Conflicting studies on health benefits of eggs agree that they should be avoided with high cholesterol levels. (hautelife.ca)
Conflicting studies on health benefits of eggs agree that they should be avoided with high cholesterol levels. (hautelife.ca)

A healthy breakfast or worse than smoking?

a/Science & Technology by

The question of whether eggs are a healthy protein source or a deadly cholesterol bomb is among the most disputed topics in dietary sciences. An online query into the subject proves more confusing than helpful—many studies give contradicting results. Some say that eating eggs is worse than smoking, while others maintain the meal is an athlete’s best friend. However, by sorting through professional opinions, the truth about what’s inside the little white shells becomes evident.

The first step I took towards solving the dietary conundrum of eggs was speaking with Dr. Karine Auclair, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at McGill University.

“A lot of times, the media blows these things out of proportion, kind of starting a fear campaign,” said Auclair in response to a set of articles on a study that suggested egg consumption was nearly as harmful smoking. She suggests consulting only well-trusted sources, such as Health Canada,  for these issues.

Looking into Health Canada’s pages—although no articles explicitly discuss eggs—many papers, such as “Foods with less sodium” and “Cooking and meal planning tips” directly recommend including eggs in one’s diet.

Further, the Mayo Clinic’s information on “High Cholesterol: Risk Factors and Causes” do not include eggs on the list of cholesterol risks, which include red meat, smoking, and saturated/trans fats. It seems that eggs may not be as high-cholesterol as they are made out to be.

However, some research suggests otherwise. Dr. John David Spence, professor of neurology and clinical pharmacology at the University of Western Ontario, published a study that The Vancouver Sun covered in an article entitled, “Egg Yolks Almost as Bad as Smoking, Researcher Says.” In the study, patients at vascular prevention clinics at Western University hospital filled out a questionnaire about their diet and smoking habits. Each questionnaire was then compared to the corresponding patients’ cardiovascular health portfolio. Surprisingly, results suggested that heavy egg eaters and smokers had almost equal exponential growth of carotid plaque area (the part of the arteries that are clogged).

Further supporting Spence’s study, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, among many other organizations, recommends those with high cholesterol levels to “limit [their consumption of] whole eggs to no more than two per week.”

There seems to be steadfast evidence on both sides of the spectrum: the most trusted sources have called eggs beneficial, deadly, and harmless for one’s health. However, subtle observations show that all of these studies taken together are actually aligned with the same point of view.

Although the effects of eggs and smoking on carotid health have a very strong correlation (p <0.0001), no experiment has been published on the relationship between diet and carotid plaque area, the topic of Spence’s study. So while the study shows a relationship between egg consumption and plaque, any factor related to cholesterol increases could have confounded his result.

For example, what if the subjects’ three strips of bacon they always ate with their three eggs was not accounted for in this study? It is therefore reasonable to take Spence’s study as a suggestion that a relationship exists, but likely at a lesser extent than suggested in his findings.

The idea that both the anti- and pro-egg organizations and researchers share is the key phrase, “unhealthy if you already have high cholesterol levels.”

The Info-Santé phone line, 8-1-1, answered my egg question by directing me to the University of Montreal’s website extenso.org. Here, too, the phrase, “if you already have high cholesterol levels” came up.

Research shows that although eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, most of it will not be absorbed by the bloodstream. The 8-1-1 line even went so far to say that a five-egg-per-day diet is unlikely to cause any issues, unless you already have hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol levels.

The bulk of trusted sources seems to agree that eggs in moderation are a perfectly healthy breakfast, unless you have high cholesterol.  Even those with genetic hypercholesterolemia disease are not restricted to avoid eggs altogether. Alhough there are always some limits and restrictions, eggs are a long way from being as detrimental as cigarettes or high levels of saturated and trans fats.