DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have been advised to bring down my cholesterol, or else I'm going to need to take medication. My wife insists that I cut the cholesterol that I eat, and she makes direct mention of my love of eggs. I am thinking of using cholesterol-free egg substitutes, but find them a bit pricey. As an alternative, I have been buying eggs by the dozen, separating the yolks and saving only the whites. Is this a reasonable way to avoid cholesterol? -- R.R. Palo Alto, Calif.
DEAR R.R.: It is definitely an option. The white of an egg is a source of high-quality protein; it is the standard to which all other proteins are compared. There are approximately 3.5 grams of protein in the white of a large egg. There are small amounts of other nutrients, including selenium, potassium and sodium. The yolk contains lesser amounts of protein, together with small amounts of vitamin A, folate, phosphorous, potassium and selenium.
The eggshell is a great container. As you can tell by the date stamped on an egg carton, whole eggs can usually last in a refrigerator for several weeks before they need to be eaten. Once you open the shell, however, the clock runs at a more rapid pace. Egg whites, out of the shell, have a recommended shelf life of only four days. This is something to consider when opening up a dozen at a time. You might consider freezing the whites in an ice-cube tray. Egg whites can last up to a year when frozen.
You state your desire to watch your cholesterol intake. The yolk of one large egg contains approximately 213 milligrams of cholesterol. For those with an otherwise balanced diet, the periodic use of whole eggs has been shown to have only a minimal impact on one's blood cholesterol level. If you truly have a passion for eggs, having one a day can fit within the American Heart Association's guidelines. A compromise might be to use one yolk for every two egg whites.
It might also be helpful to discuss the connection between dietary cholesterol and the level of cholesterol in the blood. Please bear in mind that this might not apply to your specific case, but in general, the American public has been persuaded to wear blinders that let them see only the fat and cholesterol in their diets as the factors responsible for elevated blood cholesterol and heart disease. This has led to thinking that reducing dietary fat and dietary cholesterol are the best ways to lower blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Things, however, are not that straightforward.
First, consider that lowering dietary fat might lead to eating more carbohydrates, and if that meant a higher intake of sugars, you wouldn't be doing yourself any favors. There's little question that the levels and types of dietary fat and cholesterol can play a role, but they are not the unqualified culprits we've been led to believe. More important is a diet that's balanced and rich in fruits, vegetables, greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dietary fiber, etc. These supply the food factors to enhance our health. A body that is healthfully nourished is equipped to handle the fats and cholesterol in the foods it eats.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.