Are eggs making a comeback? For decades, we have been advised to limit egg consumption to reduce our risk of developing heart disease in spite of the fact that eggs contain beneficial substances like protein, Vitamins A and D, calcium, and choline (important for brain function). Eggs have gotten a bad rap, probably because just one yolk contains 187 mg of cholesterol, which is 62% of the recommended daily intake. While it is true that eggs are high in cholesterol, there is now solid research that shows no connection between eating eggs and heart disease.
For example, participants in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial that had a blood cholesterol level lower than 200 mg/dL ate more eggs than those whose cholesterol was greater than 220. In a separate study, individuals who ate two eggs per day for six weeks experienced no change in total or LDL cholesterol, or ‘bad cholesterol’.
The truth is, cholesterol is in every cell of the human body and is used to make hormones like testosterone and estrogen. The liver actually produces cholesterol and makes all the cholesterol your body naturally needs. There is no dietary requirement for more; however, when we eat foods high in cholesterol, the liver produces less of this natural cholesterol. So what foods are high in cholesterol? Usually those foods that are also high in saturated fat, like animal products. Since the American diet typically includes a lot of animal products, we consume quite a bit of cholesterol as a result.
Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science at Tufts University, says that the major determinant of LDL (‘bad cholesterol’) levels is saturated fat and lowering saturated fat in the diet subsequently lowers LDL cholesterol. While eggs are indeed high in cholesterol, they are low in saturated fat, which for many years has been accepted as the primary culprit in raising the risk for heart disease. New evidence is surfacing, however, that shows no relationship between saturated fat and heart disease risk, a revelation contrary to long-held beliefs.
So…based on what what we do know, how many eggs can you eat? Most experts agree that one egg per day is fine. The American Heart Association (AHA) no longer limits the number of eggs you can eat, but instead recommends limiting cholesterol intake to 300mg daily. People with diabetes who eat eggs may be at increased risk for heart disease, so if you have diabetes or very high levels of total and LDL cholesterol due to a genetic disorder, experts say it is best to limit your egg consumption to three yolks per week.
Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate eggs – they may be an egg-cellent choice after all!
– Holly Hough, PhD
Please consult with your doctor if you have concerns about your cholesterol or before making any dietary changes.
Image by Flickr user Bryan Jones, via CC