I often recommend eggs for a nutritious protein source for meals and snacks. My patients frequently ask me whether eggs are healthy or not, and whether they should be concerned about their cholesterol content. Unless someone has a food allergy or sensitivity to eggs, my answer is that eggs are okay. In fact, there are many health benefits to eating eggs over other foods.
It’s unfortunate that people are scared of eggs. For the past 40 years, the US government advised us to restrict the amount of cholesterol we eat from foods to 300 mg a day to maintain heart health. Considering that a large egg has 211 mg of cholesterol, it’s no wonder that people are scared of eating eggs on regular basis. It’s also not surprising that people often resort to egg whites or egg substitutes in their attempt to eat healthier.
In the past decade, studies were showing that eating eggs on regular basis did not raise cholesterol or worsen heart health. As it turns out, foods high in cholesterol (or in other words, cholesterol in food) did not raise cholesterol levels in the blood. I started recommending eggs again and enjoying hearty satisfying whole eggs–white and yolk!
And at last, few weeks ago, the US Government removed the restriction on cholesterol. While this is a great step, especially that some people still await for the government to have a say in what we should eat, it’s sort of very late. The case with nutrition is that it takes a long time to replace old information with new findings. That combined with the fact that there are many conflicting and opinion-based sources of nutrition information, no wonder questions about eggs are still being asked.
This is a good time to make the distinction between cholesterol in your diet, aka dietary cholesterol, and cholesterol circulating in your blood, which is considered a risk factor for heart disease. Dietary cholesterol does NOT raise blood cholesterol. What raises blood cholesterol are trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetables oils in processed and baked goods such as Crisco, margarine, fake butters, cookies, crackers, cake mixes, donuts, commercial frosting, etc.
Eggs and Blood Cholesterol
Studies show that eating eggs on regular basis does not raise blood cholesterol.
1. Eggs in healthy individuals
For 6 weeks, 49 healthy individuals ate either 2 eggs or oats for breakfast. At the end of the study, those who ate eggs did not experience elevation in total cholesterol or bad cholesterol. On a side note, those who ate oats experienced reduced total and bad cholesterol (LDL), so there’s a benefit to eating oats as well.
2. Eggs in adults with high cholesterol
This study compared eating eggs with egg substitute in 40 adults who already have hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol). They found that consuming 3 whole eggs a day for 6 weeks didn’t raise cholesterol or worsen endothelial (the inner lining of blood vessels) function.
3. Eggs in adults with coronary heart disease (CAD)
In this third study of 32 adults with CAD, eating 2 eggs daily for 6 weeks didn’t worsen any of the risk factors related to heart disease such as elevating cholesterol, weight, or blood pressure.
Eating 2 eggs a day does not raise total cholesterol, bad cholesterol, or any risk factors of heart disease in healthy people or people with heart disease or high cholesterol.
Nutrients in Eggs
A large egg packs 6.3 grams protein. It’s a good source of riboflavin (a B vitamin), vitamin B12, vitamin A, phosphorus, selenium, iron, and zinc. Eggs are inexpensive, so they’re an affordable source of animal based nutrients like vitamin B12 and iron (read my article HERE on why eating animal products is healthy and why being vegetarian isn’t).
Consider what you might be eating if you’re unnecessarily concerned about eggs. A two-egg vegetable omelet for breakfast is healthier than a sugary breakfast cereal, muffin, bagel, bacon, pop tart, or other processed foods.
Eggs and Choline
One important nutrient in eggs is choline. While not considered a vitamin, it acts like one because our bodies can’t make enough of it and we need to obtain it from our food. Choline is found in egg yolks, not the whites, so if you’re tossing the yolks in the trash to lower your fat or cholesterol intake, you’re losing on the three important functions of choline.
Every living cell in your body is made of a membrane or wall made of particles called phospholipids. Phosphatidylcholine, which has choline in its structure, is one of those phospholipids. Without a properly functioning cell wall, your cells would fall apart. Remember that healthy skin, hair, digestion, emotional state, memory, etc depend on healthy properly functioning cells, and you’ve got millions of them that need choline!
Choline is necessary for methylation. Methylation is a process in the body that’s involved in building and repairing DNA, exchanging signals in the brain and nerve cells (including memory), and detoxifying chemicals in the liver. Impairment in methylation can lead to heart disease, memory issues, anxiety, and a build up in toxins which can lead to cancers and other inflammatory conditions.
Finally, another molecule that’s made of choline is acetylecholine. It’s a neurotransmitter, a molecule that transmits signals through the nervous system. Without acetylcholine, your nervous system can’t communicate with your heart, intestines, and other parts of your body.
How to Choose Eggs–What Type of Eggs to Buy
Unfortunately, conventional egg-farming practices aren’t humane. We’ve all seen hens crowded in pens, given too many antibiotics, fed GMO soy or corn, and not provided with the freedom to roam around and get enough sunshine. Conventional eggs don’t come from happy hens!
The type of eggs you buy matter. When possible, choose free-range, pasture eggs. This means hens were free to roam around and eat the way they were naturally created to eat. Your local store might carry free-range eggs–you might not need to look in specialty stores. Look for a local farmer or co-op. I’d love to own a house one day with a land where I can raise chickens!
Eggs labeled organic come from hens given organic feed. They are probably still fed corn, canola, soy, or other grains or seeds and the hens are not exposed to as many antibiotics. Organic eggs are better than conventional eggs, but I still prefer free-range eggs when possible.
Omega-3 eggs are typically fed flaxseeds or fish oils. The omega-3 fatty acid in those eggs is typically ALA, which is not the omega-3 fatty acid your body needs to reap the health benefits. I don’t choose these because they are not pasture-fed, more expensive, and I prefer fish sources to obtain omega-3 fatty acids such as 3-ounces of wild-caught salmon or sardines once or twice a week.
What about Egg Beaters or Egg Whites?
You can use egg whites but only to add more protein to your meal but not to replace whole eggs and egg yolks. If you want to buy egg beaters or eat whites, READ INGREDIENTS. You’ll be surprised to know that leading brands are full of thickeners, food coloring, corn starch, and other fillers. Look for egg white products that only have egg whites in the ingredient list. Use it before the expiration date and typically within a week after opening the carton.
Take Home Message:
Whole eggs do not raise cholesterol!
Eating 2 eggs a day (and maybe even 3) is part of a healthy diet!
Favorite Ways to Eat Eggs
Eggs are my go-to protein when I have no time to prepare something else. I always have eggs in the fridge. Here are some egg tips:
- Hard-boil a bunch of eggs and leave them in the fridge with shells for a week. All you have to do when you’re ready to eat them is peel!
- Have 2 hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. Combine with fresh veggies or green smoothie.
- Add 2 hard-boiled eggs to salads for lunch or dinner.
- Have a hard-boiled egg for a snack.
- A vegetable omelet is a great breakfast. It’s also a great dinner when you come home late and made no other plans for a healthy dinner. Make sure half of your plate is full of vegetables.
- Make an egg-burrito (without the burrito). Scramble 2 eggs then top with high quality aged cheddar cheese. Serve with black beans, lettuce, tomato or salsa, cucumber, peppers, etc.
- Scramble eggs with leftover rice, shredded vegetables (like carrots and cabbage), and leafy greens (like spinach or kale) for dinner. You may add some soy sauce or salsa for flavor.
- Make a frittata for Sunday morning and have it for lunch on Monday.
- Make egg muffins for breakfast or snacks on the go (good for kids).
Here are some of the egg recipes I posted on the blog before:
And finally, this is my kids’ favorite egg tool: an egg slicer!
Do you like eggs? What’s your favorite way for eating them?