Whether scrambled with avocado on toast, poached with asparagus or boiled with whole-wheat soldiers, it’s hard to resist the lure of a perfectly cooked egg for breakfast.
They’re easy to whip up and are a tasty addition to lots of different dishes and but there’s still a lot of confusion about whether eggs are harmful or healthy. Here, we ask Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan to weigh in on the debate.
Why do people think that eggs are bad for our health?
Eggs have had a bad reputation in the past; namely, the golden yolks. Fears around chicken eggs date back to the 1970s, during the so-called ‘low-cholesterol’ craze that saw people switch out their usual breakfast foods for low-fat diet products.
During this time, egg yolks were considered unhealthy because they were thought to contain large amounts of dietary cholesterol, with experts warning that eating too much could raise your risk of heart disease.
The average large egg contains around 200mg of dietary cholesterol, and previous guidelines advised limiting the number of eggs you eat to three to four a week to stay within healthy limits.
However, since around 2000, major world and UK health organisations have changed their advice on eggs, following research that revealed that dietary cholesterol in eggs does not adversely affect cholesterol levels in the blood.
Current research shows that for most healthy people, cholesterol in food has a much smaller effect on blood levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the harmful type), especially when compared with saturated fatty acids found in food.
Eggs are, in fact, low in saturated fat and the British Heart Foundation now says that moderate egg consumption – up to one a day – does not increase heart disease risk in healthy individuals. In fact, it’s the saturated fat in accompanying breakfast foods like cheese and bacon that we should actually be worried about.
What does a nutritionist say?
“Health experts once recommended we limit our egg consumption because of their high cholesterol content, which is found in the yolk,” says Mr Hobson. “This advice has since changed as it has become clear that blood cholesterol levels are less influenced by cholesterol containing foods.
“Eating naturally high-cholesterol foods such as eggs doesn’t mean you will have raised blood cholesterol. Your liver produces cholesterol in large amounts as it is a necessary nutrient for the cells in your body (it’s also involved in producing vitamin D, steroid hormones and bile acids that digest fat). In the presence of dietary cholesterol, the liver simply produces less.”
Mr Hobson says that egg yolks are both high in protein and contain many micronutrients that are essential to good health. Even better? Nutrients found in egg yolk include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
“Egg yolks also contain the antioxidant compounds called lutein and zeaxanthin that have been shown to be beneficial for eye health by reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration,” he says. “You will also find a source of choline in egg yolks, which is important for brain health.”
These spherical nutrient powerhouses are also one of the few foods that contain a natural source of vitamin D. “Although levels of vitamin D in egg yolks is not huge, it still contributes to your overall intake,” says Mr Hobson, “which may be particularly useful during the winter months when there is a lack of strong sunshine.”
In short? Enjoy your eggs. They’re a good choice as part of a healthy, balanced diet. However, it’s best to avoid frying them, as that can increase their fat content by 50 per cent. The healthiest choice would be to boil or poach them without added salt, and if you fancy them scrambled? Skip the butter and use low-fat milk instead of cream.
How do you like your eggs? Are they a daily staple for you or more of a treat?
– With PA
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