The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

Are eggs healthy?

Tuesday, 5 October 2021, 12:24 Last update: about 3 months ago

Gianluca Barbara is sports nutritionist and exercise physiologist

Eggs - a great-tasting snack, easily prepared by anyone really. But one, no doubt, warred over as to whether they're good or bad for you. Many pose the argument that consumption of even one egg a day may be more than enough as far as cholesterol-intake goes. On the other hand, others have even as far as recommended three or even four eggs a day as part of a normal, healthy diet.

Choline, a compound found in eggs (the yolk in particular) is what experts seem to blame for their supposed disruption of health - because choline chemically changes into a toxic substance called trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) in the body. Now this process is usually performed by bacteria living in our gut in conjunction with our liver - the organ responsible for detoxification. The result? An increase risk of heart disease and cancer.

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All this sounds proper grim, but there is a silver lining. You see... the populations of bacteria in our gut are usually determined by what we eat on the whole (as opposed to specific, individual foods. Since choline is found in multiple sources of animal-based foods (meat, fish, poultry) and refined grains, a diet heavy in these foods means more TMAO. Whenever eggs were consumed as part of a whole-foods diet with a heavy emphasis on plants, we often see the pattern change. Some of the longest living populations on the planet are lact-ovo vegetarians, that is, vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy.

The University of Harvard showed that regular consumption of eggs tended to raise one's total cholesterol mainly by raising HDL cholesterol (often-a-time, a good thing). Think of HDL cholesterol as the mop up crews in your arteries which clear away their notorious relatives - LDL cholesterol. Yet, in a small subset of humans, egg consumption can also raise the LDL cholesterol.

Eggs may also impact blood pressure after the University of Harvard also determined that when non-egg-eaters were given eggs as part of their diet, their average blood pressures came down.

Maybe it's not the egg per se which troubles us. Perhaps it's what we tend to couple eggs with (think eggs and bacon, think English breakfast, think burger with a fried egg and chips). Just think of how different things would be were we to serve our eggs with foods like fruit, vegetables or sweet potatoes.

A chicken egg (50g) gives us about 80 calories. Within those 80 kcal we find: 6g of protein and 5g of fat (1.6g saturated). That's not all - within the yolk one could find all the amino acids (the building blocks which make proteins), a good dose of healthy fat (mono-unsaturated in particular) and all the vitamins and minerals in the exact ratio that a human requires. But are all chicken eggs created equal? The answer is No.

Remember - you are what you eat. But you are also what you eat, ate! Why? You guessed it - gut bacteria! Therefore, there is a difference in, say, eating chicken eggs which come from chickens eating what they're supposed to eat versus what they're not supposed to eat. The question is... how can you tell the difference just by looking?

Class your eggs as "good eggs" if they satisfy the following two points:

  1. A strong shell
  2. An orange egg-yolk

So what can we conclude?

  1. Eat eggs - moderation is key but consider that they may be an integral component of an active person's lifestyle. I use the term "moderation" because genetics play a key role here. My reaction to egg consumption may not be the same as yours.
  2. Get the right eggs - those which come from pasture-raised chickens which spend the majority of their life running around outdoors and eating whatever they want or omega-3 eggs, which come from chickens fed flaxseeds. Both of which are present plentifully on our little island.
  3. Couple your eggs with the right foods - my recommendations include fruit, vegetables and a class of foods known as "resistant starches". Remember that your overall diet plays a role here, so the key here is to avoid choline-containing foods on a general basis.
  4. Check your bloodwork - consumption of eggs, particularly if done regularly will spike your TMAO and cholesterol levels (both the good and the bad). Dietary cholesterol is known to have less of an effect on your cholesterol than, say, saturated fat - but that doesn't mean it has no effect at all. The magnitude of this effect will vary from person to person.

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