The other day on the phone, my mum was talking about how she is thinking about reducing her daily cottage cheese and berry breakfast in an effort to cut down on diary. When I suggested eggs for breakfast she sounded frightened and said “but I don’t want to risk getting high cholesterol” to which I replied “don’t worry momma, that’s a big old myth”.
So, why do eggs get a bad wrap especially when it comes to cholesterol?
First up, let’s talk about cholesterol – start here for a prior post. Cholesterol is part of a response to injury and the whole process starts with damage to the inner arterial wall. Something nicks the artery usually as a result of viscous blood – or thick blood. The cut to the arterial wall causes an inflammatory response and macrophages come to help repair the damage. Macrophages attract LDL “bad” cholesterol where it forms a fatty streak or what we could describe as a sticky band-aide. Smooth muscle then proliferates over the cholesterol and now we have plaque. Plaque causes narrowing of the arteries, atherosclerosis, but you can see now that elevated cholesterol is actually a symptom & response to damage and not the cause of the damage itself.
What causes blood viscosity – or thickening of the blood? There are several risk factors to having viscous blood; obesity (especially around the abdominal area), smoking, heavy drinking, diabetes, high blood pressure, family history, chronic kidney issues, being a man over the age of 40, being a woman over the age of 50. Most of these risk factors are actually caused though by poor diet and a lack of physical activity.
There are many key functions of cholesterol aside from acting as a “sticky band-aide”; it’s the precursor to hormones, bile, required for the production of Vitamin D and is part of what constitutes the outer layer of our cells.
Have you every wondered what the difference is between LDL and HDL cholesterol? We are looking at the ratio of lipid (fat) to protein. So LDL cholesterol has less protein and more lipid and HDL has a higher ratio of protein to lipids. LDL and HDL cholesterol function very differently too which is why it’s important to look at both types of cholesterol when reviewing blood results with your health care professional.
LDL cholesterol is “bad” because carries cholesterol from the liver to our cells and if there is too much, it’s deposited into the cells. HDL is good because it carries cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down and excreted by the body. Interestingly, exercise helps to increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol. HORRAY!
What is probably a little known fact is that 70-80% of cholesterol is made in the body and the rest comes from food. Removing high cholesterol foods from the diet will have an impact on total cholesterol levels, sure, but it’s only 20-30% of the larger picture. The balance of cholesterol is produced internally in response to what is required – if there is a lot of inflammation going at the cellular level then more cholesterol is produced – especially LDL which as you’ll recall takes cholesterol from the liver to the cells to help with repair.
The general recommendation regarding cholesterol intake from food is to keep it around 300 mg’s/day (or 200 mg’s if you have elevated cholesterol levels) – and one egg has about 100 – 200 mg which is in all fairness one of the highest dietary sources of cholesterol available. What is often missing from the “egg story” is that eggs are one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and contain every vitamin and mineral (minus Vitamin C), are high in good sources of fat, and are an excellent source of choline. Choline helps to reduce inflammation is involved with methylation which reduces homocysteine levels – high levels of homocysteine are markers for cardiovascular disease risk and osteoporosis. Choline is also one of the key ingredients mothers-to-be are encouraged to consume during pregnancy since it is known to be beneficial to overall brain health.
Here is some other interesting research. Eggs are a good source of protein (6 grams per egg) and help people feel fuller longer which is known to prevent over eating later in the day and is can contribute to the prevention of long-term weight gain. A 2007 study published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (funded by the American Egg Board so take from it what you will) found that when subjects (n=160) were fed either two eggs for breakfast or the caloric equivalent in bagels for 8 weeks, the egg group lost twice as much weight and had an 83% decrease in waist circumference (as compared to the bagel group). Another large scale study published by Harvard University in 1999 of 115,000 people found no connection between an egg a day and increase risk of cardiovascular disease (a co-factor for elevated cholesterol levels) except for those with pre-existing diabetes.
In summary, eggs are not what is causing high LDL cholesterol. It’s a lack of physical activity and dietary choices which cause cellular damage such as refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine, and pop. Inadequate consumption of fiber contributes to the inability to rid the body of excess fats. Lifestyle choices such as a high degree of stress, lack of sleep, and perhaps most importantly failing to exercise daily are far greater contributors to hypercholesterolemia than the consumption of eggs a few times a week.
THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)
“The part can never be well unless the whole is well.”
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