Egg to Differ: In Defense of Eggs

A study published in the medical journal Atherosclerosis reported that a diet rich in whole eggs is as artery-clogging as smoking. Researchers surveyed about 1,200 middle-aged male and female patients—all of whom had suffered a stroke or “mini-stroke”—about their egg yolk consumption, smoking, exercise habits, and other lifestyle factors. They concluded that the top 20 percent of egg consumers had a narrowing of the carotid artery that also appeared in two-thirds of the smokers. Of course, the media jumped on the catchiness of being able to call out that “Eggs are Nearly as Bad for Your Arteries as Cigarettes” and “Your Breakfast Eggs Are Going to Kill You,” as the Atlantic and others did.

But what most media reports didn’t point out—or buried after the alarmist headlines—is that the study was incomplete, says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, a nutritionist and frequent Kripalu presenter. “The way that eggs are cooked is a huge factor,” he says. Certain high-temperature cooking methods—including frying and scrambling—oxidize the cholesterol into a substance known asoxysterol, a molecule known to accelerate both heart disease and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. More, though, he worries about how the study’s information was gathered and presented. “Research like this is not good science,” he says. “I might be able to see the detrimental weight of eating fried or scrambled eggs as comparative to smoking, but even that seems a stretch.”

That’s because the Atherosclerosis study doesn’t take into account how eggs are cooked or what people eat them with—which often may mean eggs fried or scrambled in a low-quality vegetable oil, butter, or full-fat milk, and accompanied by toast with butter or jam, bacon, and sugary coffee.“Asking the average person in a hospital how often they have eggs and then correlating that with artery disease is kind of like saying people who drive are more likely to get ina high-speed-related accident,” he points out.

Eggs that are poached or soft-boiled are actually very healthful, says John, especially when they come from chickens raised on grass—as opposed to grains-only—and plenty of fresh air and room to roam. “Eggs are one of the better foods for humans,” he says, pointing to studies that show that high levels of egg consumption result in higher HDL—or “good”—cholesterol levels and lower LDL—“bad”—cholesterol levels. Egg yolks are also a good source of protein and vitamin D. “99.9 percentof the cholesterol in our body is produced by our body, and most influenced by our insulin levels—and thus how much refined carbohydrates we eat,” he says. “Many people find this very surprising.” Which means, says John, that so long as they’re not overcooked or served on bread, bagels, or English muffins, eggs are perfectly fine to eat every day. “Eggs and fruit or eggs poached on dark greens are one of the better breakfasts I can recommend,” he says.

A solid source of protein, eggs—even the yolks—can be eaten daily. Here are John’s tips for enjoying eggs healthfully.

From sustainably raised chickens. The best eggs come from chickens raised on farms in which they’re able to roam freely and feed on grass and fallen plants. This excludes chickens that are contained in any way, medicated, or fed primarily a diet of grains.

Poached or soft-boiled. Avoid cooking methods that require high temperatures, such as frying or scrambling.

Grain-free. Leave out the toast, bagels, and English muffins. Eggs are most healthily enjoyed with fruit or on a bed of greens.

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