With Easter coming up one’s mind goes to the subject of eggs. How the Easter bunny became associated with leaving eggs I have no idea, but certainly Easter has been linked both to chocolate and eggs (ideally a chocolate Easter egg!). For some people eggs are on the forbidden list since they’re high in cholesterol and, in some minds, also high in calories.
You’ve probably heard about the impact of a high-calcium diet while following a calorie-reduced eating plan. In short, if calories are reduced, but calcium intake remains high (around the 1,000-mg level), then goal weight will be achieved more quickly. Now comes evidence that an emphasis on protein intake (particularly from eggs) will have a similar effect on the desire for slimness.
I think we can all agree that usually less body fat is a good idea. Unfortunately, most get-thin-quick schemes lead not to just less body fat, but also to less lean tissue, that is, less muscle mass.
This can be especially problematic for seniors for whom age-related loss of muscle mass is already a concern. So a team of investigators set out to determine just what effect protein intake has on body composition when post-menopausal women are on a low-calorie diet. They found that those women who consumed more protein in their diet ended up with better muscle mass than the women on a lower-protein intake. Not only that, they also lost more fat. You’ve probably heard about the controversy over low-fat diets versus low-carbohydrate diets and I’m not going to preach about the merits of one over the other. I will say, however, that I tend to be in the low-carbohydrate camp if for no other reason than the need to maintain muscle mass.
That brings us back to the subject of eggs. At one time eggs were considered to be so villainous in the diet that heart associations pretty much banned their intake altogether. Recently, the war against eggs has subsided somewhat so that now even one egg a day is considered acceptable if your cholesterol levels are normal. The beauty of the egg is that it’s relatively low in calories (roughly 80 calories in one large egg), high in protein (six grams per egg), very low in carbohydrate (one gram per egg) and only five grams of fat, with most of that being either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Of course, there’s the niggling problem of the cholesterol (215 mg per egg), but this really doesn’t amount to much for most people.
The main difficulty with the usual calorie-reduced, low-fat diet (aside from the fact that you can’t have as much of what you want when you want it) is that awful feeling of hunger. No matter how much we talk about eating lots of veggies and drinking lots of water, the fact is that very often, on a low-calorie diet, we’re just plain hungry. Another group of researchers compared a bagel breakfast with an egg breakfast in people on a calorie-reduced diet. They set up two breakfasts matched for calorie content and those people eating the eggs lost more weight and experienced less hunger than those on the bagel diet. The study was more complex than that but the bottom line was still the same. Whether or not it was the protein in the egg, the fat or some other as-yet unidentified substance is difficult to say. But for now, I think we can agree: having an egg for breakfast is a pretty good idea.
Since Easter is coming, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that dark chocolate isn’t the villain it’s been made out to be, either. Chocolate not only contains important health-giving properties, like antioxidants and phytochemicals, its fat is mostly made up of stearic acid, which is either neutral in terms of cholesterol levels or might actually lower it. So I was only partly joking when I referred to the merits of a chocolate Easter egg. The trick is to not overdo it — as with any food we love to eat.
Helen Bishop MacDonald is a consulting nutritionist in the agricultural industry.