Posts Tagged ‘cholesterol’

What came first, the cholesterol or the egg?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Over the years I have heard many ‘truths’ about the consumption of eggs. In 1988 we were all advised to fear eggs by that time UK minister for health Edwina Currie. We were told that “Most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now affected with salmonella”. This has since been shown to be nothing more than scaremongering and the facts are that, during that period, of the 30million eggs sold there were only 26 cases of salmonella.

So we were free to eat eggs again. Right?

Well maybe salmonella isn’t the big issue it was claimed to be, but what about heart disease? After all, egg yolks contain high levels of cholesterol and high cholesterol causes heart disease, so eggs are still out of bounds for anyone who has any interest in looking after their health & fitness levels as well as their longevity.

Is that the truth? Is that what people believe? Well, given that I ended up having the exact same conversation last week, about this very subject, twice in the space of 2hrs, I thought it might be time to put a few truths out there for general consumption.

So where did this link come from?

Early studies of eggs have show that eggs do indeed increase cholesterol levels in the body and these studies are the basis of the link to heart disease that has now become the accepted truth. And the fact is that these studies are perfectly true in their conclusions. However, it is worth noting that these studies were conducted by the makers of breakfast cereals in an attempt to show their product as the healthier option when choosing your morning fuel source. That fact alone should lead to some level of suspicion as to the validity of the statements.

As I stated earlier, the facts of the study are perfectly valid and accepted. However, the conclusions are far from truthful. What these studies failed to point out is there are different types of cholesterol within the body. There are LDLs (Low Density Lipoproteins) or BAD cholesterol as well as HDLs (High Density Lipoproteins) Good cholesterol. What is important to know is it is not so much the levels of these cholesterols that are the issue, but the BALANCE.

High levels of LDLs = Bad
High levels of HDLs = Good

And what the aforementioned studies failed to mention is what the resultant balance of each of these types of cholesterol was when eggs where consumed.

Well the cholesterol found in eggs is of the LDL type, so it must be that right? Well not quite. Eggs also contain carotenoids, Vitamin A, Vitamin E and choline (which has been shown to REDUCE cholesterol levels) so it should not simply be taken at face value that this is the case (as has been the case for so many years)

What does the research show?

In recent years a number of studies have been done to test the actual effects on the body through the consumption of eggs and the results are rather interesting.

According the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Vol 281 which tested a total of 37,851 men aged 40 – 75 and 80,820 women aged 34 to 59 (all free of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia or cancer) there was “…no evidence of an overall significant association between egg consumption and risk of CHD (Chronic Heart Disease) or stroke in either men or women.”

A Kansas State University study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2001 showed that the absorption of cholesterol from eggs is reduced by lecithin (which is also found in eggs). The researchers found that lecithin (a type of fatty acid) interferes with the uptake of cholesterol in the intestine.

In 2007 a study of 9500 people reported in the Medical Science Monitor found that eating one or two eggs every day did not increase the risk of heart disease or stroke among healthy adults. The study also noted that eating eggs may actually be associated with a decrease in blood pressure.

A University of Washington study concluded that people with and without high blood cholesterol levels are better off if they eat 2 eggs a day.

A University of Connecticut study also showed that a group of men in the study who ate 3 eggs per day for 12 weeks while on a reduced carb, higher fat diet increased their HDL (that’s the good one remember) by 20% while their LDL (Bad) stayed the same. Whereas the group that ate egg substitutes (egg whites) saw no change in either.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

In the end egg consumption has been shown to have little influence on serum cholesterol levels, but it does affect the body in many other ways.

The type of cholesterol being produced is altered by the regular ingestion of eggs. As well as the 2 different types of cholesterol (LDLs & HDLs) there are also numerous forms of LDL cholesterol. According to Maria Luz Fernandez (Dept of Nutritional Sciences, University of Connecticut) the types of LDLs being associated with a 3-fold increase in Chronic Heart Disease risk is a smaller, more dense and more highly concentrated than other forms and is characterized by both its high vulnerability to oxidation and greater ability to enter arterial walls. Egg consumption has been shown to increase the amount of larger, more ‘buoyant’ LDL particles, described as “less artherogenic particles” (Fernandez 2006). Therefore, the increase in the number of larger LDL particles lowers the number of the harmful small LDL particles in the bloodstream, reducing the risk of Heart disease.


As with most things in life, there are those who are more sensitive to dietary cholesterol than others. Such people are termed “hyperresponders” and again, the general rule was therefore to reduce the amount of cholesterol (including eggs) from their diet. (This generally included the elderly as a matter of course). However, whilst such sensitivity has been shown to increase LDL cholesterol from the consumption of eggs, studies have also shown that eggs also increase HDL cholesterol, keeping the LDL to HDL ratio constant, which is important as it is this ratio that determines your risk of heart disease which, in this case, shows no increase to the risk.

