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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The link between egg consumption and cholesterol levels

Eggs are a rich and convenient source of nutrients
The egg has been through a turbulent time in the last few years, with many people believing that eating more than three a week is a recipe for a heart attack. This belief stems from the fact that eggs are rich in dietary cholesterol and cholesterol is associated with unhealthy arteries and heart attacks. In fact, dietary cholesterol only contributes about a third of our total blood cholesterol levels. Genetics, exercise and smoking are also important factors contributing to total blood cholesterol.

It is now thought that eating too much saturated fat is the main dietary cause of elevated blood cholesterol. The liver metabolizes excess saturated fat into blood cholesterol, causing its levels to rise. As cholesterol and saturated fat often occur together in the same foods, dietary cholesterol has been unfairly demonized. It is the bacon that you eat along with your eggs that is unhealthy, rather than the eggs themselves.

There are two types of cholesterol in the blood; HDL, or good cholesterol, and LDL, or bad cholesterol. It is the overall level and ratio of LDL cholesterol in the blood that indicates heart attack risk. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, actually helps the body to remove LDL cholesterol from the body. The overall ratio of good to bad cholesterol is as important a factor in predicting heart attacks as its total level. Eating eggs has a negligeable effect on overall cholesterol level and does not affect the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol. Eating eggs regularly is therefore no longer thought to increase the risk of heart attacks.

So is it safe to eat eggs whenever you want? Current advice suggests consuming less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. A standard large egg yolk contains 215 milligrams of cholesterol. By this reckoning it is perfectly safe to eat one egg a day. A Nutrition Bulletin article published in 2009 concluded that dietary cholesterol has a “clinically insignificant” effect on LDL cholesterol. Since eggs are low in saturated fat and high in protein, they are now considered an integral part of a balanced and healthy diet.

The Food Standards Agency and American Heart Foundation no longer advise people to limit their egg consumption to three a week. In fact, eggs are low in saturated fat, packed with minerals and A, B, D, E and K vitamins and provide us with all the essential amino acids we need for a healthy diet.

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