Not so long ago the humble egg was viewed as a cheap, nutritious and versatile food. For many of us, the advertising slogan ‘go to work on an egg’ spawned in the 1960s lives long in our memories. However, since the days of such dizzy heights, the egg has experienced a spectacular fall from grace. Eggs, we are told, are full of cholesterol and saturated fat. As a result, many doctors and dieticians have warned us off eating them lest they clog our arteries and hasten our demise. Yet, despite the fact that eggs have made their way onto the nutritional blacklist, there is actually little evidence that they do us much harm at all. Scientific studies suggest that eggs might be the wholesome food advertisers cracked them up to be.
Eggs are composed of two main parts; the yolk and the white. While the white of the eggs is mainly protein, the egg yolk contains significant quantities of both saturated fat and cholesterol. Doctors have spent the last 20 years warning us of the hazards of eating these fats, in particular their ability to up the risk of heart disease. When individuals with raised cholesterol levels seek standard dietetic advice about what to do about it, they are often advised to give eggs a very wide berth indeed.
However, the idea that eggs increase risk of heart disease, like a lot of dietetic dogma, is based on assumptions that may turn out to have little basis in reality. It is, for instance, taken for granted that because eggs contain saturated fat and cholesterol, that eating them will raise the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream. However, scientific studies have generally failed to bear this out. One study found that feeding men and women two extra eggs each day for six weeks did not increase their cholesterol levels. In another study, men consuming four eggs a day for two months saw no change in their cholesterol scores.
Most doctors and dieticians see saturated fat as the major spectre in the diet. As eggs are rich in saturated fat, conventional wisdom dictates that eating less of them can only enhance our heart health and promote longevity. Several studies have looked at the effects of cutting back on fat on risk of heart disease and overall risk of death. At least three large studies show that low fat eating does not appear to reduce the risk of heart disease or improve longevity. Counter-intuitive though this may be, the bulk of the evidence does not support the notion that avoiding saturated fat, from eggs or other sources, is the key to a longer life.
Further evidence for the relatively benign effect of eggs came from two very large studies that examined specifically the link between egg consumption (up to one egg per day) and heart disease. The results of these studies show that non-diabetic men and women eating the most eggs were not at increased risk of heart disease or stroke compared to those eating the least. Despite a somewhat unhealthy reputation, the evidence suggests that it might not be such a bad idea to go to work on an egg after all.