The Ups and Downs of Eggs

(Health Secrets Newsletter) Are eggs healthy natural sources of high quality nutrients that form an essential part of a balanced diet, or are they evil cholesterol stuffed spheres which are guaranteed to destroy our health and cause disease? It seems that almost every day there is a new medical report into eggs, either singing their praises or outlining their dangers, so it can be hard to know whether we should be eating them or not.

The latest study, carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health among others, and published in Cancer Prevention Research, has indicated that eating eggs can increase the risk of men developing lethal prostate cancer. The study was designed to look at the impact of red meat, poultry, and eggs on the risk of developing a lethal form of prostate cancer, and it followed 27,607 men who were studied over a period of 14 years, during which they completed food questionnaires on a regular basis.

The overall results showed that men who ate a high number of eggs, an average of more than 2.5 per week, has an 81% higher risk of developing lethal prostate cancer than those that consumed a low number of eggs, an average of fewer than 0.5 eggs per week. So the message is fairly clear then; men should stop eating eggs if they don’t want to get prostate cancer, right?

As ever it’s far from that simple, and this was just one piece of research that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. When the results of the study were analyzed again it was discovered that men who ate a higher number of eggs were also more likely to be obese, have a high BMI, to smoke, and to have a family history of prostate cancer. They were also less likely to take regular exercise, all known risk factors for prostate cancer.

While there may possibly be a link with egg consumption and the development of lethal prostate cancer, it may simply be that eating a lot of eggs is an indicator of a diet and lifestyle that increases the risk of prostate cancer and other diseases.

The truth about eggs

Although eggs do get some bad press, they are a very valuable source of nutrients such as protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B2 and iodine. Including a couple of eggs in your diet each week will have a positive impact on your nutritional status as long as you are combining them with other nutritious foods as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Eggs do contain cholesterol so many people think they should avoid them to reduce their blood cholesterol levels, but actually dietary cholesterol doesn’t have much of an impact on our blood cholesterol. It is unhealthy processed foods that we need to avoid.  All too often eggs are combined with processed and foods fried in unhealthy processed oils and fats.

The main danger of eggs is that they may contain bacteria which can cause food poisoning. However, if eggs are fresh and stored properly, and if they are properly cooked, this risk is manageable. Here are some guidelines to follow when storing or eating eggs:

  • People in “at risk” groups such as babies and toddlers, elderly people, pregnant women, and ill people, shouldn’t eat raw egg or lightly cooked egg, but should make sure their eggs are well cooked so the white and yolk are solid.
  • Store eggs in a cool dry place, preferably in an egg tray in the fridge, and keep them separate from other foods. Make sure you pay attention to the expiration date.
  • Make sure you wash your hands, your utensils, and your work surfaces thoroughly after handling raw egg. Remember that bacteria can be on the shell as well as on the inside of the egg itself.
  • Eat foods containing egg as soon after preparation as possible. If you don’t eat them immediately make sure you store them in the fridge and eat them within two days.

When used properly and eaten in moderation in combination with healthy foods, eggs can be a fabulous source of protein, the source of the body’s building blocks, and can provide a number of other valuable nutrients at the same time. They don’t increase blood cholesterol levels, but can contain bacteria, so should be cooked and handled carefully.

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