The whole truth

There has been a lot of ups and downs in the reputation of eggs over recent decades. Much of the downside for eggs has centred around their cholesterol content, which is around 180-220mg per conventionally raised egg. However, we now know that dietary cholesterol is not the whole story when it comes to your cholesterol levels and so eggs have had somewhat of a reprieve and a new study has raised further interesting points regarding eggs and confirmed a basic food truth at the same time.

In recent times several large-scale studies have suggested that the cholesterol content of an egg may be less of a concern in relationship to heart disease than previously thought. In these studies, no increased risk of either heart attack or stroke was shown with intake of one to six eggs per week. Interestingly a link has also been shown in these studies between egg intake and increased levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) in participants. Not only did egg intake increase the number of HDL molecules, it also improved their composition and allowed them to function more effectively. The exception involved participants with type 2 diabetes, whose risk of heart problems was associated with egg intake, even in the range of one to six eggs per week. These findings though contrast with the latest study that comes from Finland.

In the new study 2,332 Finnish men aged between 42 and 60 were assessed for their dietary consumption and then followed for an average of 19.3 years. In that time frame 432 of the men were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Analysis of the data showed that men who had four eggs a week were 37 per cent less likely to develop diabetes than men who had only one egg per week. This relationship held true even after factors like exercise level, body mass index, and consumption of fruits and vegetables were take into account. Eating more than four eggs per week though did not offer any additional benefit.

The effect here may be explained by the many nutrients contained in eggs that can influence glucose metabolism and low grade inflammation. For instance, eggs provide many B vitamins, vitamin E and omega-3 fats. Some eggs are fortified with omega-3 by feeding the hens krill oil or flaxseed oil but you can actually also increase omega-3 levels in eggs by allowing the hens to genuinely graze on “pasture”. Foods like clover and alfalfa will boost omega-3 levels and as a bonus will boost vitamin E levels by up to 200 per cent as well. You should definitely make an effort to find out exactly how the hens that produce your eggs are raised. The other question is why this effect has not been noted before and the answer may lie in the Finnish-ness of the study.

In Finland egg consumption is not strongly associated with lifestyle habits like low levels of exercise, smoking, and consumption of processed meats. So eating eggs like the Fins may be the way to go if you want benefits for your heart and blood sugar. In summing up their research though these researchers made a defining point. They observed that the overall health effects of foods are difficult to ascertain by looking at their components, such as cholesterol in the case of eggs, and instead nutrition research needs to look at the health effects of whole foods and diets. That’s the real key to understanding food, or anything for that matter, to look at the “whole” rather than the dissected parts; you don’t understand a symphony by listing the notes and how often each one occurs.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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