By Susan Burke March, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE
MYTH #1: EGGS ARE FATTENING
Whereas the old Dietary Guidelines for Americans advised restricting dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams or less daily (just one large egg has about 186 mg. of cholesterol), the proposed 2015 guidelines say that, “dietary cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for over-consumption.” This follows increasing medical research showing that the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream is more complicated than once thought.
Which means — you can eat more eggs!
The committee that compiled the new guidelines says available evidence “shows no appreciable relationship” between heart disease and how much dietary cholesterol you eat.
Each egg has only about 70 to 80 calories and packs a punch of protein (7 grams of high-quality), vitamins (especially A & D), minerals such as iron, with carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, helpful in reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. Plus eggs are a superb source of choleine, a brain function nutrient.
However, just like my grannie’s green beans, which were fried in fat and swamped with heavy cream and cheese, eggs can be carriers of excess fat and calories when they’re not prepared properly.
The Takeaway: Poached, hard or soft-boiled, scrambled in a nonstick pan or with a touch of olive oil — eggs satisfy without added fats like butter or oil. Adding fat to cooking adds tons of calories, and credible studies show diets high in added animal fats from butter or lard increases risk for heart disease. So make eggs a part of your healthy, whole foods diet. My favorite egg-inspired dish is an open-faced omelet, a frittata: eggs whipped and cooked in a nonstick skillet with a little olive oil, with plenty of chopped vegetables (my favorites are garlic, onions, bell peppers, and spinach), and topped with crumbled feta cheese (naturally low in saturated fat). Email me for the recipe.
MYTH #2: HIGH CHOLESTEROL? YOU CAN’T EAT EGGS
Truth? Eating about 30% of your calories from healthy fats (found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives) is a more effective way to prevent and treat high cholesterol compared to a strict limit on dietary cholesterol, such as that in whole eggs. In fact, the “best” diet pattern is a whole-foods diet, meaning, ditch refined carbs, white flour and juices and sugary drinks — and include healthy fats.
The Takeaway: It’s not the egg, it’s the additions! As in Myth#1, instead of making your eggs (and foods in general) carriers of extra calories (obesity is an independent risk factor for heart disease) eat eggs “clean,” as above. Note: some researchers still think that those with existing heart disease due to high blood cholesterol need to consider the evidence carefully for limiting their eggs.
The best advice from Heart.org for preventing high cholesterol?
Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke
Eat a healthy diet, including eggs if you like
Keep your diet mostly plant-based and high in fiber
For vegans, the guidelines don’t say to eat more eggs, as Dr. David Katz, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center–Griffin Hospital and President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine writes:
“Whether adding eggs to your diet will confer benefit, harm, or neither, almost certainly depends on what you are now eating instead of eggs, and what eggs would be displacing. We seem to like our dietary guidance oversimplified, and sunny side up. Inevitably, though, the details can be a bit deviled. It makes sense to stop focusing on cholesterol restriction. But should you eat more eggs? It depends.”
As a son of a cardiologist, Dr. Katz didn’t eat eggs for 20 years. “I only added them back when the weight of evidence clearly tipped the other way. I added them back very selectively, however. I eat them occasionally, and when I do, they are organic, locally sourced, and from hens treated kindly — eggsclusively! Nor have eggs replaced my standard breakfast of mixed berries and other fruits in season; walnuts; whole grains; and non-fat, plain Greek yogurt.” Read more here.
So, how many eggs is too many? The U.S. guidelines don’t put a number on it, but The British Medical Journal says on average, one a day is fine.
The recommendations from the Australian Dietary Guidelines confirm Australians need to eat more nutrient rich foods such as eggs, in place of foods of lower nutritional quality.
Low nutritional quality foods are sweetened beverages, chips, snacks, candy, refined carbs like white rice and white flour products. Their evidence found that consumption of eggs every day is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease and that “eggs should be considered in a similar way as other protein rich foods and consumed as part of a varied diet that is low in saturated fat and contains a variety of cardio-protective foods such as fish, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts.”
MYTH #3: YOU CAN’T USE OLIVE OIL FOR SAUTEING OR PAN-FRYING — HEAT CHANGES IT FROM A “GOOD OIL” TO A “BAD OIL”.
The smoke point is the highest temperature at which a chemical change takes place when you heat cooking oil — when you see smoke, it’s too hot. If you’re using good-quality oil like extra virgin, instead of blended or cheaper oils (with impurities and higher acid content), then the smoke point is somewhere in between 380 and 410 degrees Fahrenheit/193-210 Celsius.
In order to alter the chemical composition of olive oil and create “bad” trans fats, you’ll have to heat it quite a bit higher than the smoke point. According to Leslie Beck, the dietitian expert at Toronto’s Globe and Mail, trans fats aren’t formed in the kitchen, so this myth is quickly debunked. Trans fat is made by pumping hydrogen atoms into liquid unsaturated oils to make them semi-solid. Examples of trans fats are shortening (remember Crisco?), and hard margarine.
These fats were omnipresent in packaged and processed foods because they were cheap (generally created by processing inexpensive soy and/or corn oils). You couldn’t pick up a packaged product such as a packaged pastry, breads, crackers, frozen foods, fast food, frosting…I could go on and on…without finding PHO (partially hydrogenated oil or trans fat) on the Nutrition Facts label. This cheap fat is stable at room temperature and creates products with a very long shelf-life. Until recently, most fast food was fried in trans fat. However, trans fat proved to be so unhealthy (raising the risk for heart disease significantly) that today many countries tightly regulate it — or ban it outright. The USA is phasing out all trans fat in packaged and restaurant foods by 2018. As far as I can tell, Ecuador has not yet created an official policy, but if you know differently, please post your comment below.
As Ms. Beck advises, don’t overheat any oil, including olive oil, past its smoke point, the temperature at which it starts to burn. Burning oil creates a horrible flavor and strips any oil of its nutritional value. If you’re frying, don’t waste your money by using your best extra virgin olive oil. Instead, choose a cooking oil with a smoke point above 400 F/204 C, since most foods are fried at a temperature between 350-450 F/177-232 C.
Higher smoke points (in Fahrenheit) for canola oil (400-475), grape seed oil (420), peanut oil (440), sunflower oil (440), safflower oil (510) and refined coconut oil (436-468) make them all suitable for stir-frying and sautéing.
Unrefined coconut oil (350), flaxseed oil (225), hemp oil (330) and unrefined walnut oil (320) all have smoke points too low for cooking at high temperature (all listed in degrees Fahrenheit). Flaxseed, hemp and unrefined walnut oils should not be used for cooking since heat destroys their essential fatty acids. These oils should be used as condiments — as ingredients in salad dressings or smoothies. Store these more delicate oils in the refrigerator. For more about smoke points and cooking with various oils, and temperatures in Celsius, click here.
Author’s note: As a registered dietitian, my goal is communicating current scientific and informational advice and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Susan Burke March, a Cuenca expat, is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Certified Diabetes Educator who specializes in smart solutions for weight loss and diabetes-related weight management. She is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally—a fun and informative book intended to liberate serial dieters and make healthy living and weight control both possible and instinctual over the long term. Do you have a food, nutrition or health question? Write to me at SusanTheDietitian@gmail.com