reason is because of old information taken out of context–in this case from a single study over 50 years ago. And second, because cholesterol has been so demonized that people believe that any food high in cholesterol must be bad for you. It couldn’t be more untrue! If we don’t eat cholesterol, our bodies will make it anyway–we can’t avoid it no matter what kind of diet we follow. And if you’ve read this far, then you know that eating foods high in natural cholesterol is not a problem as long as they are part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Pasteurized Eggs or Farm-Fresh Eggs?
In addition, many people believe that there’s something uniquely unhealthy about the egg whites because they’re often pasteurized (as opposed to farm fresh eggs) and because all the protein may contribute to increased blood glucose levels. But the truth of the matter is that whole eggs contain very little protein compared with other foods; so even when someone eats several eggs per day, the amount of protein is not high enough to raise fasting blood glucose levels. Eggs from pastured hens are also higher in nutrients than typical eggs found in most grocery stores.
Finally, if you have diabetes and are concerned about the impact that eggs will have on your blood sugars, then you can now find an egg with a very low glycemic index–as long as it’s not from Costco! You’ll find Lohmann’s brand at Whole Foods or online. They look like normal eggs but they taste more like scrambled tofu, but they’ve got a GI of 24 compared to regular eggs which average 60.
We’re obviously big proponents of eating farm fresh (organic) whole foods–which includes organic (pastured) eggs! –but for those who can’t get enough eggs from their own hens, look for Lohmann’s brand or another variety with a super low glycemic index. Or if you just need more protein in your diet, then add some extra egg whites to the carton–they have plenty of nutrition and much less cholesterol than three large whole eggs!
For those of us fortunate enough to live close to our local farms (and/or willing to pay high prices), we also buy pastured eggs; these are definitely better than organic or “vegetarian-fed” eggs. On a side note, there is little difference between hen raised on vegetarian feed versus regular feed because chickens aren’t true vegetarians anyway–they eat bugs, worms, and whatever else they can find.
And for those of us who are gluten-sensitive, you’ll be glad to know that pastured eggs have no traces of wheat… unless a hen was in the field picking corn maybe!