In the past eggs got a bad rap, but today they’re making a comeback. What happened in the last few years to put eggs back on the menu and is it really okay to crack an egg every day? The answer begins with a discussion of cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a waxy-like substance your body uses to make hormones, bile, cell membranes and components of your brain. Your body can make all the cholesterol it needs and you can also get some through food. One large egg provides 186 mg of dietary cholesterol (all in the yolk).
While you need cholesterol in your body to survive, too much is a very bad thing. Excess cholesterol in your blood can cause plaque buildup and make it more difficult for blood to circulate, increasing risk for heart disease and stroke. The balance between types of cholesterol is important too. LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the “bad” kind) causes buildup and blockage, while HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the “good” kind) helps shuttle excess cholesterol in the blood back to the liver for storage.
Cholesterol in eggs and other foods like shellfish may seem alarming, but it turns out dietary cholesterol has little effect on cholesterol in the blood or risk of disease. The biggest culprits: saturated and trans fats and refined carbohydrates. Though the relationship between food, cholesterol and disease is complex, research has shown replacing saturated and trans fats with poly- or monounsaturated fats and swapping refined carbohydrates for whole grains and can help lower LDL cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
In defense for eggs, a 2015 study published in BMJ found eating up to one egg per day did not increase risk of coronary heart disease or stroke. In fact, eggs can be a beneficial part of the diet. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found adding whole egg to salad can help increase absorption of nutrients from vegetables. Plus, eggs yolks are a source of vitamin D, a nutrient most Americans don’t get enough of, as well as choline, a key nutrient for nerve function and metabolism.
A new 2017 study from Tufts found cutting back on sodium, sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, and processed and red meats, and eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seafood, whole grains, and polyunsaturated fats were key to lowering risk of death from heart disease. Eggs were not included in the study.
The bottom line: There’s no need to avoid eggs completely and we would suggest eating about one egg per day. Rather than worry about nutrients themselves, focus on whole foods, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and olive oil, and avoid overly processed packaged foods to help lower risk of disease.