Is eating egg yolks really as bad for your health as smoking?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A new study suggests eating egg yolks can accelerate heart disease almost as much as smoking.

The study in the journal Atherosclerosis found eating egg yolks regularly increases plaque buildup about two-thirds as much as smoking does.

Patients who ate three or more yolks a week showed significantly more plaque than those who ate two or fewer yolks per week. The issue is with the yolk, not the egg. One jumbo chicken egg yolk has about 237 milligrams of cholesterol.

Keeping a diet low in cholesterol is key. Even if you are young and healthy, eating egg yolks can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases later.

For those patients with increased coronary risk, such as diabetics, eating an egg yolk a day can increase coronary risk by two to fivefold.

Cholesterol intake should be limited to 300 milligrams a day, particularly in people who have underlying heart disease.

In 2000, the American Heart Association (AHA) revised its dietary guidelines and gave healthy adults the green light to enjoy eggs once again. The AHA’s guidelines now allow an egg a day for healthy adults while still advising a total daily cholesterol limit of 300 milligrams.

The confusion over eggs stems from their cholesterol. One large egg contains between 213 to 237 milligrams of cholesterol, which accounts for two-thirds of the recommended daily limit.

Most eggs have only 75 calories but 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, along with iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids.

In fact the egg is a powerhouse of disease-fighting nutrients, containing lutein and zeaxanthin, which may reduce the risk of macular degeneration.

But the full health benefits of eggs can only be realized if you store them properly – in the refrigerator – and cook them thoroughly to kill any potential bacteria, especially salmonella.

The Harvard School of Public Health followed 117,000 nurses for eight to 14 years and found no difference in heart disease risk between those who ate one egg a week and those who ate more than one egg a day.

And if you visit any upscale food store or even the local supermarket, you have choices that include cage-free, free-range, or free-roaming, which refers to the way chickens are raised.

Lower-cholesterol eggs are produced by feeding the chickens a vegetarian diet and oils such as canola oil. A large egg can have 300 milligrams of cholesterol and this sort of feeding can bring that down to 200 milligrams.

Omega-3 eggs are also being engineered by feeding the chickens flax seed, marine algae, and fish oil, which increase the egg content of omega-3 fatty acids.

Brown eggs are trendy now. That is simply a function of the type of chicken, producing the egg.

So, eggs can be healthful since they are high in protein and easy to chew. However, if you have high cholesterol or heart disease, it is best to eat only the egg whites and eliminate the yolk regardless of the Omega-3 fatty acids.

How many times a week you eat eggs will depend upon how much cholesterol and fat you’re consuming in other foods that you may be eating.

Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to