Eating egg yolks the same as smoking?

That’s what the authors of a recent study published online in the journal Atherosclerosis suggest. The LA Times ran an article yesterday. At first glance that article made me think twice about the morning egg scrambler* I was about to make. After reading the full-text of the original article, the fear subsided and I went took a break from the news to make my delicious breakfast.

What made me change my mind? The basis for their conclusions. Don’t get me wrong, the  study does have a huge sample size and some solid numbers. The problem is that the study they did does not allow them to conclude that egg yolks are as dangerous as smoking. Why? First, the study only looked at a few variable. A convincing result was that after controlling for BMI, diabetes, smoking, blood pressure, and total cholesterol (not the specific types of cholesterol…and as we know, not all cholesterol is equal), the people who ate whole eggs had more plaque on their artery walls – this means regardless of a persons habits for the controlled variables, the researchers still found a correlation between plaque and egg intake. Sounds solid, right?

Wrong. The study did not look at ANY other factors in the person’s diet or lifestyle. Maybe it is the bacon the person eats with the eggs every day that caused the plaque build-up? Or the fried chicken the person eats for dinner twice a week. Or the 3 beers or sodas the person drinks every night. The study did not look at physical activity levels or stress levels, both of which could play a role. There are so many factors that influence one’s health that you cannot point to one food and say that is the cause. Eggs might be an indicator of a person who eats other high saturated fat or refined grains, and their entire diet might be the cause – but we don’t know this yet since it has not been studied yet.

Even if it were the eggs, which I DO NOT think it is, there is a second flaw: the study has not way to pinpoint what in the eggs caused this. Is it the cholesterol as the authors are suggesting, or is it the saturated fat?

What we do know is that cholesterol in food is a poor predictor of blood cholesterol – if you ate NO cholesterol in your diet you can still have high cholesterol.  Why? Because our bodies make their own cholesterol for survival. Every cell in your body needs cholesterol to work – it makes the walls of the house for the cell. What does influence your cholesterol level greatly is saturated fat. Notably, where there is cholesterol in food, there is saturated fat BUT where there is saturated fat there is NOT always cholesterol. That means we should watch our saturated fat intake. If you ate 2 eggs everyday you would be eating 3 grams of your 12-15 gram allowance for saturated fat. If you continue to make healthy choices the rest of your day, you can easily stay within the recommendations.

This study is yet another study trying to pull natural, healthy foods from our diets. I am confident that it is far better for your health to eat 2 eggs for breakfast than a doughnut.

*Pretty much everyday I eat an egg scrambler. I’ve been doing this since 2006 due to the onset of reactive hypoglycemia. This is a story for another post, but basically I can’t eat too many carbs at breakfast or my blood sugars skyrocket and then fall to dangerous levels (as low as 48 mg/dL that I recorded, possibly lower unrecorded). My egg scrambled usually consists of 2 whole eggs, but I don’t like the taste of yolks, so I might do 1 whole egg and 2 egg whites. It also includes at least 1 cup of vegetables. This allows me to eat vegetables at every meal and gives me some wiggle room for veggie intake later in the day. The scrambler is very filling and never causes trouble with my blood sugars. Despite my regular intake of eggs, my LDL cholesterol remains well below the cholesterol goal of 100 mg/dL.

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