“Egg Yolks As Dangerous As Smoking, Experts Say!”
That was a recent headline on the Huffington Post Canada website and repeated all over news stations and the internet earlier this month. The article was in summary of a recent study performed at the London Health Sciences Centre’s University Hospital where elderly patients were asked to think back and remember their lifelong egg consumption history.
This sounds like an extremely accurate way to perform a study by the way. I can’t even remember how many eggs I ate last week, but I am sure the people participating in the study are smarter than me. I bet they had no problem remembering how many eggs they ate for the past 20 years. We have mentioned in the past how many studies have huge flaws and biases and this one is no different. For a complete breakdown of where this study went wrong, I recommend reading Mark Sisson’s recent post on Marks Daily Apple.
Today’s post is instead about rebuilding the confidence of the poor egg yolk. For decades it has been beaten down by the media and so-called health experts, but unrightfully so.
Not only are egg yolks not as dangerous as cigarettes, but they are among the healthiest foods we can put in our bodies. Here’s why.
The Nutritional Benefits of Egg Yolks
If you look up the nutrition facts for egg yolks in the USDA nutrient database, which I provided in the chart below, it reads more like a multivitamin than a normal piece of food. For instance, just 3 egg yolks, not including the whites, provides over 50% of your daily requirement for Vitamin D and Selenium, over 40% of Vitamin B12, Over 25% of Vitamin B5 and Phosphorous, and over 15% of Iron, Folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B2. It also provides 8 grams of protein and 7% of your daily omega 3 fats. They also contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants that are believed to help prevent against degeneration and chronic disease.
Egg yolks are so nutritious, that many doctors recommend using them to help wean infants off of breast milk. They are one of the few foods that contain high levels of Iron and DHA, two nutritional factors that are extremely important for developing infants.
Egg Yolks Vs Egg Whites
Somewhere in our recent history, between egg-white-guzzling bodybuilders and cholesterol-fearing doctors, it became cool to throw away egg yolks. Let me just be clear on something, egg white omelets are not cool! Don’t even pretend that you like the taste of them! And if your egg whites come from a carton, those are even less cool.
If you should be throwing away any part of the egg, it should be the whites, not the yolks (although I don’t recommend getting rid of either). Pound for pound, the nutrition of the yolk is head and shoulders above its white counterpart. Take a look at the chart below which is straight from the USDA Nutrient Database.
Sure, egg whites are a great source of protein, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, but which would you rather have, if you had to choose? Egg yolks are a far better source of calcium, iron, phosphorous, zinc, folate, and vitamins B6, B12, A, E, and D. Egg yolks are the clear winner if you ask me.
Egg Yolks Are Cheap and Delicious!
I hear all the time how people would love to eat healthier, but that it’s just too expensive. With eggs though, this just isn’t the case. You can easily find decent free-range eggs pretty much anywhere for under $4 per dozen. For about $1 per meal, you can get all those great nutritional benefits that I mentioned earlier. Give me the choice between 3-4 eggs sautéed in KerryGold butter or a medium sized hamburger off of the dollar menu, and I’m going for the eggs every single time! Runny egg yolks mixed with a little butter are liquid gold!
But What About Cholesterol?
Of course, the elephant in the room. Most of you already know that egg yolks are loaded with nutrition, but what about their high cholesterol? First of all, cholesterol, and its connection to heart disease is a very complex issue, one that definitely goes way over my head. If you can handle the science of it all, I recommend checking out 2 more posts on Marks Daily Apple, that give an in-depth look at all things cholesterol. For those of you less science-oriented, here are the basics you need to know.
Cholesterol is an essential molecule for all animal life. Every cell in our bodies has a protective membrane that allows for the cell to move and transport components in and out. Cholesterol is the vital component that makes up this membrane of each cell. Cholesterol is also very important for the synthesis of vitamins A, D, E, and K and hormones like cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone.
Your body naturally produces and stores way more cholesterol than you consume through food. Your body produces between 800 and 1200 mg of cholesterol daily and stores between 30,000 and 40,000 mg in the cells at any given time. By comparison, an egg yolk contains only 184 mg of cholesterol. If the quantity of cholesterol was really the issue, we should be more concerned with the amount of cholesterol our body already produces, not the amount we are eating. Also, your body will self-adjust by producing more cholesterol if you consume less through food, or by producing less cholesterol, if you consume more through food.
There are few, if any links, between high cholesterol and heart disease. It’s pretty common knowledge that a total cholesterol level below 200mg is what everyone should be shooting for. But this is a myth perpetuated by the drug companies who are trying to sell you statin drugs to lower your cholesterol. In many cases, low total cholesterol is a bigger indicator of health problems than high total cholesterol. Just take a look at this chart that shows mortality rates for countries around the world as compared to their average total cholesterol levels. The lowest risk group for dying is actually between 200 and 240mg of cholesterol. And the highest risk group occurs at cholesterol levels of 170mg and below. The issue of heart disease likely has a lot to do with overall inflammation in the body, not simply cholesterol.
Transferring to a paleo diet is just as much about changing your mental outlook as it is about changing the actual foods that you eat. You have to completely change the way you look at food if you really want to be successful long term.
One of those key distinctions is the realization that a healthy diet is not about getting LESS of everything, it’s about getting MORE of everything. For decades, we’ve been taught that healthy eating means LESS calories, LESS carbs, LESS fat, LESS sugar. In the case of egg yolks, it’s always been about LESS cholesterol. But the focus on less is preventing us from seeing what the true purpose of food is.
Food is essential to life. Without it, we die.
Consuming a diet focused on real food means MORE nutrition, MORE nourishment, MORE vitamins, MORE minerals, MORE energy, MORE strength, MORE power, MORE superhuman (not sure that even makes sense, but I think you get the point). Egg yolks are the perfect example of this. Cholesterol is vital to our survival and your body is going to produce lots of it whether you like it or not. By fearing cholesterol, you are missing out on one of the cheapest and healthiest foods on the entire planet. Don’t let scary headlines or powerful marketing campaigns alter the way you think about real food. We have millions of years of human evolution to tell us that real foods like egg yolks should not be feared.