WASHINGTON - The debate over whether eggs are good for you has lasted for decades: Although a good source of protein, they also contain potentially harmful cholesterol.
Now, after analyzing 30,000 Americans from six separate studies, researchers have concluded that eating an extra half an egg a day increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by 6 percent and premature death by 6 percent.
That is relatively little, especially given that a half an egg is double what the average American eats daily.
The study, published Friday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, also found that an additional 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day increases the risk of heart disease by 17 percent and premature death by 18 percent.
But, again, 300 mg is twice the average daily amount eaten by Americans. A large egg contains about 186 mg of cholesterol.
The new data suggest that eating eggs increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, although the study does not establish a causal link.
Still, it offers enough data to “make a strong statement that eggs and overall dietary cholesterol intake remain important in affecting the risk of (cardiovascular disease) and more so the risk of all-cause mortality,” physician Robert Eckel, of the University of Colorado, wrote in an editorial in JAMA.
But as Tom Sanders, a professor of dietetics at King’s College London, points out, these results differ from a large U.S. study published in 1999 that found no effect. A 2013 analysis of 3 million adults published in the British medical journal BMJ also found no effect.
A recent Chinese study even concluded cholesterol decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Sanders thinks the new results are only relevant for the United States, where the average person eats more eggs and meat than in Europe.
“Eggs in moderation — around three to four per week — is fine, and that is what current U.K. dietary guidelines say,” Sanders said.
In France, national nutrition guidelines refute the idea that you should not eat more than two eggs a week: “You can eat them regularly.”
And dietitian Victoria Taylor, of the British Heart Foundation, insists that the way you eat the egg and with what is so important.
“Eating healthily is all about balance. If you’re eating too much of one thing it leaves less room in the diet for other foods that may have more health benefit.
“Eggs are a nutritious food and, while this study focuses on the amount we’re eating, it’s just as important to pay attention to how the eggs are cooked and to the trimmings that come with them. For example, poached eggs on whole-grain toast is a much healthier meal than a traditional fry-up.”