The exception to this, though, would be individuals already at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. At risk individuals would include smokers as well as diabetics. Quershi et al. (2007) found long term egg consumption to be “detrimental to glucose tolerance”. Generally, diabetics and those already at risk of cardiovascular risk should always be conscious of their dietary cholesterol intake, including egg consumption.

So now we’ve covered the risk of heart disease, what benefits do eggs have?

Well quite a lot actually:

The average egg contains around 60mg of potassium, at least 5 B vitamins, Vitamin D (which most people are highly depleted in), Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Choline (as already mentioned), Phosphorus and Zinc.

Eggs are also beneficial in that they contain mono-unsaturated & polyunsaturated fats including omega 3 & omega 6 essential fatty acids (Fats that are ESSENTIAL to our health and wellbeing and are far too important to be dealt with in the limited space of this article)

Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin (two similar carotenoids which act as antioxidants and are important for eye health and may also play a role in reducing oxidation of LDL cholesterol.)

In a nut shell (or in this case, an egg shell) eggs have only 75 calories, 5 grams of fat, no trans fats, are high in protein and contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals. They have been described by experts as ‘nature’s most complete food’ and should be considered an essential part of a healthy diet.

Does that mean you can go out and eat as many whole eggs as you like?

Well nothings ever that simple is it?

If you look at the breakdown above, one egg contains 75 calories and 5g of fat. As one gram of fat is equal to 9 calories, that means one egg contains 45 of its calories from fat. That’s 60% of the calories coming from fat.

With any client I have worked with I would never recommend a diet higher than 35% fat (usually less than this to start with, depending on their body type and specific goals) for the simple reason that anything higher (whilst sticking to a desired calorie intake level) would not allow for the required protein intake for maintenance or development of lean muscle tissue or would cause a severe carbohydrate restriction, which is also unbeneficial (but the subject for another debate).

Further, fat has the lowest thermic effect on the body (the amount of calories burned during digestion) meaning that it is more likely, in large quantities, to cause storage of fat.

Yes fats have their place in a balanced diet and many types of fats (EFAs) are ESSENTIAL in a healthy diet. But 60% fat is excessive. It is for that reason alone that I would recommend either consuming eggs as part of a meal that returns the balance back in favour of proteins and carbohydrates or mixing whole eggs with egg whites. A good starting point would be to use 2 egg whites for every whole egg (though again this will depend on body type & goals to determine correctly)

Not all eggs are equal

I would just like to quickly make the point that I am only endorsing the consumption of free range eggs here.

You’ve heard the adage “you are what you eat” and it is so very true. However it is also true of chickens and as a result the eggs they lay. Chickens are designed to roam free & peck at high quality, fresh grains. They are not meant to be crammed into cages or barns and fed steroids to make them bigger & antibiotics to keep them healthy due to the unhealthy nature of their imprisonment. You will only receive the full benefits from your eggs if you get it from a natural source and that means free range.

You can possibly add to the effect by obtaining the ‘Omega 3’ variety (meaning that omega 3s were added to the diet of the chickens producing the eggs ‘slightly’ increasing the omega 3 content).

Trust me; it is not worth the small cash saving achieved in purchasing anything but free range. If nothing else, you will feel more satisfied and less likely to want to eat more with better quality nutrition which should ultimately save you more money.

In conclusion, if you were restricting your egg intake on the often quoted basis of 3 eggs per week, I hope I’ve managed to put your fears to rest and that eggs will now become a greater part of your diet. Believe it or not, I have only touched on the benefits eggs can have to your training, dieting or general health and in today’s age of convenience foods, high sugar contents, processed ready meals etc it is nice to know that there is a nicely packaged, easy to prepare and very versatile food available to you.
One last tip – most foods, when consumed in high levels, can cause you to develop an intolerance to them. Whilst the evidence on this is a little vague regarding egg consumption, it would probably be a good idea to cycle off eggs every now and then, especially if you are consuming them at a level greater than 2 per day. Usually a simple 4-6 week change in diet removing eggs completely will be enough to reverse the trend and allow you to start experiencing the full benefits of egg consumption when you cycle back on again.

So the next time you reach for that sugar loaded cereal box in the morning or a ready meal for dinner, stop for a moment and consider the benefits of a freshly made omelette filled with healthy ingredients (spinach, onion, mushrooms, berries, peas, peppers, tomatoes etc. – take your pick the list is huge) Boil a few and put them in the fridge as a healthier snack than chocolate or crisps and take them with you along with some fruit if you don’t think you’ll have time to stop for a prepared meal. Scramble them and add smoked salmon mushrooms and asparagus or poach them and add to a fresh salad. You can add spices, garnishes or stick them in a blender with fruits and berries for a more balanced juice.

