Eggs-onerated, At Last!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Concerns about cholesterol and heart disease have turned many people into chickens when it comes to eating eggs, especially the yolks. But fear no more. Newer research has unscrambled the truth about the links between cholesterol and heart disease, vindicating the egg in the process.

For many years it was believed that eating foods containing cholesterol caused high blood cholesterol levels. Public health advocates recommended that people limit their cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day. With roughly 213 milligrams of cholesterol, eggs seemed like a food that should be restricted. Gradually a more complex picture of cholesterol and its workings in the body emerged and we began to talk about an alphabet soup of good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol numbers. Now health experts are beginning to recognize that dietary cholesterol is not the main culprit for high blood cholesterol at all. Cholesterol is essential to life and performs many functions in the body. You couldn't live without it. In fact, one of the signs that death is imminent is a drop in cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is the building block for all of our hormones and cell walls. It insulates nerves, helps brain function and bolsters the immune system.

Most of the cholesterol in our bodies is made in the body itself in the liver. But the biggest dietary culprit in excess cholesterol production is not eggs or other foods containing cholesterol. In fact, some experts believe that if you don't eat enough dietary cholesterol your body will raise its own levels of production. Surprisingly, a diet high in sugars has been shown to be the biggest dietary contributor to excess cholesterol production.

Refined grains, sugary snacks, soda and fruit juices cause a rapid increase in levels of blood glucose. The body can only handle about 4 grams (the equivalent of a teaspoon's worth of sugar) circulating in the blood at any one time. Anything left over must go into the liver where it is converted into triglycerides and cholesterol. High cholesterol is linked to heart disease, although not in the way previously believed. All of this extra sugar in the bloodstream also causes glycation (the process where glucose links with proteins, stiffening tissues and leading to the complications of diabetes), rapid aging, and inflammation. The coronary disease that causes heart attacks is now considered to be caused mostly by chronic inflammation. One of the many functions of cholesterol is to keep our cell membranes from falling apart. It is a necessary ingredient in any sort of cellular repair. Rather than being the direct cause of heart disease, excess cholesterol production is a by product of the body's effort to repair the damage created from inflammation. The upshot of it is that we no longer need deprive ourselves or one of nature's most bio-available sources of protein. Egg whites are high in protein, but it's the yolk that is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The yolk holds most of the nutrition, including Vitamin A, and the energy boosting B Vitamins. Ironically, Choline, one of the B vitamins found in egg yolks is actually needed by the body to break down excess cholesterol! Eggs are inexpensive and have a relatively long shelf life for a protein food. Hard-boiled they make an easy, portable snack, all of which make them a great choice on the Lite For Life program. If you're concerned about your cholesterol, swap that sugary breakfast cereal for a couple of eggs in the morning. And that's no yolk.

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