Eggs are affordable and an excellent source of protein.
Eggs have had a tough time in dietary circles. When doctors started warning their patients away from eggs around 30 years ago, the egg suffered the worst kind of PR damage. Due to their supposed harmful effect on blood cholesterol levels, eggs became the dietary villain of the 80’s and 90’s.
So, eggs were shunned. For the pre-internet era, word got around fast too. And it didn’t help that the world was already on an anti-cholesterol kick back in the late 1980’s and early 90s, either.
Everybody believed that eating eggs would lead to heart attacks.
But times have changed and thirty-odd years of research (1) have shown us that eggs are not the villain we once thought.
So, what are all these nutritional benefits of eggs we keep hearing about? Here are 7 reasons to start loving eggs again:
- Eggs supply 31% of our Vitamin K. Vitamin K is essential for bone health (9).
- Eggs contain a lot of Choline. You may not have heard of this nutrient, but it’s great for reducing inflammation (10). It’s also essential for fetal brain development so pregnant women might want to eat omelets once in a while (11).
- Eggs are full of antioxidants like Lutein and Zeaxanthin. They not only protect the eyes (12) but also offer cardiovascular benefits and skin benefits (13).
- Eggs are full of high quality protein. Perhaps the most complete protein that perfectly matches what the human body needs is found in the egg (14).
- Eggs contain lots of Vitamin D.
- They are not a risk for high cholesterol for most people.
- And for all this, you’re consuming only 70-80 calories per egg.
All nutritional data was obtained from the USDA’s egg nutrition page (16).
As you can see, there are legit reasons to return to daily egg consumption. But what if you need to watch your cholesterol?
What “dietary cholesterol” means and why it’s relevant to egg nutrition
The “myth” that eggs destroy your heart health is of course grounded in some real research. Scientists were not dummies 30 years ago. Eggs do in fact contain a good amount dietary cholesterol: about 185 milligrams’ worth per egg. While that’s not exactly a great number, it’s 14% lower than previously thought by scientists (2).
Here’s where it got confusing: in the past, scientists mistakenly assumed that dietary cholesterol had a direct effect on blood cholesterol.
High blood cholesterol is an established risk factor for coronary heart disease (along with smoking, being overweight, alcohol consumption, and high blood pressure) (3).
But dietary cholesterol isn’t as great a contributing factor to high LDL (bad cholesterol) levels as doctors once thought. In a study (4) that had folks consuming up to 3 eggs per day while trying to lose weight, the following things occurred:
- They did lose weight.
- Their inflammation decreased.
- They either maintained or IMPROVED their blood cholesterol levels!
They were consuming 555 mg of cholesterol every day, just from the eggs they were eating. So much for the theory that blood cholesterol is increased by dietary cholesterol.
In fact, it’s saturated fats that do more damage than eggs (5).
Eggs and heart health: what’s up with the AHA’s behind-the-times warnings?
Believe it or not, the American Heart Association (AHA) is still advising people to limit their intake of foods high in cholesterol, including eggs (6). What’s their deal?
It could be that for some people, intake of dietary cholesterol does in fact pose a risk to health and blood cholesterol levels. The research cited above is for healthy people…it’s a different story for people with diabetes and LDL cholesterol issues.
For that reason, the AHA still maintains the one-egg-per-day limit for the general population, even though it’s more applicable to a much smaller segment of people (1). The medical community is equally reluctant to reverse their position on eggs and cholesterol. That’s why the myth persists.
The case against egg dietary restrictions for the general population
In fact, research has specifically stated that the dietary restrictions on eggs should NOT be applied to the general population (7). Citing that 70% of the population experiences only a mild increase or none at all in blood cholesterol after eating huge amounts of dietary cholesterol, the study strongly maintains in its summary of findings that eggs have multiple beneficial effects.
More recently, research is coming out supporting the idea that eggs offer health benefits to even those at risk for cardiovascular disease (8).
Bottom line: unless you have diabetes or familial hypercholesterolemia, it’s OK to eat more than one egg per day.
- Hu FB et al. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. U.S.National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10217054?dopt=Citation
- The Cholesterol Myth. Incredible Egg. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-nutrition/cracking-the-cholesterol-myth/
- Tran, Nga. Contribution of Dietary Cholesterol and Eggs to CHD Risks. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.lsro.org/presentation_files/csph/Tran.pdf
- Blesso CN et al. Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome. U.S.National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome.
- Michaels, Jillian. MYTH: Egg Yolks Are Bad or You. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.jillianmichaels.com/fit/lose-weight/myth-eggs
- Krauss, Ronald et al. AHA Scientific Statement, AHA Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/102/18/2284.full
- Fernandez, ML. Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations. U.S.National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16340654?dopt=Citation
- New research points to benefits of eggs, even for those at cardiovascular risk. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-04/epr-nrp042213.php
- Weber, P. Vitamin K and bone health. U.S.Library of Medicine. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11684396
- Detopoulou P et al. Dietary choline and betaine intakes in relation to concentrations of inflammatory markers in healthy adults: the ATTICA study. U.S.National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 9/41/2015
- Zeisel SH. Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. U.S.National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16848706
- Stringham JM et al. Dietary lutein and zeaxanthin: possible effects on visual function. U.S.Library of Medicine. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15762089
- Lutein and Cardiovascular Health. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://www.luteinbenefits.com/cardiovascular-heath.htm
- Egg Nutrition Center: Protein. Retrieved9/14/2015 from http://www.eggnutritioncenter.org/nutrition-research/protein/
- United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Retrieved 9/14/2015 from http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/112?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=Full&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=ndb&qlookup=Egg%2C+whole%2C+raw%2C+fresh