Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Nutrition Debate #176: Eggs, Cholesterol and Choline

Eggs have had a checkered history for the last several decades. Why? Well, for one thing – no, the only reason, plain and simple, is that they are high in cholesterol. Ever since Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack (1955), our government has been telling us that dietary cholesterol is a no-no. Ancel Keys had popularized the notion; later the McGovern Commission’s 1977 “Dietary Goals for the United States” told us in bold headlines to eat less saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. Eggs are “artery clogging” and will cause heart disease. Hogwash! And everybody knows this, but just in case you haven’t heard:

The Nutrition Source website of The Harvard School of Public Health starts off, “Long vilified by well-meaning doctors and scientists for their high cholesterol content, eggs are now making a bit of a comeback. While it’s true that egg yolks have a lot of cholesterol—and so may weakly affect blood cholesterol levels—eggs also contain nutrients that may help lower the risk for heart disease, including protein, vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin, and folate. A solid body of research shows that for most people, cholesterol in food has a much smaller effect on blood levels of total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol than does the mix of fats in the diet.” (Emphasis mine) That may be faint praise, but I’ll accept it, coming from Harvard.

I eat 3 fried eggs a day (18 a week, since I make veal kidneys for breakfast on Sunday). They are cooked in bacon grease from the one strip I add to my plate. Occasionally, we have scrambled eggs, prepared with a little whole milk and cheese. I sometimes add hot sauce. I always add salt and pepper, and I take my coffee with Truvia or stevia and half and half. My latest HDL cholesterol was 85, my triglycerides 49, my total cholesterol 217 and my LDL 122 (Pattern A: large-buoyant).

I mention my blood lipids because the casual reader, upon learning that I eat 3 eggs a day, would reasonably ask, “How about your cholesterol?” The government has recommended from 1977 to the present that we, as a population, eat no more than 300mg of dietary cholesterol a day. Three eggs (the yolks alone) contain 634mgs. And with the half and half and bacon, I’m up to 660mg for breakfast alone. My can of sardines at lunch adds another 50, and then there’s dinner, another 200 maybe? Six ounces of cooked shrimp would add 360 for a grand total for the day of well over 1,000mg of cholesterol!

I buy eggs at our local farmers’ market. The vendor is a local farmer, who also raises grass fed beef and heritage pigs, rotates their chicken-coop-on-wheels from pasture to pasture, Joel Saladin Polyface Farms style. I pay a little more for these eggs, but I know that they are as good as I can get. In Florida, where we winter, I also patronize a vendor at the farmers’ market who only sells free range livestock and pastured poultry. I sometimes buy duck eggs there (619 mg of cholesterol).

Because they contain “complete protein”, eggs are one of the very best foods you can eat, and hens that range freely on the pasture produce the best eggs, nutritionally and in terms of taste. Like people and pigs, chickens are omnivores, so they eat insects and larvae (from fermenting “flops”). Their eggs are higher in, among other things, Omega 3 fatty acids, the “good” polyunsaturated fat that is “essential” for humans. That’s why I also eat sardines (in olive oil) for lunch and supplement with a 1-gram capsule of fish oil twice a day – to get the EPA and DHA in the Omega 3s.  Another reason to eat3 eggs a day, versus 2 before, is to get extra choline, a recommendation of the very good book (except with respect to type 2 diabetes), Perfect Health Diet, by Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet.

According to Wikipedia, “Choline was classified in 1998 as an essential nutrient by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Choline is the precursor molecule for the neurotransmitter… (that) is involved in many functions including memory and muscle control.” “Choline must be consumed through the diet for the body to remain healthy,” according to the Linus Pauling Institute at LSU. “It is used in the synthesis of the constructional components in the body's cell membranes. Despite the perceived benefits of choline, dietary recommendations have discouraged people from eating certain high-choline foods, such as eggs and fatty meats. The 2005 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey stated that only 2% of postmenopausal women consume the recommended intake for choline.” Food sources of choline are here.

“A 2010 study tested postmenopausal women with low estrogen levels to see if they were more susceptible to the risk of organ dysfunction if not given a choline-sufficient diet. When deprived of choline in their diets, 73% of postmenopausal women given a placebo developed liver or muscle damage, but this was reduced to 17% if estrogen supplements were given. The study also noted young women should be supplied with more choline because pregnancy is a time when the body's demand for choline is highest. Choline is particularly used to support the fetus's developing nervous system.
I am so accustomed now to eating 3 eggs for breakfast that on vacation recently, without thinking, I opted for powdered eggs in the free breakfast buffet. Then, I got to thinking: powdered eggs? What are they really? They are manufactured and processed foods! So, I looked them up. One tablespoon of powdered egg, mixed with ¼ cup of water, is the equivalent of 1 large egg. The powdered version is 30 calories, vs. 50 for the fresh egg; the powdered version has 2.3 grams of protein versus 6 for the fresh. The powdered version has 2 grams of fat versus 5 for the fresh; and they taste awful, even with salt and pepper and hot sauce. The cholesterol is probably oxidized too. On our next trip I will opt for hard boiled eggs, a real food always offered on the buffet. And maybe an individual serving of full-fat cream cheese, without the bagel, of course.


  1. Egg is very useful for the health of human beings. Kids also like to eat eggs. People like to use eggs in different dishes and get good taste of dishes. We can get protein from eggs. People are using eggs in some baking products also which are good for human beings.

    1. I agree. Thanks for commenting. Don't forget the yolks; they're full of healthy fats!

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