LIKE HUMPTY DUMPTY, THE common egg has had a great fall.
And, despite their best efforts, nutrition experts are having a hard time putting the “incredible, edible egg” back together again.
In the 1940s, egg consumption in the United States reached a high of more than 400 per person per year. By the early 1990s, consumption had fallen to 235, and a lot of those eggs were hidden in cakes, cookies and other prepared baked goods and packaged products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The primary reason? Scientific studies in the early 1970s linked high cholesterol to heart disease. Now experts are urging us to reconsider the egg.
“Thirty years of research has never linked eggs to heart disease,” says Neva Cochran, a nutrition communications consultant and columnist for Women’s World and Maximum Fitness magazines.
“Nutrition professionals increasingly understand that the overall pattern of the diet, not the avoidance of particular foods, is most important for health and wellness. ... I tell people, ‘Choose your eggs by the company they keep.’”
The American Heart Association’s latest nutrition recommendations do not limit the number of eggs eaten, as long as total dietary cholesterol is limited to about 300 milligrams per day. We ask the egg-sperts.
Why eat eggs at all? They are an inexpensive source of high-quality, low-fat protein. Also, “they have more satiety value than most snacks, so you feel full and satisfied longer,” says Cochran. “I probably eat three or four hard-cooked eggs a week.
Add a couple of whole-grain crackers or a piece of fresh fruit, and that’s a low-calorie snack that will really stay with you.” Are they OK for the elderly?
“I sometimes see frail, elderly people who have heart failure and are not getting as much protein as they need. Their health is declining, but they don’t eat eggs because eggs contain cholesterol, and they know that is one of the things that caused their heart failure,” says Dr. Jo Ann Carson, professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School’s Center for Human Nutrition.
“But, for that person, eggs might be a very good source of protein.” Should pregnant women eat eggs? Yes, as long as the eggs are fully cooked and the women are not allergic to eggs. Eggs provide four of the nutrients pregnant women need most: protein, iron, folate and choline.
They are an excellent source of choline (a nutrient especially important for pregnant and nursing women during fetal and infant brain development). What if I have high blood cholesterol? The typical recommendation: If you have high LDL (“bad cholesterol”), eat no more than two egg yolks a week.
The Diabetes Association says no more than three a week. “If you have high cholesterol in your blood, we give you a diet that restricts dietary cholesterol to 200 milligrams per day. Most products made with eggs (such as cornbread, muffins and pancakes) are diluted enough that they are not a big concern,” Carson says.
What about “designer” eggs? Eggs designed to be more nutritious, such as Eggland’s Best, come from “vegetarian- fed hens” and have higher concentrations of vitamin E, more omega-3 fatty acids (which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia) and less saturated fat than regular eggs. Some brands also promise less cholesterol.
“There are so many designer eggs, but I don’t recommend spending the extra money when regular eggs are so nutritious,” says Cochran, who researches recipes and meal plans for the Egg Council.
For more information, go to www.incredibleegg.org.
Sources: American Council on Science and Health, American Egg Board, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Pregnancy Food Guide, Neva Cochran, Jo Ann Carson.