When I was growing up, my family lived in fear of the demon Cholesterol. That was because my father had an inflated count and needed to go on a low-cholesterol diet and for some reason (possibly my mother’s desire to cook only one dinner per night) we all had to go on it, too. The centerpiece of a low-cholesterol diet was a fear of eggs. Specifically egg yolks, which we learned were little yellow cholesterol bombs. We learned how to separate out the whites and scramble Egg Beaters. Then one day whole eggs were declared okay again and my father learned even learned how to flip them over easy so he could have them for breakfast every morning.
But apparently eggs are bad again? “Now,” CNN reports, “a new study of over 500,000 people has found eating even a portion of a whole egg — with its cholesterol-laden yellow yoke [sic] — increases the risk of dying from all causes, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. In fact, the overall risk of death went up by 7% for each additional half a whole egg eaten per day, according to the study published Tuesday in PLOS Medicine.”
This directly contradicts a study last year from Harvard that found that eating one egg per day would not increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
So what gives? Can we eat eggs without dying or what? CNN talked to several experts who pointed out that the study only asked about egg consumption without taking the rest of the subjects’ diets into consideration. Saturated fats have much greater effect on LDL (low-density lipoproteins) in the blood—aka the Bad Cholesterol—than foods that actually contain cholesterol, like eggs.
“If someone replaces eggs with doughnuts, other refined starches and sugar or saturated fats, I’d rather they eat eggs,” Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, told CNN. “But for someone who really wants to be in optimal health, putting the emphasis on plant-based protein sources like steel-cut oatmeal and nuts would be a better way to go.”
The PLOS study also claimed that substituting egg whites for whole eggs decreased the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 3%, but CNN’s experts remained dubious.
Riyaz Patel, a consultant cardiologist at University College London, thought that there was not enough evidence in the study to justify the recommendation to eat egg whites. “I do not think this study changes the general advice, that for most people, eggs can be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet, unless they have been advised not to for a specific medical or dietary reason,” he said.