The Humble, Honorable Egg

A column by Tony Ricci about the many health benefits of eggs.

Throughout human history countless eminent figures have had legacies that were to be redeemed long after their era on Earth. For some however, they have had the fate to live and witness their story better told. And finally, such redemption has come to a very worthy recipient that fortunately remains with us today. The honor goes to the egg! Yes, the same egg that we humans have likely been consuming since our arrival on earth; and the one that many of us grew up enjoying largely, but not exclusively, as a breakfast food.

It is proper to say that prior to the last five years or so, and for about 30 years, the egg had received press as bad, if not worse, than any of its food counterparts. While difficult to identify those first involved in the eggs prosecution, some of it can be attributed to when the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, released its findings in 1977. With the intent of halting an alarming increase in cardiovascular disease amongst Americans, the committee implored us to avoid foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats. So, the egg, along with red meats and dairy products, was brought into the conversation as a food we must avoid if we are to prevent cardiovascular disease, live healthily and live long. Accordingly, America was to embrace several decades of an irrational fear of fats and cholesterol, with the beloved egg as one of the casualties.

First, and tragically, the egg was wrongly accused of being high in saturated fat. An average egg contains only about one and a half grams of saturated fat, which assuredly is not substantial. While a single egg does contain anywhere from 180mg to 210mg of cholesterol, which is a significant percentage of the recommended 300mg/day, there is little research that shows eggs actually increase blood cholesterol. Studies conducted in the labs of Dr. David L. Katz, of the Prevention Research Center at Yale, showed that no harm occurred in healthy adults consuming two eggs daily, and a second study demonstrated no harm to adults who consumed two eggs daily with high cholesterol. As a side, along with an expanding body of research absolving the egg, it is now rationale to assert that dietary cholesterol may not contribute to total blood cholesterol or cardiovascular disease to the extent previously assumed. And I must interject that I personally agree with the assertion that cholesterol’s affect on cardiovascular disease has been both misunderstood and misrepresented.

And after all the talk of cholesterol, and yes, eggs may increase it some, but the increase in LDL cholesterol (often referred to as bad cholesterol) that occurs from egg consumption, seems to favor what is called buoyant, large, LDL particles. Simply stated, these particles are less atherogenic and propose less cardiovascular risk than small LDL particles. Furthermore, studies indicate that eggs may actually raise HDL cholesterol, often referred to as good cholesterol. HDL clears the arteries of cholesterol and may even have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. So at worst the affect of eggs on total cholesterol is neutral, but more likely favorable due to their potential to increase HDL cholesterol.

While the egg has been redeemed with regards to saturated fats and cholesterol; it is not enough to simply view the egg as a food which does not harm us. Eggs are actually an exceptionally healthy food. Consider the following. Eggs provide one of the most complete proteins in nature, so much so that the protein quality of all foods is often measured against that of the egg. In a Vitamin D deficient country, with few foods actually providing Vitamin D, eggs can contribute to your daily Vitamin D requirements. They also contain the other fat soluble vitamins E, K, A, providing up to 20 percent of your daily Vitamin A needs. Eggs are very high in the valuable nutrient, choline. Choline is essential in early human development, plays an integral role in the structure of cell membranes, and is a precursor to acetylcholine, an essential neurotransmitter for the brain. Eggs also contain the antioxidants Lutein and Zeaxanthin which can help in the prevention of macular degeneration.

We have more worthy of mentioning, studies show that eggs, because of their protein and fat content, also help to regulate appetite subsequent to their consumption. This can be helpful for governing one’s total food intake and maintaining a healthy weight.

While I am confident we will continue to see more positive information released on the health benefits of this great food, let’s not forget the versatility of the egg, the multitude of ways it can be prepared and the body and taste it adds to countless dishes and recipes. And maybe the greatest attribute of the egg, beyond all of the aforementioned superb qualities, it remains a very reasonably priced food, even at higher prices a single egg costs about 40 cents. This leaves us hard pressed to find a food that provides such great nutrition, which can be prepared so quickly so many different ways, all while balancing both our appetite and checkbook. It has been said, “Redemption comes to those who wait.” Fortunately for us and the egg, we need not wait any longer.

Tony Ricci is a highly accredited Athletic Performance Specialist & Licensed Nutritionist. He is a Fellow of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and holds separate Masters Degrees in Sports Science and Clinical Nutrition. Tony is the Senior Nutritionist for Pfizer Inc, a Professor of Sports Science at LIU in Brooklyn, and a Co-Founder of MY COMPETITIVE LIFE, a multi-discipline Health/Wellness and Performance Enhancement Company.