|I love eggs. Poached (never fried) with a touch of ghee and a dash of fresh ground pepper. Four large whole eggs a day. The exception is when I'm preparing for a bodybuilding competition. Then it's no egg yolks and a low fat focus for 100 days out to squeeze my bodyfat down to less than 5 percent. This rule applies to anyone who would like to reduce bodyfat. You have to limit your intake of carbs and fats to force your body to use stored bodyfat as a fuel source, and this is tricky when resistance training and cardio is performed everyday.
I never worry about cholesterol when I'm eating my eggs. Reduction of blood cholesterol is best accomplished through a combination of reduced dietary sugar intake and exercise rather than a restriction of dietary cholesterol alone. I've met countless individuals who have tried this conventional approach and failed, including those who take prescription drugs. Those who embark on a cholesterol restriction program typically consume more carbs like pasta and white rice, which are far more deleterious to their health than cholesterol. In fact any fear one might have about eating eggs, provided they are not damaged by oxidation or infected, is unwarranted. Eggs are extraordinarily safe and nutritious.*
Free range eggs laid by healthy chickens fed a decent diet are magnificent. They satisfy my palate, provide an extremely high quality source of essential protein, and because I eat poached eggs with soft runny yolks fortified with lutein, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, they actually improve my artery health and immune function. Fried whole eggs and most omelets however, are not ideal.
What about salmonella? Food scientists estimate that only 1 out of every 20,000 eggs in the US is infected with Salmonella. Statistically that means the risk of infection works out to once every 30 years based on the consumption of a dozen eggs a week. That’s five one-thousandths of one percent. The benefits definitely outweigh the risks.
The Much Maligned Egg
The egg has been attacked from every corner and criticized because of its high cholesterol content (225-325mg), yet it is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. I think of cholesterol as a friend and ally. If consumed in its natural state without the presence of oxides cholesterol actually provides many health benefits. In 1900, when cardiovascular disease was virtually unknown, egg consumption was 20-40% higher than today, yet in today's world when egg consumption is down, obstruction of the coronary arteries by fatty plaque continues to be a major threat of mortality. Numerous studies over the last two decades show no relationship between egg consumption and the risk of heart attack or stroke, and those that do don't differentiate between eggs that are denatured and those that aren't. Don't blame the egg. Blame the refined factory food people are eating that has nothing to do with health or nature.
In fact, in most cases as a general rule I recommend poached eggs as a health food to people with elevated cholesterol. Yes you read it right, more cholesterol, not less. More shrimp, more raw fish (sashimi) and more liver. But I also recommend strenuous exercise performed daily, plenty of filtered water, organic fruits and vegetables, plenty of greens and liberal doses of supplements including vitamin C and E, niacin, CoQ10, lysine, magnesium, carnitine, omega-3 fats and chromium to name just a few. Here's what I don't recommend... sucrose, fructose, flour, crackers, cereals, bread, sweets, soda, alcohol and refined food. When these non-nutritive foods are eaten as staples in the absence of physical activity the net effect equates to a real artery closer.
Until whey peptides were identified as the protein with the single highest biological value (BV), whole egg protein was used as a standard to rate all other proteins against. The yolk contains all the fat and cholesterol, but if the chickens are well exercised, exposed to natural light and fed nutritious food, their egg yolks supply a significant source of lecithin, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, sterols, B12, iron, several carotenoids and a full range of essential micronutrients.
Both the white and the yolk of a large chicken egg contain equal amounts of protein (3g), but the amino acid and peptide sequences are unique, with neither being equal in BV to the whole. The BV of egg white is 88 versus 100 for the whole. One large egg provides about 75 calories of which approximately 65% is derived from fat. Eggs contain no carbohydrates or fiber and have an extremely low glycemic index.
Egg whites can be scrambled in a frying pan, although much of the protein value is lost due to denaturing and crosslinking. There's no fat to ruin but high heat damages and coagulates protein. As protein hardens it loses value. Hard-boiled eggs for example contain considerably less accessible protein than soft boiled or raw eggs, and scrambled whole eggs contain cholesterol oxides as a result of the cholesterol molecule, a steroid lipid, coming into contact with the surface of the frying pan. Cholesterol is damaged by heat, light and oxygen (so are we).
On occasion when dining out for breakfast, I like to order a spinach, feta-cheese and shrimp omelet made with 6-10 egg whites. I always pass on the toast, hash browns and pancakes, request fresh fruit or a green salad as an alternative, and depending on my appetite and need for energy, I might have a small portion of oatmeal with hot water and natural raw honey (no milk). If you want to live lean you have to think lean.
Before whey protein isolate became available in 1992, I consumed raw eggs in my protein shakes Rocky style for more than 20 years without incident. So did many of my athletic friends. On average, I consumed 6-10 whole eggs per shake, and frequently consumed two shakes per day. People thought I was crazy but my legs, chest and biceps loved it, especially after a heavy, intense workout. Meanwhile I had things like my blood pressure, serum cholesterol and triglycerides checked routinely and never batted an eye. Foods in their natural state that contain cholesterol are power foods. However, if they are damaged by overcooking and excessive heat they can be harmful.
I seldom consume raw eggs today, because I have access to whey protein isolate, but in my mind, raw eggs are better, or in the very least, I know I should eat my eggs undercooked and "wet" instead of overcooked and dry. Dry hard protein from any source is damaged protein. I recently dined at a restaurant that serves traditional Caesar salads with a raw egg mixed in. I asked the proprietor if he had ever run into a problem with food poisoning to which he proudly remarked, "Not once in 42 years".
One of the most extensive studies of egg consumption ever conducted in the US examined the dietary nutrient intake of more than 27,000 people and discovered that intake of vitamins B12, C, E and A was greater in those who consumed the most eggs. Furthermore, those who ate four or more eggs daily had lower blood cholesterol levels than those who ate one egg or less daily (Song, W.O. et al. Nutritional contribution of eggs to American diets. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2000; 19:556S-562S)
If you choose your food wisely and prepare it correctly, cholesterol is something that you never have to think about, other than knowing it can improve the body's tolerance to stress and intense exercise. When managed correctly in its natural, non-oxidized state, cholesterol does not cause atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease, increase blood serum cholesterol nor impede circulation, although it is definitely involved in the latter stages and pathogenesis of vascular disease, whether you eat it or not. Yes, there are some people who seem to over produce cholesterol, and there are genetic factors that affect cholesterol absorption from the gut and excretion from the body, as well as synthesis in the liver and transport to and from the liver. But as we know, the body makes its own cholesterol and is forced to produce more unnecessarily if and when one's intake of saturated fat and sucrose is high, or if intake of omega-3 fats and antioxidants is low, or both. The important distinction is between cause and effect.
* The author recognizes special medical conditions, the principle of individual exception and understands that certain people are intolerant and/or allergic to eggs.