Five years ago, the nation’s top nutrition advisory panel advised that cholesterol remain a “nutrient of concern” in food and food products due to its connection to heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. This declaration continued a 40-year trend warning the public to avoid eating high-cholesterol foods in order to remain healthy. This year, however, the trend may be changing, as the panel has decided to remove its warning against cholesterol-laden food.
Before you rush out to slam down a couple of bacon cheeseburgers, though, it is important to note that high cholesterol in the blood is still considered a cause of heart disease. The new advice follows the evolving thought among nutritionists that foods high in saturated fats, and not necessarily high-cholesterol foods, are the root cause of high cholesterol in the blood. So whole milk, bacon and butter should still be eaten modestly, but the decision opens the door for shellfish like lobster and shrimp due to their lower saturated fat contents.
The food with the most to gain, however, was also the most hurt by the anti-cholesterol movement: the egg.
Eggs are considered an excellent source of protein and could be called a “super food” except for one tiny, little problem: the yolk is loaded with cholesterol. Since 1961, when the first cholesterol dietary warnings began to appear in American Heart Association guidelines, per capita egg consumption dropped nearly 30 percent according to USDA Economic Research Service reports which drastically impacted egg farmers. Egg whites emerged as a solution to the problem, but the yolk also contained most of the nutrients, including B6, B12, D, E, riboflavin and folate, limiting the efficacy of the product as a health food.
The American consumer, too, has changed. Once concerned with negative nutrition regarding food, like limiting cholesterol in one’s diet, shoppers now seem to focus on positive nutritional choices, searching for high-protein and high-fiber foods. Pharmaceutical drugs that can reduce cholesterol have also fatigued the American consumer when it comes to daily intake, ripening the market for once forbidden high-cholesterol foods.
Egg marketers are now staring at a unique opportunity. After a decades-long battle against the anti-cholesterol movement, they may be able to position the product as the cornerstone of American health with a high-protein yield loaded with vitamins and nutrients that can make you healthier.