By Nina Bryant
'Are eggs bad for us?’ is an age-old question, one that has allowed myths such as ‘eggs cause heart disease’ or ‘don’t eat more than 3 eggs a week’ to run rampant. It’s a classic nutrition myth; it is an example of the dangers of false science, based on the negative connotations associated with the word ‘cholesterol’, and not much else.
When debunking this myth, the first thing we need to address is the difference between dietary cholesterol and cholesterol made from saturated fats. The yolk in eggs contains dietary cholesterol, and cholesterol is known to increase risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). However, our body is just as capable of producing cholesterol all on its own, and this can have a more detrimental effect than consuming egg yolks.
Saturated fats are the real culprit, because our livers are disposed to make cholesterol from the saturated fats that we eat. This means that you are actually more likely to have a heart attack due to the butter, bacon and sausages you are having with your egg, than from eating the egg itself.
If you are at particularly high risk of CHD, The NHS actually recommends starting by cutting down on saturated fats as a first port of call, not dietary cholesterol in foods like eggs. You should not be purposefully reducing your egg intake for nutritional reasons unless advised to do so by a doctor.
Longitudinal studies have actually demonstrated that eggs are perfectly safe to eat; one fourteen year study conducted by Hu and colleagues found that, when accounting for other risk factors, there was no observable link between egg consumption and CHD.
Additionally, a 2012 study by Rong and colleagues performed a meta-analysis (an analysis of multiple studies investigating the same question). They similarly found no link between egg consumption and CHD risk, but suggested that reducing egg consumption for those already at risk of CHD—for example, due to a condition like diabetes—could be further studied.
Eggs aren’t just safe to eat, they are actually nutritious. They are a source of protein (with one egg containing about 6g of protein), as well as many crucial vitamins such as vitamin B12 and vitamin B2. They are particularly nutritious if you have a vegetarian diet, because these vitamins are harder to get from other vegetarian foods.
Of course, whether you feel comfortable eating eggs due to ethical issues is another matter entirely. There is no doubt that you should be buying organic eggs if you are a vegetarian or meat-eater; not only are the birds not fed antibiotics but there are other ethical conditions the farms have to meet (more so than free range).
In order to label themselves organic, farms have to meet a number of ethical standards such as keeping hens in smaller flocks and less restricted access to the outdoors. Of course, the most ethical practice is to keep your own hens, or to buy from local farms provided you are aware how they keep their hens. If you are avoiding eggs from a nutritional perspective however, this is probably based on false advertising.
There is no observable link between eggs and CHD, despite the presence of cholesterol in egg yolks. If you want to reduce your cholesterol, the best step is to reduce your saturated fat intake such as butter and meats including bacon and sausage. You can even boil or poach your eggs and have plant based fats instead, in order to feel confident that your breakfast will not have any negative effect on your risk of heart disease.