Eggs: I will take mine over easy, please

May 21, 2013

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

May is the "official Egg" month, so are they as American as apple pie, ice cream, and soda? Bacon and eggs, eggs over easy, sunny side up, scrambled, hard boiled, deviled or poached, they are a part of our diet, but are they healthy for us?

First, they were deemed "good" because of their protein. Even Kellogg's "foodie" cereal, Kashi, claims its serving has the protein of an egg. Then, they were "bad" because the yolk contains cholesterol and the food industry moved to find egg white replacements that tasted like real eggs but were not and actually did not. Now, it seems they are again "good," in moderation, despite some recent disquieting news regarding how the egg reacts in our gastrointestinal track.

Researchers have discovered that dietary cholesterol is a different measure than blood level of cholesterol, which is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

"There's not data to suggest that it should be at the top of people's worries about food choices," says Drew Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons who studies the connection between lifestyle behaviors like diet and psychological health states. "Everyone's in agreement about that: The real problem with diabetes and obesity is eating too much processed food."

In addition, there are several nutrients specific to the egg yolks that help promote overall health. Egg yolks are one of the richest dietary sources of the B-complex vitamin, which is associated with better neurological function, improved vision, and reduced inflammation. There is also evidence that eating eggs helps with fetal brain development when pregnant women eat it.

Several weeks ago, a study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine found that when we eat meat, animal products, and eggs, the bacteria in our gut break these foods down into chemicals that may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The huge egg industry reacted with calm, reassuring concern by saying, "Cardiovascular disease is a complex and individualized condition. While it is important to understand the relationship between the nutrients found in foods we eat and how our gut processes them, this singular study does not change the decades of research supporting the important role eggs play in a healthy diet." They quoted the principal investigator, who states: "Our goal is not to suggest dietary restrictions of entire food groups. Eggs, meat, and other animal products are an integral part of most individuals' diets."

Like almost every other food issue these days, the right answer seems to be to consume in moderation and get some exercise. I live in western North Carolina, so I will take mine over easy, with a side order of bacon and grits, please.

Jeff Nedelman has more than 30 years of experience in various industries, including a stint as a Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator and chief lobbyist for the nation's largest food trade association. In all those years, Jeff has learned that the shortest distance between two political points is not a straight line.

Originally published May 21, 2013 10:00:34 AM.