17/02/2011

The truth about eggs and cholesterol

EggsOur senior dietitian, Victoria Taylor, cracks the myths in recent stories about eggs and cholesterol.

Egg-lovers are bound to have been delighted with a raft of media reports this week that eggs now contain less cholesterol than they used to.

We all know that raised cholesterol is bad for our heart, so the much quoted 13 per cent reduction over the last decade sounds like it should be great news.

But in their scramble to cook up an eggscellent story, the media missed the point.

In the past there have been restrictions on the advised number of eggs people should eat in a week. This was because we thought cholesterol in our bodies was directly caused by cholesterol in our food.

As research has developed, however, we now know that much of the excess cholesterol in our bodies is actually produced by eating too much saturated fat rather than eating too much cholesterol.

Cholesterol culprits

So while too many fried eggs and cheesy omelettes may risk raising your cholesterol, it’s actually the added fat from the frying or the addition of cheese, which is high in saturated fat, that’s the problem. Poached, boiled or scrambled eggs (without butter) are all absolutely fine and there are no restrictions on how many we should eat as part of a balanced diet.

While the average Brit only eats about 2 to 3 eggs a week, our intake of saturated fat still exceeds the recommended maximums

The main cholesterol culprits are things like dairy products including full fat cheese or whole milk, fats like butter, lard and ghee, fatty cuts of meat or meat products and the skin on chicken. Products like biscuits, cakes and pastries can also be high in saturated fat too.

We can still enjoy these, but by choosing reduced fat options such as semi skimmed, skimmed or 1% milk, low fat yoghurts and reduced fat cheese as well as making sure we remove visible fat and skin from meat and poultry and reading food labels on ready-made products we can make healthier choices.

If you are worried about your cholesterol, cutting back on saturated fat is likely to make more of an impact on your diet than cutting back on the amount of eggs you eat.

While the average Brit only eats about 2 to 3 eggs a week, our intake of saturated fat still exceeds the recommended maximums.

So, this latest story is all a bit of a storm in an egg cup really. The fact that eggs are lower in cholesterol now than they were previously is interesting. But it doesn’t make any difference to our advice – it’s still about how you cook your eggs, rather than how much cholesterol is in them.