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Maybe it's time to give egg yolks a break

Egg yolks are the Rodney Dangerfield of food: They get no respect. They've been a yellow target of disdain by most health experts because of their elevated cholesterol content.

However, it's the added saturated fat from frying - or the addition of cheese and other side dishes - that's the main culprit … not egg yolks.

So, while egg yolks have been vilified over the years, it's saturated fats we should be omitting from our breakfast plates.

"Eggs are one of the only foods that are high in cholesterol but low in saturated fats," says Jaclyn Ilyse Bennett, a Virtua dietitian. "The side dishes we eat with eggs, such as sausage and bacon, as well as frying food in butter and margarine, are worse."

Sunny side of egg yolks
Before you order your next egg white omelet or reach for a carton of egg beaters, check out the nutritional value of egg yolks. Approximately 90 percent of the nutrients in an egg are found in the yellow center. Egg yolks contain:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Phosphorus
  • Zinc
  • Vitamins: A, B6, B12, A, and E
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Antioxidants

Some of the other benefits egg yolks provide include:

  • Choline: This essential nutrient is needed for brain development in infants and is also important for brain function, such as memory capacity, in adults. One medium size egg contains 110 mg of choline (90 percent comes from the yolk).

  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: These two beneficial phytochemicals found in egg yolks (as well as kale and spinach) help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

  • Vitamin D: Eggs are one of the few natural sources of Vitamin D, which is important for bones and teeth. Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium, which is important for the heart and colon.

Moderation is key
Yes, eggs can be healthy, but they also pose health threats if consumed heavily.

"In general, you should consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily," says Bennett. "If you have heart disease or diabetes, that number goes down to 200. One large egg contains 185 mg of cholesterol — all of which is found in the yolk."

So, according to the math, one egg or two eggs a day will keep the doctor away?

Not so fast, cautions Bennett.

"Egg yolks may have great sources of vitamins and minerals, but don't overdo it," she says. "If you want a three-egg omelet, use two egg whites and one whole egg with yolk. Instead of using butter or margarine, opt for a cooking spray or olive or canola oil. Just like with most food, you have to eat in moderation."

New American Heart Association Guidelines
The American Heart Association recently released new guidelines that focus primarily on a person's risk factors for heart disease besides a high cholesterol level. The new guidelines suggest that risk factors should determine who should receive drugs called statins to lower cholesterol levels, and who should simply make lifestyle changes - such as eating habits - to combat the problem. The risk factors include age, gender, race, blood pressure level, total and HDL cholesterol levels, diabetes and smoking status and family history.

Receive nutrition counseling from an expert dietitian
Virtua's registered dietitians assist individuals of all ages in making healthier choices by developing a food plan tailored to their needs. A registered dietitian can design a food plan based on lifestyle, activity level, weight, medical history and more. For more information about Virtua's Center for Weight Management, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 (1-888-847-8823).

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