CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,I'm an active 44-year-old. My profession keeps me moving, my kids keep me at a frantic pace and I like to run. Still, my weight has started to climb, so I decided to work on my diet. Because I'm always in a hurry, I need something quick and easy and I love hard-boiled eggs. But no one seems to agree whether eggs are good or bad for us. First they said they would raise our cholesterol, then that changed. Now I see a study that says we should not be eating egg yolks, and it is as bad as smoking for our health. What's your opinion of eggs? -- LisaDear Lisa,Yes, over the years, the information about eggs has been a bit scrambled. Just as cholesterol was becoming a household word, health experts demonized and demoted the egg -- specifically the yolk, because it contains cholesterol.This began a barrage of studies, all with conflicting opinions, which has served to keep both health experts and the public confused. It was decided that the yolk must raise our blood cholesterol levels. However, after hundreds of studies during the past 25 years, it was determined that the yolk didn't raise blood cholesterol, but rather it was the saturated fat we were cooking and frying them in. And with this news, the incredible egg once again became edible.Cigarettes and eggs?Then last year it happened again. Dr. J. David Spence, a professor of neurology at Western University in Canada, found a relationship between egg yolk consumption and the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the accumulation of plaque on the walls of our arteries, which increases heart attack and stroke risk. Spence contended this was much like the connection between smoking and arterial plaque buildup and went as far as to suggest that eating egg yolks is two-thirds as harmful as smoking!Spence's research team surveyed 1,231 middle-aged male and female patients, all of whom either had a stroke or a mini stroke. Carotid wall thickness and egg yolk consumption were measured along with lifestyle choices such as smoking and exercise habits. From this, the researchers found that the top 20 percent of egg consumers had narrowing of the carotid artery similar to those who smoked. Note that the study did not look at overall dietary patterns.Not what it's cracked up to beThis study has met with great opposition. Dr. David J. Frid, a staff cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, says, "A high level of blood cholesterol can lead to arterial plaque, but there are so many factors that can affect your cholesterol above eating eggs. There's the rest of your diet, whether you're overweight, whether you exercise, genetics. The eggs could be a marker of people who have poor diet, rather than an actual characteristic."Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, agrees the study is flawed: "This is very poor-quality research that should not influence patients' dietary choices. It is extremely important to understand the differences between association and causation."Talking smackI prefer to call the egg a terrific "smack" -- meal/snack -- because it is portable, delicious, inexpensive and, because it is packed with protein, an egg keeps you feeling fuller longer. Keep in mind the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, copper, nearly all of the calcium, iron, folate and B6, and 100 percent of the vitamins A and E are found in the yolk.Here are more Grade-A reasons to shop your local farms for eggs:Vision: Eating just one egg a day significantly boosts levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in your blood. These protect your eyes from free radicals and UV exposure, which may lower your risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.Immune system: A large egg gives you 15.3 micrograms of the 55 mcg of selenium that your body requires a day. Selenium boosts immune function, helps prevent skin infections and, according to the National Institutes of Health, may decrease your risk of skin cancer.Skin: Eggs are filled with vitamin A and copper, and both help with tissue regeneration. Vitamin A prevents acne, and copper boosts the production of elastin, which keeps skin strong and healthy.Inflammation: The choline in eggs can reduce inflammation, linked to heart disease and cancer, by more than 20 percent by helping produce new cell membranes and improving neural connections, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.Muscle growth: Eggs have a high concentration of leucine, an amino acid that helps turn the protein in your meals into strong, lean muscles.Hair: Eating eggs can help keep your mane healthy because it has vitamin D (prevents hair loss), vitamin A (scalp health), biotin (improves hair thickness) and B vitamins (prevents graying).Brain function: Egg yolks are the richest source of choline (113 mg) and only 10 percent of us get enough choline. According to studies at Tufts University, choline and lecithin in eggs help regulate brain activity, the nervous system and cardiovascular health by maintaining the integrity of brain cell membranes. The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids also have been shown to help memory, enhance mood and ward off cognitive disease.Folic acid: This B vitamin is critically important for health and is more likely to be deficient if you are deficient in choline.Weight loss: Replace the carbs at breakfast with eggs and lose more weight. The protein in eggs will give you energy and keep your belly satisfied longer. Eggs' satiety index is 50 percent higher than that of most cereals.Heart health: Studies show that eggs do not significantly affect cholesterol levels in most individuals.Nutrition profile: Eggs are also a good source of iodine, vitamin B2, phosphorus, vitamin B5, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.So enjoy healthfully prepared eggs and make them part of your regular diet. Registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen says, "We always have to take care in demonizing any one food, especially when it is a natural and unprocessed food. Eggs scrambled with plenty of vegetables and served with a single piece of sprouted grain toast is a dramatically different meal than greasy fried eggs served with giant slices of ham, hash browns and white toast. One meal has plenty of nutrition; the other is fiber-poor, drowning in salt and fat."Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or email email@example.com.