The list goes on and on. (Though please don’t ruin it by frying them in oil).

Bon appetite!


Mark Tiffney is a certified Personal Trainer, Nutritionist, Fitness Instructor & Life Coach. (REPS Registered)

If you are interested in having your diet evaluated or having a meal plan prepared for your body type, fat loss or muscle building goal or are looking for general help with your training of fitness goals, please contact Mark by emailing:


Mark is also currently offering one to one Personal Training & Coaching sessions in Glasgow.
To arrange a free consultation, please call
0141 41 60 348 or email
(c) Dynamic Core Solutions Ltd

The Big Fat Debate! – Butter V Margarine

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Saturated fat is bad for you, Butter contains lots of saturated fat, therefore butter is bad for you!

Margarine on the other hand has much less saturated fat, no cholesterol and on top of that it spreads much easier.

That is certainly the information I was brought up on and seems entirely logical. Margarine manufacturers are always telling us about the low cholesterol levels, the fact that despite being much healthier they have managed to make it taste just as good and these days it’s even an excellent source of Omega 3, the latest buzzword in health food marketing.

As for butter, well it sits there in it’s foil wrapping next to the packets of Lard. You can’t spread it on your bread without tearing it to pieces and there’s nothing else in it to entice you. It’s just butter. A big lump of saturated, artery clogging fat.

So where did it all go wrong for butter?

Butter has been part of our diet for centuries. According to “Butter’s origings go back about 10,000 years to the time when our ancestors first began domesticating animals. The first reference to butter in our written history was found on a 4,500 year-old limestone tablet illustrating how butter was made”, but earlier this century the number of autopsies performed in America was increased and a startling discovery was made. The number of people dying as a result of heart disease was much higher than previously thought. Scientists had also found a link between high cholesterol and heart disease and one of the biggest causes of high cholesterol was saturated fat in the diet.

As a result the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommended a reduction in saturated fat intake and Government guidelines were issued accordingly. This lead to the influx of the low fat, high carb diet.

The implications of these guidelines is a topic for discussion all by itself. Suffice to say, this trend to go ‘low fat’ was probably one of the biggest factors in pushing consumers away from butter and looking for lower fat alternatives. Enter margarine.

Margarine tubs flood the supermarkets with their big bold claims gracing their packaging,

“Less than 1% fat”
“Zero Cholesterol”
“Tastes like butter”

But is it that straight forward?

If you stop and take a look at the ingredients list you will note on most margarines that it is primarily made from soybean oil. Soybean oil has the lowest amount of heart friendly monounsaturated fats of all oils. It also has the highest ratio of Omega-6: Omega-3 fatty acids (a balance that has been highlighted recently as needing to be redressed drastically in most western diets).

So why is this oil used? Quite simply, it’s cheap.

Not only that, but regardless of which oil is used, the fact remains that it is an oil. Liquid at room temperature (Saturated fats are solid at room temperature) so in order to make this unsaturated fat more solid for the purpose of spreading, it is hydrogenated. A by product of this process is the formation of Trans fats. Trans fats have been found to be just as bad, if notworse than saturated fats when it comes to heart disease.

Margarine has been shown to not only increase LDLs in the body (Bad Cholesterol) but it also lowers HDLs (Good Cholesterol). It has also been shown to lower the quality of breast milk in pregnant women and has been shown to decrease immune response.

To top it off, it is also usually more expensive than butter.

But what about the healthier margarines?

Since the benefits of the low fat diet have been put into question, and the problems of Trans fats have started to become more a part of the consumer conscience, a number of ‘healthier option’ margarines have hit the shelves with claims to:

“Lower Cholesterol”
To have “No Trans Fats”
And to be “Fortified with plant sterols which appear to lower LDLs (Bad Cholesterol)”
And to be “an excellent source of Omega 3”

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of these claims:

I Can’t Believe it’s not butter claims to have “Zero trans fats” but if you have a look at the nutritional information you will find the following:

Per 14g serving

Kcal – 90
Total Fat – 10g
Saturated Fat – 2g
Polyunsaturated Fat – 4.5g
Monounsaturated Fat – 2.5g

Cholesterol – 0mg

The FDA allows manufacturers to make the “Zero Trans Fats” claim as long as each seving of the product has less than half a gram of trans fat in a serving of 14g. This equates to up to 3.5% fat by weight. Take a look again at the fat break down – 2g + 4.5g + 2.5g = 9g of Total fat, but the total fats are listed as 10g. The reason for this is there are trans fats making up the rest, but as they are allowed to claim “Zero trans fats” on the front of the packet, they are hardly then going to list them on the rear.

