One of the first things I remember learning about cardiovascular disorders as a student dietitian was that clogged arteries were the common cause. I vividly recall the illustration in my textbook of a heart attack triggered by a blockage in the flow of blood. The heart disease research available at the time stated that it was the cholesterol in eggs that was responsible for that blockage.
I'd like to revisit the subject of eggs, cholesterol and heart disease as we celebrate American Heart Month.
Eggs were first linked to the rising rates of cardiovascular disorders in this country back in the 1970s. Since then, dietary guidelines have recommended that we limit our consumption of egg yolks to no more than 3 per week.
That triggered a lot of diners to add egg white omelets to their menus, but it didn't slow down the rates of heart disease. It is the number one cause of death for men and women alike, and has held that distinction for over 60 years. More Americans will die of heart disease this year than all forms of cancer combined.
600,000 deaths a year can't possibly be due to eggs.
What's Do You Like With Your Eggs?
Some of the earliest evidence used to blame eggs for heart disease was based on research that showed the people who ate the most eggs had the greatest incidence of heart attacks. But as we should all know by now, that kind of data does not prove causation.
A closer look at what else was on the plates of the egg eaters revealed they liked their eggs with bacon or sausage, fried potatoes, buttered toast and cream in their coffee, followed by a cigarette. When researchers looked at what else they were eating, even more incriminating evidence was found. The egg eaters had diets filled with meats high in saturated fats, while eating very few fruits, vegetables and whole grains, Still, eggs took all the blame for their chest pain.
Then there was the research that showed heart disease was caused by clogged arteries.Since the plaque clogging our arteries is formed by cholesterol and eggs are high in cholesterol, the advice that followed was to eat fewer eggs to stop plaque formation. But the dots hadn't been connected that could prove the cholesterol in eggs was the same cholesterol found in the heart-stopping plaque.
As it turned out, those dots didn't connect. The dietary cholesterol we get from egg yolks, liver and lobster is not the same as the stuff that ends up in our arteries. Instead, we make our own custom cholesterol, mostly from saturated fat, and eggs are low in saturated fat.
Vindication of the Egg
A large scale study published this month in the British Medical Journal provides a much-needed defense of the egg. Scientists did a meta-analysis of 17 previously published reports on egg consumption and the incidence of cardiovascular disorders. The analysis included over 12,000 cases of either heart disease or stroke and follow up that covered more than 7 million "person years." The conclusion was that consuming up to an egg a day was not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke among non-diabetic people.
Getting to The Heart Truth About Heart Disease
Just like eating eggs does not cause heart disease, wearing red doesn't stop it. The Heart Truth campaign uses the red dress to promote awareness of the risk factors for heart disease in women so we will take action to lower our risk. The first step is to know these numbers:
- Blood pressure
- Blood cholesterol
- Blood glucose
- Body Mass Index (based on height and weight)
- Waist circumference
If your numbers are too high, work with your health care team to lower them. At least you won't have to worry about giving up eggs to do it!