A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reverses what we've thought to be true for a generation. Researchers say there is no link between egg consumption and heart disease. CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports.
"People are afraid of eggs because the cholesterol is so high and their reputation is so bad," said researcher Dr. Frank B. Hu, a nutritional epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health. "But eggs, per se, I don't think they deserve such a bad reputation."
Diabetics, however, did face higher risks of heart attacks or strokes with increased egg consumption, according to the study.
Researchers analyzed the diets of more than 100,000 people for at least eight years. They found that when it comes to dietary cholesterol, eating one egg a day or two every other day, won't hurt you.
"Eggs weren't really as bad as they were made out to be, and this study provides the most direct evidence that the case against eggs has been overstated," Dr. Walter Willett of Brigham and Women's Hospital says.
Because eggs are high in cholesterol, there is often the misperception that they are also high in saturated fat. But they're not, and saturated fat is the real villain when it comes to heart disease.
Big egg eaters tend to have high fat diets according to the American Heart Association, which says that eggs are okay, as long as you give up the buttered toast, bacon or ham that go with them.
"Does it vindicate the egg?" asks Dr. Alice Lichtenstein of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutrition center at Tufts University in Boston, who is also an AMA spokesperson. "Well it just reconfirms that the egg can fit into a heart healthy diet."
That's music to the ears of the American Egg Board which has campaigned for years to mend the egg's cracked reputation.
Donald Macnamara heads the Egg Board's Nutrition Center.
"This is a marvelous day for the egg," he says. "We've waited 20 years to get this kind of good news that shows the public eggs are not a heath risk."
However, Lichtenstein warns that the new data doesn't conflict with AMA recommendations that people limit their consumption of dietary cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams a day. A large egg contains about 215 milligrams of cholesterol, far more than most other foods with the same number of calories.
But she agreed with the study's authors and what many experts have said for a long time: that it is more important to limit consumption of saturated fats and trans fats -- the processed fats that make doughnuts, commercial cakes and french fries so delicious.
Hu, whose study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, noted that past research has shown dietary cholesterol to be less of a culprit than initially believed in raising levels of cholesterol in the blood. He said his is the first to actually look at whether egg consumption had an effet on the rate of heart attacks and strokes.
Meanwhile, diabetics who averaged eating one egg daily were at significantly higher risk than diabetics eating one egg or less a week.
Diabetes alters the body's ability to use cholesterol, a fatty substance important to in building cells and in making hormones. Cholesterol becomes an artery-clogger when the body develops an excess.
Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff