The latest U.S. research on eggs won’t go over easy for those can’t eat breakfast without them.

Adults who ate about 1½ eggs a day had a slightly higher risk of heart disease than those who ate no eggs. The study showed the more eggs, the greater the risk. The chances of dying early were also elevated.

The researchers say the culprit is cholesterol, found in egg yolks and other foods, including shellfish, dairy products and red meat. The study focused on eggs because they’re among the most commonly eaten cholesterol-rich foods. They can still be part of a healthy diet, but in smaller quantities than many Americans have gotten used to, the researchers say.

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U.S. dietary guidelines that eased limits on cholesterol have helped eggs make a comeback.

The study has limitations and contradicts recent research, but is likely to rekindle the long-standing debate about eggs.

The new results were published online Friday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

The study

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and elsewhere pooled results from six previous studies, analyzing data on almost 30,000 U.S. adults who self-reported daily food intake. Participants were followed for roughly 17 years, on average.

The researchers calculated that those who ate 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily — about 1½ eggs — were 17 percent more likely to develop heart disease than whose who didn’t eat eggs.

The researchers based their conclusions on what participants said they ate at the start of each study. They took into account high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and other traits that could contribute to heart problems. Risks were found with eggs and cholesterol in general; a separate analysis was not done for every cholesterol-rich food.

Dr. Bruce Lee of Johns Hopkins University, said nutrition studies are often weak because they rely on people remembering what they ate.

“We know that dietary recall can be terrible,” said Lee. The new study offers only observational data but doesn’t show that eggs and cholesterol caused heart disease and deaths, said Lee, who wasn’t involved in the research.

Senior author Norrina Allen, a preventive medicine specialist, noted that the study lacks information on whether participants ate eggs hard-boiled, poached, fried, or scrambled in butter, which she said could affect health risks.

Some people think ‘”I can eat as many eggs as I want'” but the results suggest moderation is a better approach, she said.

The debate

Eggs are a leading source of dietary cholesterol, which once was thought to be strongly related to blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. Older studies suggesting that link led to nutrition guidelines almost a decade ago that recommended consuming no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily; one egg contains about 186 milligrams.

Newer research questioned that relationship, finding that saturated fats contribute more to unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol that can lead to heart problems.

The latest nutrition guidelines from the federal government, published in 2015, removed the strict daily cholesterol limit. While eating as little cholesterol as possible is still advised, the recommendations say eggs can still be part of a healthy diet, as a good source of protein, along with lean meat, poultry, beans and nuts. Nutrition experts say the new study is unlikely to change that advice.

Bottom line

Dr. Frank Hu of Harvard University noted that most previous studies have shown that eating a few eggs weekly is not linked with risks for heart disease in generally healthy people.

“I don’t think that this study would change general healthy eating guidelines” that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans and limiting processed meats and sugar, Hu said. Eggs, a breakfast staple for many, can be included but other options should also be considered, “like whole grain toast with nut butter, fresh fruits, and yogurt,” Hu said.

Dr. Rosalind Coleman, a professor of nutrition and pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, offered broader advice.

“The main message for the public is not to select a single type of food as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ but to evaluate your total diet in terms of variety and amount.

“I’m sorry if it seems like a boring recommendation,” she added, but for most people, the most important diet advice “should be to maintain a healthy weight, to exercise, and to get an adequate amount of sleep.”

— Lindsey Tanner

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  • Eggs contain a type of cholesterol, but is it human cholesterol? Cholesterol is a group of polycyclic hydrocarbons, both levo & dextro forms. The human body generally runs on levo compounds. How is the egg cholesterol metabolized? Is it just a substrate for the liver to use to build human cholesterol? How much is used for the production of steroids? Are the eggs just a non-causal indicator for people who eat high fat diets?
    Randolph W Lievertz, M.D.
    Clinical NeuroPsychoPharmacologist

  • There is a world of difference between normal store bought eggs and free range eggs, which are much higher in omega 3 fatty acids, minerals and trace elements. In addition to which people self reporting on their diets is notoriously inaccurate, and this does not take into account other foods that they are eating, their sugar intake, processed foods, organic vs non organic foods and the toxin load associated with such diets. Exercise, smoking and hereditary are not included. Sounds like a poorly designed study and I wouldn’t give it much credence.

  • No research has proved the direct link between egg and the heart disease. The whole egg is full of nutrients; in fact egg yolk has more nutrients than egg white. It has almost all water soluble and fat soluble vitamins, the seven essential minerals and very good quality of protein etc, but unfortunately the high amount of cholesterol in egg yolk is making the egg scary food item, letting down all its health benefits, for this reason we need to shed some light on cholesterol. The regular consumption of egg increases the level of HDL (good cholesterol) which lowers the heart risk, now we come to LDL the bad one. LDL particles exist in different sizes, many studies shows that small, dense particles could increase the risk of heart diseases as compared to large fluffy particles. Even if the egg yolk increases the LDL (bad cholesterol) in some people, studies show that the egg consumption changes the size of small particles to large particles. Actually the over consumption of any type of healthy food could cause the health issues; moderation is the key of healthy life.
    We need to focus on other food item too, which have no or fewer health benefits, like hydrogenated fat, carbonated drinks (especially diet drinks) and processed food.

  • Medical findings based on comparative behavioral observations have long been contradictory. Each study discredits previous study and this too will be discredited. Coffee, wine and chocolate have beeb good for you for a dozen periods of time and have been bad for you for another dozen periods in time. The inherent problem in all theses studies is that juxtaposition is confused with correlation. Until such time that we find a better way for finding the impacts of different food on our bodies, these type of studies have discredited themselves.

  • Associations based on food surveys cannot ‘suggest’ anything other than a potential hypothesis for further research using RCT for a method. Until those trials are conducted and show cause, I’m feeding my omnivore diet two eggs a day.

  • What else did they eat *with* that egg? I mean, McDonald’s has been offering all-day breakfast for a few years… lazy “science”.

  • No one does actual studies anymore, the millennial way seems to be to read some dated material on Pubmed, total some columns of other peoples work and then trumpet their conclusions as your own. Serious compilers without intellect or drive.

  • I guess the late 117 years old Emma Morano, who claimed she was eating 3 eggs (2 raw) every day, did not get the memo! LOL

  • This is not science, it offers only a weak observation that yields as much factual knowledge as the observation by a sprinter that the world must be flat.

    Bad science is not even science.

    The very sensible advice by Dr Rosalind Coleman presented at the end of this article has nothing to do with the data the study presents.

    1) the egg consumption was not actually measured.

    2) the diet surveys were not repeated annually to see changes that might have been made over time.

    3) no attempt was made to see if egg consumption was linked to other unhealthy behaviors like eating a lot of processed foods, high salt consumption or low exercise levels.

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