Featured article in the Spring 2016 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Lisa Katic, RD, CSW
Cholesterol and eggs, eggs and cholesterol. They are often spoken in the same sentence with advice to avoid or eliminate, but is it really warranted? Cholesterol became the nutrition and health no-no in the 1980s. If you wanted to treat yourself to a healthy lifestyle and mitigate heart disease, you had to avoid high cholesterol containing foods. Why? Because dietary cholesterol was thought to increase blood cholesterol causing increased arterial blockages, which could lead to heart attack and/or heart disease. Enter the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), jointly appointed by the Secretaries of the USDA and HHS, and consisting of 14 top nutrition experts in the country. They are tasked with evaluating the most current body of science on nutrition and develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which sets recommendations for America’s food intake and how to lead a healthy lifestyle.1
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans2 focus more on healthy eating patterns rather than on individual nutrients. The importance of following healthy eating patterns, instead of specific nutrients, is to help people meet nutrient recommendations but also allow for cultural and personal preferences. We cannot and do not eat the same way. We don’t have the same budgets, access to food or exact nutrient needs. Patterns give the public a more personal path to health.
Another significant shift in the 2015 Guidelines is the recommendation on cholesterol. Since the inception of these Guidelines, cholesterol has been listed as a dietary component to limit or even eliminate. Today, that thinking has evolved and the science examined. Cholesterol has been shown to have a minimal effect in the diet compared to saturated and/or trans fat.3 In past decades, saturated fat was as big of a concern for heart disease as cholesterol. Since saturated fat and cholesterol are often found in the same foods, cholesterol inherited the title of public health enemy #1. The American Heart Association now advises limiting saturated fat intake to 5 to 6 percent of total calories; For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 13 grams of saturated fat.4 The World Health Organization also advises limiting saturated fat intake to <10% of calories per day and recognizes that eggs are rich in cholesterol but do not contain saturated fats. Given that intake of total saturated fats is controlled, the WHO contends there is no need to restrict eggs in the diet.5 Additionally, the DGAC concluded limiting cholesterol intake to 300 mg/day was not warranted. This doesn’t mean that cholesterol-containing foods should be eaten without care. Rather, it recognizes that we moved the public in the wrong direction for years when saying that eggs were to be stricken from our diets.
Cholesterol: What’s All the Fuss?
The body needs cholesterol for cell development and structure. Without it, our cells would not take shape. It also helps the liver produce bile acids, which aid in digestion of fats. And cholesterol is used by glands to produce hormones. That said, we do not need to consume cholesterol from food to meet these functional needs as our bodies make what we need. Many other factors contribute to increasing cholesterol in the bloodstream thereby increasing one’s risk for heart disease. For example, smoking will raise the heart disease risk of someone with a cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL to that of someone with a level of 250-300 mg/dL, a significant impact. Blood pressure and weight status are also significant contributors to heart disease. We know that overconsumption of sodium and total fat can increase weight and blood pressure. But it is unreasonable to suggest that eliminating one food from the overall diet will have a meaningful impact on disease risk, hence the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ position, Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating6. This position emphasizes choosing a balance of food and beverages within energy needs rather than any one food or meal. An important reminder in this world of constant guilt inducing, single food focused recommendations.
Incredible and Even More Edible
Eggs are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and most importantly pack a health punch. When nutrition professionals talk about nutrient density, eggs are often cited as a perfect example. Eggs contain 70 calories yet provide a wealth of high-quality protein, B vitamins, lutein for eye health, choline for brain function plus iron and zinc. Many vegetarians include eggs as their only animal source of protein because of their nutrient density.
With such a glowing nutrition report card, it is puzzling why we don’t enjoy eggs beyond breakfast. Time to change that by preparing an egg-based entree for your next dinner. Add a well-chosen wine to pair with your dish. Voilà, a match made in a healthy heaven. Try these wines to enhance your next egg-centric dinner:
- Sauvignon Blanc will pair well with egg dishes that include goat cheese, herbs, asparagus or seafood. Think of a quiche or frittata with any of these ingredients or baked eggs in a casserole with herbs and goat cheese. Consider France’s Loire Valley when shopping for Sauvignon Blanc.
- Rosés are notorious wines to pair with more obscure or difficult ingredients. A fine rosé from Provence made with Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault or Mourvedre or a blend of any of these grapes will pair with just about any egg dish. Chill and enjoy for brunch, lunch or dinner.
Gamay, otherwise known as Beaujolais, or reds on the unoaked and lighter side like Pinot Noir will pair nicely with egg dishes containing mushrooms, sausage or cured meats. The best Gamay wines are in France’s southeastern Beaujolais region. Pinot Noir from France’s Burgundy or Oregon’s Willamette Valley regions will not disappoint either.
Lisa D. Katic, RD, CSW, is a registered dietitian and wine educator. She is President of K. Consulting and hosts a blog, Katic’s Korner, “Where Food+Wine=Health.” Lisa’s blog pairs simple, healthy recipes with favorite wines to maximize enjoyment of both.