The humble yet ever-controversial egg is at the center of another health scare this week, as researchers in Canada claim eating eggs could be as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes.
The history of egg-related controversy has almost always focused on cholesterol, with as many people calling it a superfood as those claiming we should avoid it at all costs. This time, the cholesterol found in egg yolks has been found to accelerate atherosclerosis, otherwise known as coronary artery disease. This involves a build-up of cholesterol in the arteries, and eggs were found to do this at around two thirds the rate that smoking does. The result? A higher risk of both heart attacks and strokes.
The study involved 1,231 patients with an average age of 61. All those involved in the study, which took place at the London Health Sciences University Hospital, were attending vascular protection clinics at the center.
Data gathered by the researchers included the estimated number of eggs consumed in a year, alongside data about the average number of cigarettes smoked in the same period. They also asked questions about lifestyle and medication, alongside using ultrasound to measure the total plaque area.
Presumably, there will be a story in a few months which claims eggs are one of the healthiest things you can eat, as that seems to have been the pattern over the last 20 years or so. A US government study in 2011 found that the cholesterol content in eggs was much lower than it was ten years ago, and the increased levels of vitamin D helped strengthen bones and prevent conditions like osteoporosis.
The same study found that a medium-sized egg contains around a third of the recommended daily allowance of cholesterol. It’s believed the main reason for the drop is a change in the way hens are fed. Previously they had been given bone meal, which had been banned in the 90’s following the BSE crisis. Now they are typically fed a mix of corn, wheat, and a high protein special feed, which in turn results in a more nutritious egg.
Another study in 2009 found that eggs can help to lower blood pressure. When eggs are digested, they produce proteins that mimic the actions of Ace inhibitors, which are commonly prescribed pressure-lowering drugs.
Eggs will always be a controversial food, and there’s a strong case to be made no matter what side of the fence you’re on. As a cheap source of high-quality protein, they’re hard to beat (excellent joke, thank you), but the cholesterol issue doesn’t look as if it’s going to go away. The bottom line, as with almost every aspect of diet, seems to be “everything in moderation.”