The egg is your friend


Dispelling the myths surrounding cholesterol and heart diseases

In the last two issues, we discussed the pitfalls of drinking too much water and thinking that it is all right to go to bed at any time we like. This week, we'll talk about the third pitfall: the misconception of quitting eggs but drinking milk instead in order to avoid and guard against cholesterol.

The symbol of good health changes from time to time. The image of the muscular body of a United States marine in Vietnam War has been displaced by the fact that their blood vessels were plagued by huge piles of cholesterol, raising the concern that the classical US diet may be a risk factor in cardiovascular diseases.

In the last two decades of the 20th century, the most common causes of death in developed countries were hypertension and heart diseases, a fact that has turned the benchmark of healthiness from physical body fitness to cardiovascular fitness.

Many methods are available to control cholesterol levels, like taking drugs in conjunction with aerobics exercise, exercising diet control, and taking vitamin supplements.

The recommended healthy diet 20 years ago limited cholesterol intake. So, meat and eggs, both of which had been proven to be rich in cholesterol, were put on the dietary blacklist, while milk continued to be recommended as a good provider of calcium and vitamin D.

The basic knowledge at the time was that our body could tolerate a daily intake of cholesterol of not more than 300mg and that the excess cholesterol ingested could not be utilised and would damage the inner walls of blood vessels.

The amount of cholesterol in an egg is normally around 275 to 300mg. So, the conventional advice then was that one should not take more than one egg a day. By extension, if any meat were consumed on the same day as well, the total cholesterol intake would exceed the "healthy" limit, and so one egg every other day was supposed to be the preferred daily dietary regimen of a meat eater, in order to keep the cholesterol intake within the safe range.

Many years have passed and yet there has been very little good news from the frontline of the battle against heart diseases. Diet control by means of cholesterol-reducing drugs has become popular, but the incidences of hypercholesterolaemia and heart diseases worldwide have continued to rise. It would seem that this approach must be flawed.

New knowledge on the metabolism of cholesterol was gained in 1999. Modern biochemistry research studies showed that the serum cholesterol level was not seriously affected by cholesterol intake.

On the contrary, cholesterol in food made up only 10 per cent of blood cholesterol. The other 90 per cent of the cholesterol in blood was produced by our own liver!

It does not matter how hard we try to limit our cholesterol intake. Our efforts are diminished by the serum cholesterol automatically produced by our own liver. The raw material that our liver uses in the production of blood cholesterol is a long chain of saturated fatty acids. Therefore, diet cholesterol control is meaningless if we do not control our saturated fatty acid intake.

Those new findings contested the prohibition against taking too many eggs, for eggs had for decades been labelled as the main source of cholesterol in diet and the devil of health-oriented people for decades.

In September 1999, the cover of an edition of Time magazine carried big headline "The Good News" under the word "CHOLESTEROL". It was accompanied by a picture of two eggs and a piece of fruit on a plate. The message was that it was safe for US residents to eat two eggs at breakfast every day.

Health-conscious people celebrated the new millennium by eating eggs and turned their attention to controlling saturated fatty acid consumption as the key in their quest for good health.

Figures comparing the consumption of eggs in various countries from the Society of Egg Traders of Thailand support the findings of the research study.

They show that the Chinese consume 320 eggs per person annually, and yet, on average, their serum cholesterol levels are lower than those of Thais, who eat 135 eggs per person per year. The conclusion is that the number of eggs consumed has nothing to do with the serum cholesterol level.

Now let's come to fatty acids. New information reveals that saturated fatty acids, especially the long chain ones, which have more than 12 carbon atoms in their molecule, are converted to blood cholesterol by the liver.

The types of saturated fats consumed every day vary from culture to culture. For Westerners, the daily intake of saturated fats comes from animal fat; milk and dairy products like cheese and butter; and margarine.

Margarine is made from vegetable oils, and in the West sunflower oil is the most common raw material. Basically, it consists of polyunsaturated fatty acids. But during the production process, hydrogenation - putting hydrogen atoms into the double-bond molecules - turns those to hardened saturated fats, which have been found to be dangerous to the heart.

The same process is carried out in the manufacture of peanut butter.

Therefore, the latter two products have been put on the blacklist in place of eggs.

Thais nowadays follow the food patterns of both Eastern and Western cultures. Their sources of long chain saturated fatty acids are palm oil, milk, and dairy products. Besides milk, butter and cheese, Thais also consume low-fat milk, yogurt, white coffee and chocolate beverages. All these are sources of saturated fats in their everyday life.

It is no wonder that 50 per cent of urban Thais - or about 12 million people - suffer from high cholesterol levels. So, if you are scared of high blood fat, quit milk and switch to the more friendly egg.

Surprisingly, coconut oil, which is a medium chain saturated fatty acid, has been proven in the last few years to be a healthy oil.

It can thus be seen that the mechanism for controlling blood cholesterol is influenced by a multitude of factors, and that the link between high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases is a complex one.

This being the case, the best way to achieve, and maintain, a healthy heart is the holistic approach, which means that regular exercise, a proper Thai-style diet with emphasis on vegetables, living a stress-free life and bearing in mind the scientific facts on cholesterol are important components.

A natural way to keep high blood fat levels low is to occasionally "fast for health".

Thank you for information from