In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated nutrient composition data for raw whole eggs and came up with significant reductions in the cholesterol count, thus shedding new light as well as confusion over the use of eggs by cholesterol-obsessed Americans.
According to the updated data, the value of cholesterol in eggs is 22% lower, dropping from 275 milligrams in 1976 to 213 milligrams in 1989.
The new data showing a decrease in cholesterol content is considered a blessing for image-battered eggs, which, up to now, have been berated because of their high cholesterol content.
Now, Four Eggs a Week Are OK
The new data won the American Heart Assn. stamp of approval on use of as many as four eggs per week by healthy American adults, one more egg per week than previously recommended.
"In view of new information from the USDA indicating lower cholesterol content in egg yolks, the AHA's nutrition committee has indicated that current AHA Dietary Guidelines may be satisfied using four egg yolks per week by healthy American adults," the AHA says in a policy paper.
The key words, however, are healthy Americans. Those who have severe restrictions on cholesterol should follow their doctor's advice on the use of eggs.
The new American Heart Assn. recommendation increasing servings of eggs from three to four per week "does not represent a change in the AHA's dietary guidelines," says a heart association policy statement. "The Nutrition Committee still recommends a maximum of 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day. But new analyses of egg yolks show the average cholesterol content of one large egg yolk to be 213 milligrams rather than the previously accepted 274 milligrams. This allows up to four, rather than three, egg yolks from all sources within currently suggested meal plans."
'Invisible' Egg Yolks
Consumers are cautioned to compensate for "invisible" egg yolks consumed in baked and other prepared foods. "The committee re-emphasized that individuals must still strive for a balanced diet, including a variety of foods," the statement reads.
According to the American Dietetic Assn., a professional organization of registered dietitians, the lower cholesterol count will make it that much easier for those who refrained from eating eggs altogether to take another look at "nature's perfect food in a package," and for those who restricted intake to two or three per week, in accordance with the heart association's recommendations.
"Dietitians look upon eggs as a valuable, highly nutrient-dense food, particularly for growing children and teen-agers. For the elderly, eggs are an excellent source of inexpensive protein," said Rita Storey, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn.
"This doesn't mean that it's OK to go hog-wild with eggs," cautioned Storey. "Excess intake beyond the recommended amount should be avoided." Consumers should also be wary of egg content in processed foods. "At restaurants, instead of a three- or four-egg omelet, request one made with only one or two eggs," advised Storey.
The new value for cholesterol was a result of a two-part, nationwide sampling and nutrient analysis designed by the USDA's Human Nutrition Research Center and funded by the Egg Nutrition Center.
"The lower cholesterol values can allow more choice for individuals who wish to include eggs in a cholesterol lowering diet," according to Cathy McCharen of the Egg Nutrition Center. "We continue to recommend using one egg and two whites for serving scrambled, omelets, or other egg dishes. Now you can enjoy eggs four times a week, instead of three," she said.
The USDA sampling analysis went like this: Using large eggs from 130 suppliers, accounting for more than 60% of the nation's egg production, the 1989 analysis produced a new value for cholesterol, 213 milligrams per large, which is 22% lower than the value published in 1976.
Small Decrease in Fat Content
According to the USDA update, there was a small decrease in fat content of eggs, which was reflected in all three fatty acid classes--saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Likewise, values of seven minerals listed in "Agricultural Handbook No. 8-1 Composition of Foods" (calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium, niacin and ascorbic acid) decreased as well, with iron decreasing the most, meaning that along with decrease in cholesterol came a decrease in mineral nutrients as well. Of the eight vitamins available in measurable quantities, four had higher values and four had lower values.
However, according to Storey, the reduction in minerals does not significantly affect the total intake of nutrients in the diet. By adding one or two more eggs to the diet each week, one automatically increases lost minerals, said Storey. The USDA report also states that changes in nutrient intake can be expected to result from changes in the nutrient content of foods.