Eggs – Why All the Confusion?

By Jennifer Laity

For decades we were told that eggs were somehow a mistake of nature that we should avoid, in particular the yolk in the middle, which is loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat, raising our risk for heart disease. While high cholesterol has been shown to increase risk for heart disease, we now know that the cholesterol in eggs has very little impact.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one large egg has 186 mg of cholesterol and about 5 grams of fat, 1.6 of which is saturated fat. This information alone can steer you away; however, the egg also has many health benefits: a good source of protein (6.5g); 11 vitamins and minerals; the disease-fighting carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin; and, omega-3 fatty acids (1).

The egg white has been considered an innocent bystander in the health debate since it includes about 60% of the protein in an egg, without all the fat and cholesterol. Surprisingly, the ‘villainous’ egg yolk is actually the most nutrient dense part of the egg, which makes sense since it is the primary food source for a developing chick, if the egg was actually fertilized.

So now the research has finally shown that humans prior to 1960 were not mistaken by including whole eggs in their diets. The cholesterol we eat in our diet has very little impact on the cholesterol level in our blood and we now understand the important role that cholesterol has in cell membrane health: insulates nerve cells, manufactures vitamin D, and produces sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen, progesterone) and cortisol (2). The saturated fats in our diet have been shown to cause a mild increase in cholesterol levels; however, the increase seems to be in the good HDL-cholesterol and in the larger-size (benign) LDL-cholesterol particles (3), which can ultimately lower your risk for heart disease.

Now, if you choose to eat eggs, it is important to consider the health of the chicken that your egg comes from. Not only for animal welfare concerns, but from a health benefit perspective. Chickens are by nature omnivores that eat grasses, seeds, grains, worms, grubs and insects while roaming outside. The conditions that 99% of our laying hens in this country are raised in, is far from this original design. Since most of us don’t have the ability or desire to raise our own laying hens, we have to choose from the mind-boggling array of egg cartons labeled cage-free, free-range, vegetarian-fed, organic, omega-3 enriched, or pasture-raised on our grocery store shelves. What does it all mean?

Cage-free and free-range imply that the hens spend at least some of their time outdoors, however, it typically means that, while they are not confined to cages, they spend their lives in large barns packed in with hundreds of other hens. The ‘organic’ label ensures no GM products, glyphosate or synthetic fertilizers were used in the feed. The ‘omega-3 enriched’ label means a vegetarian source of omega-3, such as flax seed, was added to the diet, although the omega-3 content from a hen allowed to eat their natural diet is usually higher. While the ‘pasture-raised’ label is not regulated to define the amount of outdoor time hens are allowed, it does mean they at least saw the light of day and had the chance to be an omnivore, which has been shown to increase the level of omega-3s as well as vitamins A, D, and E in these eggs (4). While the color of the egg shell (i.e. white, brown, green) has no impact on the nutrient content, you will generally find the higher quality eggs have a thicker shell, firmer egg white and darker yellow yolk, and many people claim they taste better.

In general, free-range organic or organic pasture-raised eggs are more expensive, but mean greater peace of mind when it comes to the treatment of the hens and the quality of the eggs you are eating. If you can’t afford either of these options, then go for the cheapest eggs since none of the other classifications have a significant impact on the health of the hen or the egg. Eggs have always been, and still are, a nutrient dense, whole food that can be included in a healthy diet.

 

Resources:
1. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/112
2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/67/5/828.short
3. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.abstract
4. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=92

About the Author:
Jennifer received her Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Gerontology Certificate from the University of Georgia and her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Hayward. She is an ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Certified Health Fitness Specialist. Besides working for BaySport, Jennifer has worked as an exercise physiologist at Duke University’s Center for Living, and was a graduate assistant in the Cardiac Rehab and Adult Fitness program at the University of Georgia. In her 15+ years with BaySport, Jennifer has been providing wellness programming and counseling, fitness center management, personal training, group exercise class instruction, health screenings, and fitness testing. In her free time she enjoys playing almost any sport and enjoying the great outdoors.

A Closer Look at Cholesterol

CholesterolLookLMost of us know that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for serious cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease and stroke, and many of us know that there’s “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. But there’s much more we should understand about cholesterol to help stay healthy.

Check out this graphic which breaks down the basics of your cholesterol score and gain a good grasp on this matter of health. Discover the differences between high density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL), define triglycerides and understand total cholesterol counts. Be sure to monitor this important biometric measurement by attending an onsite health screening or visiting with your doctor. The American Heart Association offers information and recommendations regarding testing, including when and where.

Now that you know the facts about cholesterol, test your knowledge with this cholesterol IQ quiz.

Cholesterol and Exercise: What’s the Story?

By Michaela Shoberg, M.S.

You probably already know that your cholesterol levels are important to keep under control to lower your risk for heart disease, and that a combination of genetics and lifestyle determine these important cholesterol levels. What is a little less clear is the effect exercise has on the cholesterol levels independent of diet and genetics, what type of exercise is best and why exercise is important.

Somewhere between 70-80% of the cholesterol in the body is produced in the liver and not derived from a dietary source. In fact, people on zero cholesterol (i.e. vegan) diets may still have elevated cholesterol levels due to overproduction in the liver. Genetics accounts for our baseline cholesterol levels and determines whether our cholesterol production is dysfunctional. The rest is left to environmental factors, some of which we can control and therefore where we should focus our efforts. Diet, weight, exercise and smoking status all play a role in cholesterol values. All are important, but this article seeks to illuminate the relationship between exercise and cholesterol.

It is clear that exercise can help maintain an appropriate body weight, which in turn helps keep cholesterol levels under control. Extra body fat (especially in the abdominal cavity) leads to increases in low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol and total cholesterol. But there is more to the exercise and cholesterol link than simply weight.

The first studies on cholesterol values and lifestyle did not separate diet and exercise so it was unclear if the effect of exercise alone on cholesterol was significant. Recent studies have teased out the exercise component and have discovered that exercise works to improve cholesterol by several mechanisms. First, exercise increases the enzymes in the blood stream that remove LDL cholesterol from the blood (where it is dangerous for the heart and blood vessels) and store it in the liver where it is turned to bile or excreted if it is not needed. Second, exercise increases the size of the cholesterol carrying proteins. This is significant because the small lipoproteins can get to places where they can cause damage while the larger ones cannot. And third, exercise has been found to raise the high-density lipoproteins, which have been inversely related to cardiovascular disease and low ratios of total/HDL cholesterol have been linked to lowered heart disease risk. For these reasons, HDL cholesterol is referred to as “good” cholesterol. Less “bad” and more “good” cholesterol levels by exercising seem pretty straightforward, but how much and what type of exercise should be done to get these benefits? There is no concrete answer to that, but the most positive changes have been found in those who exercise vigorously and regularly (30 minutes a day), the more the better within reason.

References:
1.Exercise To Lower Cholesterol, By Susan Davis, Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD. www.webmd
2. Amrican College of Sports Medicine. 1998. ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Third edition. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
3. Durstine J.L. & W.L. Haskell. 1994. “Effects of exercise training on plasma lipids and lipoproteins”. Exercise and Sports Science Reviews. 22:477-522.
4. Brownell K.D., P.S. Bachorik & R.S. Ayerle. 1982. “Changes in plasma lipid and lipoprotein levels in men and women after a program of moderate exercise”. Circulation. 65(3):477-84.