Experts Say It’s Okay to Eat Eggs Again
Cholesterol is no longer a dietary villain according to new advice
Experts don’t exactly have egg on their face, but a historic reversal may change what you eat for breakfast.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), a panel of nationally recognized experts in nutrition and health, has advised in a new report that dietary cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern.”
While the news sounds like a major about-face, scientists have known for years that dietary cholesterol, on its own, doesn’t increase the risk for heart disease. “This is evolution, not revolution,” says David Katz, MD, director of Yale University's Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.
Katz says the data supporting the new advice has been accumulating for a long time. “What they suggest is that, other things being equal, dietary cholesterol is not a particular concern either for blood cholesterol levels or cardiovascular risk.”
Make no mistake, high levels of cholesterol in the blood are still thought to be linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease — but eating eggs doesn’t appear to significantly raise those levels.
“A number of intervention studies have been done with cholesterol and with eggs,” says Katz. “My lab has done three of them and we haven’t seen any adverse effects from eggs. We gave two eggs a day for six weeks to people with coronary disease and there were no harmful effects.”
Dietary cholesterol may have been wrongly maligned from the beginning. “Cholesterol was never thought to be a major driver of blood cholesterol levels,” says Katz. “The reason for the change is there are a number of long, large observational studies that have become detailed enough to unbundle people who eat a lot of meat and dairy from people who eat eggs.”
Meat and full-fat dairy are loaded with saturated fat, which remains high on many health experts’ dietary hit list — though the dangers of this nutrient, too, may have been oversimplified in messages to the public. (“Not all saturated fat is created equal, and we’ve known that for a long time,” says Katz, who cites as an example the predominant saturated fat in chocolate, called stearic acid, which “has no harmful effects.”)
The notion that dietary cholesterol isn’t bad for us may add up from an evolutionary standpoint. “It does make sense if you think about the diet to which we are adapted. Cholesterol has always been a part of it. It comes from eggs, which have been part of the human diet for 2 million years, maybe longer,” says Katz. Saturated fat, on the other hand, was probably less prevalent in the native human diet, he notes.
The DGAC’s recommendations haven’t yet become official guidelines. But if the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture accept them, the advice will be part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015, to be released later this year. An updated set of these guidelines is published every five years.
Does the news mean you can eat as many eggs as your heart desires? Not exactly. “If you eat more of A, it probably means you’re eating less of B. We have to think about the tradeoffs,” says Katz. “What we found is that eating eggs isn’t harmful, but we don’t have any evidence that eating eggs protects against heart disease, whereas eating more fruits and vegetables, walnuts and whole grain does.”