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Northwestern study cracks dietary guidelines for eggs

An omelet in a frying pan

Scientists at Northwestern University say eating too many eggs — one of the richest sources of cholesterol — is unhealthy. | AP file photo

Egg lovers accustomed to seesawing opinions on the popular breakfast food will likely take the latest news with a pinch of salt.

But scientists at Northwestern University say, in a study published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that eating too many eggs — one of the richest sources of cholesterol — is unhealthy.

Consuming 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day — about 1 1/2 eggs — leads to a 17 percent higher risk of heart disease and an 18 percent higher risk of death over people who consumed less cholesterol, according to the latest findings.

The study calls for a re-evaluation of current U.S. dietary guidelines, which don’t limit the amount of eggs people should eat.

The latest findings come from data compiled on about 30,000 “racially and ethnically diverse” adults living in America — with some of the data stretching back three decades, the study’s authors said.

READ MORE: Kids take note: Vegetables weren’t always seen as healthy

Northwestern researchers acknowledge that the evidence for and against eggs has been “mixed.” Other studies found that consuming eggs didn’t increase the risk of heart disease, they say.

Those studies had a less diverse sample, shorter follow-up time and a limited ability to adjust for other parts of the diet, the researchers say.

“The take-home message is really about cholesterol, which happens to be high in eggs and specifically yolks,” said one of the authors of the Northwestern study, Norrina Allen, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “As part of a healthy diet, people need to consume lower amounts of cholesterol. People who consume less cholesterol have a lower risk of heart disease.”

Not surprisingly, the Chicago-based American Egg Board disputes the findings.

“The inconsistency of this new study with that of other recent studies demonstrates the importance of additional research to further explore this area, including the need to understand the unique contribution of eggs as part of healthy eating patterns set forth in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” said Mickey Rubin, executive director of the the egg board’s Egg Nutrition Center.

Further study is something upon which both the egg board and Northwestern researchers appear to agree.

“This was an observational study. So we didn’t tell people how to eat or asked them to change their diet at all,” Northwestern’s Allen said. “There needs to be further research and understanding whether this association is consistent for all people and if people change their diet, they actually can reduce their risk.”