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Chinese researchers found that people who consumed an egg a day could significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases, compared to eating no eggs, according to the report published in the medical journal Heart.
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Eggs contain cholesterol, but they are also chock full of bioactive nutrients that “may help prevent cardiovascular disease through various pathways,” said Dr. Liming Li, a professor in the School of Public Health at Peking University.
“Eggs contain high-quality protein. Previous studies found that high-quality protein results in greater satiety and reduce subsequent food intake,” added Li.
Still, Li noted, studies on eggs have produced mixed results, in part he suspects, because they were too small.
For the observational study, Li and his colleagues followed 416,213 volunteers who were free of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes for an average of nearly nine years.
At the beginning of the study, 13.1 percent of participants reported daily consumption of eggs, while 9.1 percent reported never or very rare consumption. During the course of the study, 83,977 volunteers developed heart disease, which killed 9,985.
When Li and his colleagues compared the daily egg consumers to those who avoided the food, they found a significant difference. People who ate an egg a day were 28 percent less likely to be killed by hemorrhagic stroke and 18 percent less likely to die from heart disease.
Li allows that there might be some caveats when it comes to applying the findings to Americans. “Americans may differ in the overall dietary habits and other lifestyle behaviors from the Chinese,” he said.
Still, Li noted that studies in Americans without diabetes found that egg consumption wasn’t harmful.
It’s important to look at these findings in the context of other studies, said Megan Grant, a clinical dietitian at Magee-Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The research seems to show that people can safely eat eggs in moderation, Grant said.
Because the Chinese study was observational, it doesn't prove cause and effect. But it’s possible that eggs may be beneficial “so long as they are part of a well-rounded diet,” Grant added. “They’re much lower in saturated fat than a lot of other protein sources, like chicken or red meat. If you use them as a substitute for those proteins, then eggs may indeed be heart healthy.”
Dr. Sadiya Khan, a professor of cardiology at Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, was more cautious in her reaction to the new findings. For people who are generally in good health with low cholesterol, eggs may be perfectly fine, Khan said, but others may want to be careful.
“I take a personalized approach,” she added. “The most important thing is trying to achieve the best overall diet quality. If eggs are included, the most important thing is, in moderation, and with the caveat that the person be very low cardiovascular risk and have low-serum cholesterol levels — that isn’t most of us.”