The almighty egg has graced plates since the dawn of time. It is a symbol of longevity and fertility, and is included in holidays ranging from Easter to Christmas. Yet, when it comes to nutrition, eggs are the ultimate good guy/bad guy. Eggs might be rich in nutrients, but they also pack more cholesterol into one tiny yolk than you would get in a 12-ounce New York steak. Here are just a few issues when it comes to eggs:
Protein: The 6 grams of protein in an egg is such high quality – with just the right mix of amino acids and an outstanding ability to be digested and absorbed – that it scores a perfect 100 on the protein scale and sets the standard of quality for all other proteins (most beans in comparison rank at about half that, while the protein in grains scores only about 25). Yolk or White? The protein is divided evenly between the yolk and the white.
Your Heart: Egg yolks are the #1 source of cholesterol in the American diet. One egg supplies 215 of the maximum daily allowance of 300 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association. How could something so bad, still be good for you? Truth is, the real bad guy in the heart-disease story (along with obesity) is saturated fat, which is why cutting out fatty meat and full-fat dairy really saves arteries, while eggs are low in saturated fat (an egg contains 1.5 grams of saturated fat compared to 7 grams in a tablespoon of butter). Yolk or White? All of the cholesterol is in the yolk. A recent study found that eggs increase heart disease risk in diabetics.
Your Brain: Eggs are a premium source of choline, a building block for specialized fats essential for brain function, including the nerve chemical, acetylcholine, that regulates memory. Each yolk supplies about 162 milligrams of choline (daily recommended intakes are 425 milligrams for women and 550 milligrams for men). Eggs fortified with the omega-3 fat DHA, such as Gold Circle Farm Eggs, also might aid in memory. Yolk or White? All of the choline is in the yolk.
The Bottom Line: The trick to including eggs in the diet is to limit yolk intake and to dilute the cholesterol by adding more whites than yolks. For every whole egg in a recipe, use 2 egg whites (or, 4 level teaspoons powdered egg white plus 4 tablespoons of warm water) or 1/4 cup egg substitute (made from egg whites). Photo credit: cobalt123 via Compfight
The B vitamins, especially folate and vitamins B6 and B12, lower heart disease risk by reducing levels of a compound called homocysteine in the blood. This compound irritates blood vessel walls, increasing inflammation associated with the underlying cause of heart disease, atherosclerosis. Even if your blood cholesterol is low, you could be at risk for heart disease if homocysteine levels are high. Optimal intake of…
1. folate-rich foods, such as dark green leafies, orange juice, and legumes;
2. vitamin B6-rich foods, such as seafood, chicken breast, 100% whole grains, and bananas; and
3. vitamin B12-rich foods, such as low-fat milk, salmon, and eggs,
lower homocysteine levels, thus reducing your risk for heart disease. Aim for 400 micrograms of folate, 2 or more milligrams of vitamin B6, and 2 micrograms or more of vitamin B12 daily from foods and/or supplements. Photo credit: knitting iris via Compfight
Cholesterol is a waxy-like substance that insulates nerve fibers and is needed for production of certain hormones. But, when there’s too much in your blood, cholesterol-rich plaque builds up along blood vessel walls. Overtime, this buildup causes narrowing of the arteries, impeding blood flow and leading to heart disease or stroke. Cholesterol is packaged in protein-rich, water-soluble “bubbles” called lipoproteins. Being water-soluble allows these carriers to transport the fatty cholesterol in the watery medium of the blood. Low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, also called LDL or the “bad” cholesterol, is the cholesterol being carried throughout your body. Elevated LDLs increases cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. High-density liporotein cholesterol, also called HDL or “good” cholesterol, is cholesterol being cleared from the body, it protects against CVD. Photo credit: *Blunight 72* via Compfight
Cholesterol has little to do with the fat content of a food. Fat calories come from the saturated and unsaturated fats in a food, not from cholesterol, which has no calories. Foods can be high-cholesterol and low-fat like eggs, or high-fat with no-cholesterol like margarine. Also, don’t be fooled by “No cholesterol” claims on foods like peanut butter, since all plant-based foods are cholesterol-free. Finally, while dietary cholesterol contributes somewhat to heart-disease risk, by far the best thing you can do for your heart is to cut back on saturated fats from meat, dairy products, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Chip Bennett via Compfight
One reason to snack on watermelon instead of chips is that heart health begins with fruits and vegetables. The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower the heart disease risk. Watermelon, in particular, is an excellent source of lycopene, a red pigment that lowers heart disease and heart attack risk. In fact, watermelon has more lycopene than do tomatoes – up to 20 milligrams in each two-cup serving. Watermelon also is low or free of cholesterol, fat, and sodium, and is a good source of arginine and citrulline, amino acids that maintain the blood vessels.
Like other colorful fruits and vegetables, watermelon is one of the best defense against cancer. The lycopene in watermelon helps lower risk for prostate cancer in men, while researchers estimate that more than a third of cancer deaths could be avoided by diet alone, with vegetables and fruits like watermelon leading the pack in cancer prevention. In a study from the University of Kuopio in Finland, men with the highest blood levels of lycopene had significantly lower risk for overall cancer incidence. Vitamins A and C in watermelon also show promise in lowering risk for cancers of the esophagus, stomach, lungs, liver, cervix, colon, and pancreas.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Heaping the plate with produce helps side-step stroke, reduces symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prevents urinary tract infections and cataracts, lowers the risk for diabetes and high blood pressure, and boosts the immune system. A study from Tufts University found that lycopene-rich diets lowered bone fracture risk, while diets rich in produce also are a must for weight control. Then there’s the longevity factor. According to a study from the University of Naples in Italy, people who live more than a century also live the healthiest. Their secret? You guessed it, they eat the most fruits and vegetables. Carrie Barbash via Compfight