Dear Eating Right: I'm a big fan of eggs, but I've been watching my cholesterol and have been eating fewer and fewer eggs. Recently I saw a commercial featuring cute little eggs being released from prison. The commercial says that the American Heart Assn. now says it's OK to eat three to four eggs per week. Is this true?
Dear Dale: The California Egg Commission's new advertising campaign, imploring us to "Give eggs a break," is aimed at people, like you, who have eliminated or cut back on their intake of eggs. The television commercials feature five-foot live-egg characters who, thanks to new research, are being released from incarceration and the electric chair; the imprisonment represents consumer misconceptions about the cholesterol in eggs. It explains that we can now eat four whole eggs a week and still maintain good health.
While the American Heart Assn. did agree in 1989 that it was OK for healthy adults to eat three to four egg yolks per week, AHA hasn't been as quick to free eggs from their blood cholesterol-raising bondage as the American Egg Board. The group is concerned that this new advertising campaign may mislead some people into thinking that the AHA recommendation is new and that intake of eggs is all you have to worry about.
"The (campaign) is accurate," says Denise Rector, a registered dietitian with AHA, who explains that the advice to eat three to four eggs per week is for adults without a blood cholesterol problem. But, she says, the campaign takes dietary cholesterol out of the context of a total healthy diet. "We encourage people to look at where they get all their cholesterol . . . you have to look at the total picture. People don't necessarily account for (cholesterol in) eggs and other foods. Muffins and pancakes are sources people may not be as conscious about. It's not just the eggs we cook up in the pan."
Cholesterol, the wax-like substance that the body makes for proper cell functioning, is found only in foods that come from animals. The body is capable of making all the cholesterol it needs. Previously, scientists believed that eating too many foods that contained cholesterol, such as eggs, meat, poultry and dairy products, would automatically increase the amount of cholesterol floating around in the blood.
But more recent research has shown that saturated fat has a bigger role in increasing blood cholesterol levels. Scientists now believe that only certain people have an inherited tendency to make too much cholesterol. The rest of the population may consume up to 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol daily and still have good health. Cholesterol in the diet was partially vindicated. Saturated fat became the new villain.
This, coupled with evidence that today's eggs contain 22% less cholesterol than previously thought, forms the backdrop of the egg commission's advertising campaign.
Although the typical large egg yolk (there is no cholesterol in the white) contains about 213 milligrams of cholesterol--down from 274 milligrams--it is a long way from being a heart-healthy food. This amount must still be counted as part of overall cholesterol intake--the 300 milligrams recommended daily for healthy people, AHA says.
When you calculate your dietary cholesterol total, you must also take into account cholesterol hidden in cooked and processed foods and in other animal foods you may eat throughout the day. Organ meats, for example, contain a substantial amount of cholesterol; dark-meat poultry has more than light meat.
Pancakes and muffins are popular morning foods, but depending upon the recipe they can contain from 16 to 50 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and two to eight grams of fat per serving. These Whole-Grain Oatmeal Pancakes, from the American Heart Assn.'s "Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook" (Times Books: 1989) are virtually cholesterol free--just 2.14 milligrams per serving.
WHOLE-GRAIN OATMEAL PANCAKES
1 3/4 cups nonfat milk
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 egg whites
3 tablespoons oil
Mix nonfat milk and honey until honey is dissolved. Add oats and stir to coat evenly. Set aside.
Stir together flour and baking powder in separate bowl. Add oat mixture, egg whites and oil. Stir until just mixed.
Heat non-stick skillet or griddle that has been sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray over medium heat. Pour 1/4 cup batter into hot skillet and cook until top of each pancake is covered with tiny bubbles and bottoms are browned. Turn and cook other side. Serve with Blueberry Sauce. Makes 4 servings, 3 pancakes each.
1 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
Bring blueberries, 1/2 cup water, sugar and lemon juice to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 1 to 2 minutes or until berries are tender. If using frozen berries, do not heat.