Eggs are beloved the world over for their taste, versatility, and nutrition. But at the end of the day, are eggs really good for our health? Or do they cause heart disease?
If there was such a thing as an optimal food, eggs would be pretty high up on the list.
Eggs are readily available, low in calories, affordable, easy to prepare, and packed with good-for-you nutrients.
But for over 50 years, eating eggs has also been controversial due to their high cholesterol content and its potential to promote heart disease.
So do we have a reason to worry when it comes to eating eggs?
What’s in an egg?
Despite the concerns surrounding the consumption of eggs, eggs are chock full of nutrition, most of which are found in the yellow yolk.
One large egg supplies 77 calories, 5g of fat, and 6g of protein. It also contains 22% of your daily selenium, 30% of choline, 6% of vitamin A, 15% of vitamin B2, and 9% of vitamin B12.
But eggs are also a major source of dietary cholesterol, delivering 186mg of cholesterol in a single one. It is estimated that the consumption of eggs and egg-containing foods accounts for 25% of the daily cholesterol intake per day in the United States among adults and children.
The great egg debate
Because of the amount of cholesterol found in eggs, there has been a real concern regarding possible cardiovascular issues that may arise from eating them.
It was believed by some that eating cholesterol-rich foods like eggs may increase harmful LDL cholesterol levels, which can elevate the risk for cardiovascular disease.
For this reason, in 1968, the American Heart Association warned against eating more than 3 eggs per week.
But research over the next several decades suggested that this concern was unsupported, prompting these warnings to be dropped in 2015.
Eggs’ real risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes
Following the eating patterns and health outcomes of 37,121 adults over 7.8 years, this study showed no significant association between eating eggs and dying as a result of cardiovascular disease, or by any other cause, in healthy adults.
People with previously high cholesterol intake, however, were at higher risk.
The effect of eating eggs on the risk of cardiovascular death among people with diabetes has been unclear in the past, although the same 2020 study confirmed that there is in fact no elevated risk among this population.
Another study reiterated this, showing that people with diabetes who ate 1 to 2 eggs per day for 6 weeks did not see a significant change in their cholesterol levels.
This is believed to happen because people with diabetes, especially those who are overweight or obese, seem to have a diminished response to the cholesterol found in eggs compared to those who are insulin sensitive and do not absorb the cholesterol as well.
What about cholesterol?
You probably already know that the level of cholesterol in your blood can have a direct influence on your likelihood of heart disease and that lowering your LDL cholesterol and boosting your HDL cholesterol are key ways to prevent it.
With eggs being one of the richest sources of cholesterol out there, researchers have tried to figure out exactly what impact eating eggs has on our cholesterol.
It seems there is no cut and dry answer. Its effect does appear to vary among people, but it is still believed that 66% of the population will see only a very small change, and those who do experience increases will see an elevation in both LDL and HDL, keeping the ratio between the two the same.
How many eggs is safe to eat?
Given the latest encouraging research on egg consumption and heart disease, the USDA and the American Heart Association now both advise that eating up to 1 whole egg per day is a safe, nutritious option for healthy individuals with normal cholesterol levels.
Ask the expert: how can we safely eat eggs within a healthy diet?
Margarete Collins, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Loma Linda University Diabetes Treatment Center says “When it comes to eating eggs, you should consider your current health conditions and genetic predispositions, as some research suggests that eating eggs may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and can increase the risk for heart disease if you already have diabetes or established cardiovascular disease. For this reason, I encourage my patients to try replacing eggs with scrambled tofu, chickpea omelet, or flaxseed (flax can replace egg as a binder to a recipe). If you still choose to consume eggs, limit your intake to only a few times a week and be careful with what you pair your eggs with, as foods like bacon, ham, butter, and cheese are often consumed with egg-based dishes, and are high in saturated fat – which is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.”