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The egg is no longer a nutritional no-no

What would we do without the egg? It's a dietary mainstay, not only for breakfast but to feed finicky kids, stand in for a quick lunch or supper, blend raw into holiday nogs, and as an ingredient in all kinds of sweet and savory dishes.

But for a few decades there, eggs had a rather unwholesome reputation. Thanks to its high cholesterol content, the egg was deemed villainous. Years went by while many of us shunned eggs, ate only the whites, or ventured into the world of egg substitutes.

Then, in 2000, the American Heart Association (AHA) revised its dietary guidelines and gave healthy adults the green light to enjoy eggs once again. The AHA's guidelines now allow an egg a day for healthy adults while still advising a total daily cholesterol limit of 300 mg.

The confusion over eggs stems from their cholesterol content. One large egg contains 213 mg of cholesterol, accounting for two-thirds of the recommended daily limit.

When scientists learned that high blood cholesterol was associated with heart disease, foods high in cholesterol logically became suspect. But after 25 years of study, it has become evident that cholesterol in food is not the culprit -- saturated fat has a much bigger effect on blood cholesterol. Full-fat dairy products and fatty meats are examples of foods that are loaded with saturated fat and which trigger the body to produce cholesterol.

Let Us Eat Eggs

With science on our side, we can once again enjoy the wonderfully nutritious egg. Along with milk, eggs contain the highest biological value (or gold standard) for protein. One egg has only 75 calories but 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, along with iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids.

The egg is a powerhouse of disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. And brain development and memory may be enhanced by the choline content of eggs.

But the full health benefits of eggs can only be realized if you store them properly -- in the refrigerator -- and cook them thoroughly to kill any potential bacteria. As a child, I loved my father's eggnogs, made with fresh, raw eggs blended with milk, vanilla and ice. These delicious treats are no longer considered a good option -- unless pasteurized eggs are used in place of the raw eggs.

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