So last week a study came out which raised an association between eating eggs and heart disease. Specifically there was a link between people who ate 3-4 eggs a week having a 6% increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8% increased risk of any death. For people who ate 2 eggs a day there was an increased risk of cardiovascular disease of 27% and 34% risk of death from any kind.
So that sounds pretty shocking and depressing, enough to put your off your omelette?
So are eggs safe to eat?
There are lots of issues with the way media headlines grab elements from nutrition research papers to sensationalise stories. And they tend not to look at the quality of research. So let’s look at the research, and how eggs affect your heart health.
Eggs and cholesterol link
Firstly, we make cholesterol in our body and we need it. Cholesterol forms the basis of our hormones, vitamin D synthesis, and much more. And if we have too much cholesterol in our blood there is an increased risk of heart disease.
Secondly, eggs do contain cholesterol BUT eating cholesterol doesn’t necessarily raise your own cholesterol because absorption is regulated. So eating cholesterol doesn’t raise your blood cholesterol levels if the rest of your diet is low in saturated fats.
BUT thirdly, saturated fats DO raise blood cholesterol levels. So if you’re eating food that is high in cholesterol AND saturated fats then it could impact your cholesterol levels.
Does eating eggs raise your cholesterol?
The study and all the resulting headlines indicated an observation between eating more eggs and more people dying of heart disease. Observational population studies track large numbers of people over a long period of time, and rely on accurate memories of what we’ve eaten. This can be problematic because we can’t all remember what we ate yesterday, let alone last week. So there is room for error.
Also, in this study they only asked participants at the start of the study, 17 years ago, what they eat on a regular basis. I don’t know about you but my diet has changed massively in the last 17 years! They also included foods which contain eggs (e.g. ice cream and cakes) in the foods which link and increase to heart health. This isn’t the same as eating eggs on their own.
Fats, eggs and cholesterol
In previous studies people who ate a high level of polyunsaturated fat had insignificant increases in cholesterol even with eating up to 6 eggs a day. This shows that polyunsaturated fats might have a protective role against rises in cholesterol. Include walnuts, sunflower seeds, salmon, mackerel, herring as healthy sources of Omega 6.
So eggs on their own aren’t necessarily bad, but eating a diet high in saturated fats will negatively impact your heart health.
What to eat if you’ve got high cholesterol
A healthy balanced diet which contains:
- Fibre – wholegrains, beans, pulses, vegetables and fruits – they all help to remove cholesterol from the bowels and feed the gut bacteria.
- Antioxidants – like blueberries, red grapes, black currants all help to reduce the effects of oxidation which can improve heart health.
- Apples – contain pectin which helps remove cholesterol from the gut
- 7 a day (5 vegetables and 2 fruits a day)
Reducing your saturated fat intake is important for managing heart health and reducing the risk of heart disease.
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Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I help people with IBS, gut health and digestive issues.
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