Eating a whole egg, yolks and all, has gotten a bad reputation over the years, but new dietary guidelines may send egg white-only omelets by the wayside. The recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which are now under review, are expected to downplay the importance of lowering cholesterol intake.
The most recent set of guidelines in 2010 recommended consuming less than 300 milligrams per day of dietary cholesterol, which is about the amount in one egg.
In the coming weeks, the committee is expected to release the report for use by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments to write the final version of the 2015 dietary guidelines, due by the end of this year.
For decades, the government has warned against diets high in cholesterol. But now many nutritionists believe that cholesterol intake may not significantly impact cholesterol blood levels or increase the risk of heart disease in healthy adults, according to the Washington Post.
In December, the advisory panel said in its preliminary recommendations that cholesterol is no longer "considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption." That would be a change from previous guidelines, which said Americans eat too much cholesterol. This follows increasing medical research showing how much cholesterol is in your bloodstream is more complicated than once thought, and depends more on the kinds of fats that you eat. Medical groups have moved away from specific targets for cholesterol in the diet in recent years.
It's unclear if the recommendation will make it into the final guidelines. Dr. Robert Eckel, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver who is a past president of the American Heart Association, told Reuters that there's not enough evidence to make good recommendations on cholesterol right now, but "no evidence doesn't mean the evidence is no."
People can enjoy high-cholesterol egg yolks in moderation, but "a three- to four-egg omelet isn't something I'd ever recommend to a patient at risk for cardiovascular disease," he says.
The nutritional value of the egg and its yolk has been debated by nutritionists for years. While it had a bad reputation with regard to cardiovascular health, most recent research has shown that cholesterol found in foods isn’t fully to blame for increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the body.
“Eggs are an animal product, and they do contain cholesterol,” Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietician for UH Case Medical Center, told FoxNews.com. “But actually, cholesterol in foods doesn’t affect our blood cholesterol as much as saturated fat does. Cholesterol in food, in general you do want to avoid, but it’s not necessarily the main culprit of high cholesterol.”
Compared to other animal products, the average egg actually contains relatively low amounts of saturated fats— about 1.6 grams per egg yolk. Studies from the Harvard School of Public Health and the British Nutrition Foundation have also found that eggs have clinically insignificant effects on blood cholesterol, and are not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Eating only the egg white has been popular because it’s considered pure protein and doesn’t have the fatty content of the yolk, but some dieticians argue that consuming both the fat and protein can have a positive health benefits when it comes to blood sugar.
“You want the fat, because it not only satiates you, but also slows the absorption of your food,” Laura Cipullo a registered dietician in New York City, told FoxNews.com. “So you stay fuller longer, and it won’t increase blood sugar. A lot of people have toast with just egg whites, but it’s giving them a quicker rise in their blood sugar. But if you have the yolk with it or a different form of fat like avocado, your blood sugar won’t rise as quickly, because it takes longer to break (the food) down.”
Of course, all fat must be consumed in moderation, which is why many dieticians recommend eating only a few egg yolks each week. And for patients with a history of vascular disease, keeping track of the eggs they eat is critical to their health. A study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that patients with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease should limit their cholesterol intake from foods to about 200 milligrams a day.
Despite their fat and cholesterol content, egg yolks are a good source of vitamin A and iron, along with a host of other nutrients.
“Eggs, in general, are also good sources of B vitamin, thiamine is one example, and selenium, which is an antioxidant,” Cimperman said. “And folate is a good vitamin, particularly for pregnant women.”
As long as consumers are conscientious about how many eggs they consume and the way they’re consuming them— frying an egg in butter is worse for blood cholesterol than a hardboiled egg, for example— they shouldn’t be overly concerned about their cardiovascular health.
“Even if you’re eating something like a nut— that also has saturated fat in it,” Cipullo said. “You have to look at the benefits, and the benefits of eggs providing overall protein and vitamins and being easy to eat, that outweighs the fact that it has a few grams of saturated fat.”
The advisory panel’s guidelines may also change recommendations on how much salt is too much and put limits on sugar consumption for the first time.
FoxNews.com’s Loren Grush, the Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.