Further, have a look at the ingredients list. These include:
Vegetable Oil Blend (Liquid soybean oil, [we’ve already seen why this is bad] liquid canola oil,hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil) plus numerous other ingredients including ‘artificial flavors’

So what about the “Great Source of Omega 3” claim?

Well, lets have a look at the content in Flora’s Omega 3 Plus margarine:

The ingredients list shows 1.8% fish oil (180mg per 10g portion) if you consider that it is generally felt that 500mg should be the recommended amount of fish oil in a daily diet and that a 4 oz portion of Wild Salmon contains over 1230mg of Omega 3, suddenly the words “Great Source” seem to lose their significance. So if that is your reason for going the margarine route, perhaps supplementing might be a better route?

But then there’s the plant sterols lowering our LDLs. That’s got to be a good thing right?

Well perhaps. It is true that plant sterols appear to lower LDLs by around 10% however there is some question as to whether they may have some negative effects on the heart independent of lowering LDLs.

The fact is these extra ingredients are just that, ingredients. What you should remember is that Margarine is processed, manufactured substance as compared to butter which is one ingredient – butter (sometimes with added salt). There is no getting around the fact that Margarine will always be a laboratory produced product and added with the ‘good’ ingredients are the colours and preservatives all used to make it look like butter. (That yellow sheen doesn’t come naturally)

One thing to keep in mind is the human body is a highly sophisticated machine that is very good at evolving to its environment. That said, evolution is a very long process and doesn’t happen over night. As stated above, butter is a natural substance that has been around for thousands of years and has become a dietary staple, margarine is less than 100 years old, a drop in the ocean of evolutionary development, and is therefore not something our bodies are accustomed to dealing with during the digestive process.

But what about the saturated fat? What about the heart disease?

As the saturated fat in butter is naturally occurring, it has generally been agreed by experts that a small percentage of saturated fats are beneficial to a healthy diet.

At the turn of the century, heart disease in the western world was rare. By 1960, it was our number one killer. Yet during the same time period, butter consumption had decreased to less than a quarter. So it is clear that, whilst it remains logical to control portion sizes, butter itself is not the be all and end all of the argument.

Not only that but butter also contains a huge list of nutrients essential for your body’s growth, repair and well being. It has been shown to increase the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods. It contains antioxidants, which can help to offset free radical damage to cells. It is a source of Vitamin D, Calcium & Selenium. It also contains conjugated linoleic acid which is thought to help maintain lean body mass, prevent weight gain and may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

So it’s not the big bad monster it has often been though of and in fact has a lot going for it.

(For a fuller list of the nutrients contained in butter check out

I would, however, suggest that you stick to Organic and preferably Raw butter as the non-organic alternative is highly susceptible to persistent organic pollutants, a class of toxic chemicals that are attracted to fatty tissues in substances like milk. They are hereditary and so passed from mother to calf and originate from the eating of contaminated feed. According to Horizon Organic’s Marketing Director Gwen Scherer, “Organic butter avoids such contamination.”

But, if you should watch your portions, how much is too much?

Well 7% Saturated fat is considered healthy even for high risk candidates, with 11% recommended the cut off for most people. So for a women consuming 2000 Kcal per day, 24g of Saturated fats would be considered acceptable. Whereas for a weight training male consuming 4500 Kcal per day, 55g would be acceptable and anything under 35g would be considered very low.

Given the fact that butter has also been shown to aid in the development of lean body mass, weight trainers and body builders would do well to air towards the upper extremes. But remember, everyone is different and what works for most may not work for you.

The purpose of this article is not to give a definitive answer, because there isn’t one. It is simply to point out the flaws in general perceptions and give you new information to help you make informed decisions that benefit you. Anything that has one ingredient is usually going to be a better choice over one that has 20+ and has been processed in a factory. However if you must go the margarine route, read the labels and the ingredients and make your choice on the facts rather than the advertising hype.

So now you are allowed butter again, the only choice is what to put it on? If your answer is white bread or even wholemeal bread, you may want to reconsider. But, that’s a topic for another day. Might I suggest using it for cooking, especially with eggs, to add flavour?

Lastly, once you have worked out your portion sizes, I’d suggest you keep an eye on this, at least for a while. For a week at least, portion out your daily amounts the night before to get a feel for how much your portion is. Then when you reach for the butter you can see how much of this you are using. Otherwise it is all to easy to get carried away.

This is something I go into more detail with my clients on when helping them create their weekly menus and I feel it is critical to get a good understanding of portion sizes early on as you will be surprised just how wrong you are when you estimate things.

For now though, rejoice in the fact that eating healthy doesn’t always mean deprivation. Have your butter and enjoy it guilt free as part of your healthy eating lifestyle. And smile if the buttercup tells you that ‘you like butter’.