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Cracking assumptions on health benefits of eggs

Dear Dr. Zorba: What’s the difference between brown eggs and white eggs? My sister says brown – I say white. Who’s right?

And while we’re on eggs, my mom tells me I shouldn’t eat them at all because they cause heart attacks. I don’t eat an egg every day, but I do like them several times a week. What’s the scoop?

Sara McMuffin

Dear Sara: Brown eggs and white eggs have exactly the same nutrition. It’s the genetics of the chicken that determines the color of the eggs. Some chickens lay white eggs, others lay brown eggs, and still others lay eggs that are whitish blue or whitish green.

Back in the 1930s, there was a movement toward white eggs and away from colored ones because white was associated with purity. That “style” spread to other things such as sinks, stoves, refrigerators and washing machines.

Then came the 1960s and the beginning of the organic movement. Brown took on a different meaning. It looked more “natural” to some people, so it made a comeback. To this day in New England and northern California, where hippies still range far and wide, brown is king.

So putting on my judge’s robes, I’d call this a draw. You and your sister are both wrong.

While I’m on eggs, I’d like to move our medical establishment away from “eggs are bad for you” and on to “too many eggs are bad for you.” Now, I’m not talking about the fat-laden Egg McMuffin that clocks in at about 300 calories, but rather a large egg, which has 75 calories.

Egg whites are an excellent source of protein; the challenge is the yolk. A rich source of cholesterol, it has been pooh-poohed for years as a bad thing to eat. Bad, bad, bad. But the much-maligned yolk happens to be rich source of lutein. This naturally occurring substance, a carotenoid, is rather like a vitamin for the eye. Many think it helps to preserve eye health.

Now consider macular degeneration, a devastating cause of blindness that is becoming more and more common. If you suffer from it, you know how awful it can be. In its extreme form, it means you can’t read, stitch, sew, do fine work, email or even watch TV. It clearly devastates your quality of life. This disease is on the rise – more than 2 million Americans are affected by it.

While we don’t know what causes it, some theorize that macular degeneration might be due to a lutein deficiency. The rise in this disease parallels the fall in egg consumption, and some think there might be a link. Perhaps there is. My opinion is that the jury is still out on this one. What I do know is that a manufactured supplement is not the same as a naturally occurring substance in food, such as an egg.

But let’s consider the egg’s downside: cholesterol. A small study of 33 people published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at seniors (average age 79) who consumed one egg per day. After five weeks, lutein levels soared while cholesterol levels stayed exactly the same.

So perhaps the “eat no egg for you shall die” advice we’ve been handing out for years should be changed to “don’t eat too many eggs.” Remember, this advice started before we had the super cholesterol-lowering drugs that we have today.

My spin: An egg a day might keep the eye doctor away. And besides that, they’re delicious.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor and author. He also hosts a call-in radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.

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