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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Fair and Balanced

Guess what? Eggs are good for you again

Saturated fat in the diet, not dietary cholesterol, is what influences blood cholesterol levels the most.

By John Russo Jr./

VICUS.COM (3 Aug. 2000) -- It's no less heroic than the return of Gen. Douglas MacArthur to The Philippines in 1944, 2-1/2 years after his famous promise, "I shall return." 


About egg color

An egg's shell and yolk color may vary, but color has nothing to do with egg quality, flavor, nutritive value, cooking characteristics or shell thickness.

Egg shell color is determined by the breed of the hen. Breeds with white feathers and ear lobes lay white eggs; breeds with red feathers and ear lobes lay brown eggs.

The egg white, or albumen in raw eggs, opalescent until beaten or cooked, may take on a yellow or green cast that stems from riboflavin. Cloudiness in the raw white is present when carbon dioxide in the egg has not escaped, indicating a very fresh egg.

Yolk color depends on the hen's diet. Mashes of yellow corn and alfalfa meal result in medium yellow yolks, while hens eating wheat or barley yield lighter-colored yolks. A colorless diet of cornmeal produces almost a colorless yolk.

--Source: American Egg Board

It's no less surprising than the Hail Mary touchdown pass by Doug Flutie that led to the Boston College upset victory over Miami, 47-45, in 1984. 

Things are again looking sunnyside up for eggs, after 30 years of banishment from the American diet because of concerns over their  cholesterol content. People are eating more eggs, and the poultry industry is expanding the market by creating healthier designer eggs, high in heart-healthy   omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients.

Equally important are the data from clinical studies published during the '90s about eggs and cholesterol. Eggs are relatively high in cholesterol (about 550 mg cholesterol/100 grams of fresh eggs), but it appears that saturated fat in the diet, not dietary cholesterol, is what influences blood cholesterol levels most. The following examples are representative of the clinical studies that have exonerated eggs as a health risk for many Americans.

Effects of dietary fat and cholesterol on the regulation of cholesterol production by the body

A group of older men and women consumed diets high in either polyunsaturated fat (corn oil) or saturated fat (beef  tallow) with and without the addition of 120 mg cholesterol per 1,000 kcal.. The results showed that one effect of an increase in dietary cholesterol is a decrease in cholesterol synthesis by the body to compensate for the change (Jones et al. 1994).

Effects of dietary cholesterol on LDL and HDL cholesterol in healthy young women

Thirteen young women consumed zero, one or three eggs per day. Their bodies compensated for an increased intake of cholesterol by adjusting the way the cholesterol was handled. Two eggs per day had little effect on plasma cholesterol levels in the majority of women studied (Ginsberg, et al. 1995).

Effect of "designer eggs" on blood lipids

Twenty-eight men ate four regular or omega-3 fatty acid-enriched eggs each day for two weeks. The fatty acid composition of the egg showed no relationship to the effect of dietary cholesterol on plasma cholesterol levels (Ferrier et al. 1995).

Effect of two eggs per day in moderately hypercholesterolemic and combined hyperlipidemic middle-aged men and women

Participants in this study had either moderate hypercholesterolemia or combined hyperlipidemia (elevated plasma cholesterol and triglyceride). They consumed either no eggs or two eggs per day as part of a National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Step I diet. Those who had elevated plasma cholesterol levels were not more sensitive to dietary cholesterol compared to people with normal cholesterol levels. However, middle-aged patients with combined hyperlipidemia appeared to be more sensitive to dietary cholesterol, and for them, dietary cholesterol restrictions appear more appropriate (Knopp, et al., 1996).

Egg consumption and the risk of  coronary heart disease and stroke

In more than 100,000 healthy men and women who were studied for up to 14 years, there was no evidence of an association between eating eggs and the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke in either men or women. Among men and women with diabetes however, increased egg consumption (more than one egg per day compared with less than one egg per week) was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (Hu, et al., 1999).


Egg quality    

   Grade AA   Grade A  Grade B
Break-out Appearance  Covers a small area  Covers a moderate area Covers a wide area
Albumen Appearance White is thick and stands high; chalaza prominent White is reasonably thick, stands fairly high; chalaza prominent.   Small amounts of thick white; chalaza small or absent. Appears weak and watery. 
Yolk Appearance  Yolk is firm, round and high.  Yolk is firm and stands fairly high.  Yolk is somewhat flattened and enlarged. 
Shell appearance   Approximates usual shape; generally clean,* unbroken; ridges/rough spots that do not affect the shell strength are permitted. Abnormal shape; some slight stained areas permitted; unbroken; pronounced ridges/ thin spots permitted. 
Usage Ideal for any use, but are especially desirable for poaching, frying and cooking in shell. Ideal for any use, but are especially desirable for poaching, frying and cooking in shell. Good for scrambling, baking and as an ingredient in other foods.

*An egg may be considered clean if 
it has only very small specks, stains or cage marks
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

What to do

The average response to a dietary increase of 100 mg/day of cholesterol is a 2.5 mg/dL change in plasma cholesterol levels. This is an average response, and it must be remembered that 15% to 20% of the population is more sensitive to the effects of dietary cholesterol. For this group, dietary restriction may make sense.

For example, in cholesterol-sensitive people, reducing dietary cholesterol intake from 400 to 300 mg/day could result in a 3.2 mg/dL reduction in plasma cholesterol. By comparison, cholesterol-insensitive individuals who make the same change in their diet will have only a 1.6 mg/dL decrease in cholesterol.

Regardless of how you decide to use eggs in your diet, remember that good food handling techniques are important to follow. This will ensure that you get the benefits of eggs without adverse effects.  

John Russo Jr. is senior vice president of medical communications at He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20 years experience in medical education. 

This article was updated on 3 Aug. 2000.



Egg Nutrition Center. Dietary cholesterol and plasma cholesterol: Recent studies, 1997.

Ferrier LK, et al. Alpha-linolenic acid- and docosahexaenoic acid-enriched eggs from hens fed flaxseed: influence on blood lipids and platelet phospholipid fatty acids in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 Jul; 62(1):81-6.

Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, et al. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA. 1999 Apr; 281(15):1387-94.

Jones PJ. Interaction of dietary fat saturation and cholesterol level on cholesterol synsthesis measured during deuterium incorporation. J Lipid Res. Jun 1994; 35(6)1093-101.

Knopp RH, et al. A double-blind, randomized, controlled trial of the effects of two eggs per day in moderately hypercholesterolemic and combined hyperlipidemic subjects taught the NCEP Step 1 diet. J Am Coll Nutr. 1997 Dec; 16(6):551-61. 

Eggs and good health