By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Do eggs raise your cholesterol level? Are eggs healthy? What's the amount of cholesterol in one egg? Learn the truth about eggs and cholesterol, plus other facts about eggs.
I feel a little sorry for eggs. I mean, they've been scrutinized for their cholesterol content for so many years, and it seems like every week you see health experts changing their minds about whether or not eggs are healthy.
Eggs are one of my favorite foods. Maybe I've eaten a billion eggs in my lifetime! I love scrambled eggs just as much as I enjoy hard-boiled eggs. At 6 grams protein per large egg, chicken eggs are a good source of protein, offering about 12% of the daily value.
When I need an easy go-to dinner, I’ll whip up an egg-white veggie omelet or scrambled eggs. And many weekend mornings, I’ll make a hearty French toast with a batter of an egg, two egg whites, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and a dash of nutmeg—topped with chopped pecans and pan-fried bananas or apples.
Will eggs raise your cholesterol? If you're confused about eggs and high cholesterol, I don't blame you.
There are so many mixed messages out there about cholesterol in eggs, and egg advice has certainly changed over the years. It's not because experts don't know what they're doing. It's because science is constantly evolving (that's a good thing!).
Do eggs raise your cholesterol level? How much cholesterol in one egg? And does that amount even matter? If you think eggs have too much cholesterol to be good for you, this is one of the worst food myths out there!
To clear up the confusion about eggs and cholesterol, I'm cracking open the facts about one of my favorite foods. I'm going to tell you all about how they can be part of a healthy diet.
Everything You Need to Know About Cholesterol
You probably know that having high cholesterol isn't great for your health. But what does it mean to have high cholesterol? What foods raise cholesterol, do eggs cause high cholesterol, and what's the deal with plant sterols and stanols, and cholesterol-lowering spreads? My answers may surprise you!
Recently, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans lifted a decades-old cholesterol restriction, due to a lack of evidence tying intake of dietary cholesterol to levels of cholesterol in the blood. One large egg contains 186 milligrams cholesterol.
How much cholesterol in an egg? Do eggs raise cholesterol? Eggs are known to be a high-cholesterol food, with about 200 milligrams per egg. When the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines came out, national nutrition experts told us that dietary cholesterol is no longer the concern we once thought it was.
The report was submitted to the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services in preparation for the development of the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
It notes that there is no conclusive link between intake of dietary cholesterol (like the cholesterol found in eggs) and blood cholesterol levels, which increase risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The previous recommended daily cap for dietary cholesterol was 300 milligrams.
At the same time, other research shows that more important for lowering blood LDL cholesterol levels ("bad" cholesterol) is increasing intake of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are found in canola oil, flaxseeds and walnuts.
Also important: keeping intake of saturated fat less than 10% of daily calories. This is equal to about 17 grams of saturated fat per a 1,500-calorie daily diet.
A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition backs up this guideline change, finding that neither cholesterol intake, nor egg intake, is linked with increased risk of coronary artery disease—even in people genetically predisposed to the condition.
The study looked at the dietary habits of 1,032 men. Subjects consuming the most cholesterol—520 milligrams daily and one egg, per average, daily — did not have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
As for egg consumption, a healthy person should be able to eat one to three eggs per day. Research shows that eating this amount may help increase HDL "good" cholesterol levels.
If you have heart disease, history of heart attack, diabetes, or another health concern, you should speak with a medical professional about a personalized intake recommendation.
Eggs and Diabetes Risk
A study of 2,332 middle-aged and older Finnish men in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that those eating more eggs
(including ones in recipes) had a significantly decreased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
In the study, low intake was considered about one medium egg per week, while high intake was about three and a half medium eggs weekly.
A possible explanation for the findings is that in the United States and many other countries, eggs are often eaten alongside other fatty foods, including processed red meat like bacon and sausage, which are associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
U.S. egg eaters are also more likely to smoke and exercise less. However, in this study, egg eaters
were less likely to smoke and ate a healthier diet—including unprocessed red meat, fruits, vegetables and foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (such as avocado, olives and nuts). As well,
eggs offer many nutrients that could benefit health.
This study isn't a green light to eat a lot of eggs. Rather, it shows that we shouldn’t be afraid of moderate egg intake and that it's best for eggs to be eaten alongside foods that are either low in fat or rich in healthy fats—as well as nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
Eggs and Eye Health
In addition to providing protein, eggs offer another important nutrient called lutein, a carotenoid. Carotenoids are mainly red, orange, and yellow fat-soluble pigments in foods that may act as antioxidants.
And a study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that lutein may have an impact on brain health. That’s a pretty awesome benefit! In the small study, authors looked at 60 adults ages 25 to 45.
They measured a type of optical density that’s strongly linked to the amount of carotenoids contained in the eyes—and then asked subjects to perform a series of cognitive tests.
The findings: Older participants who consumed more lutein seemed to have brain activity in certain tasks similar to younger participants.
The authors note that the effects of aging on some cognitive functions may be less noticeable with diet-based lutein, but further research is needed. Lutein is the primary carotenoid that’s accumulated in the brain and may potentially provide brain-protecting benefits.
In another study, scientists found that lutein may play a key role in the helping the brain’s health as it ages. In a small study, also in Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience, study authors looked at 76 adults ages 65 to 75.
The volunteers answered questions and solved problems on a test measuring one’s ability to utilize learned knowledge and experience. The study authors wanted to look at how the test results and subjects’ blood levels of the nutrient lutein were linked.
The findings were interesting: Subjects with higher levels of lutein tended to have better test results. In older adults, blood levels of lutein are linked not only with what you eat but also how much lutein is stored in the brain—reflecting longer-term nutrition.
The study authors aren't exactly sure how the lutein affects the structure of the brain. But one thing is for sure: Getting more lutein in the foods you eat may be beneficial to your health, and it may help keep your mind sharp as you age, although more research needs to be completed in this area. In addition to eggs, lutein can be found in leafy greens like kale and spinach, broccoli, and oranges.
The bottom line? Eating lutein-rich foods may be beneficial for your eye and cognitive function, especially as you age.
The Best Way to Incorporate Eggs into Your Diet
As a pescatarian, I eat plenty of eggs. They truly have a well-earned spot on the superfood trends list, which is why they're a staple of my diet. Along with protein, eggs contain a little fat, more than half of which is the heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated variety. Eggs contain no trans fats.
Research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that these healthy fats could help you absorb more nutrients from a salad. In the study, 16 young men ate a salad with either no egg, one-and-a-half scrambled eggs or three scrambled eggs.
The people eating the meal with more eggs absorbed significantly more nutrients from the salad, specifically carotenoids (including cancer-preventing lycopene and alpha- and beta carotene) and eye-helping lutein and zexanthin.
Although volunteers eating the high-egg salad absorbed more nutrients, the folks eating the low-egg salads did absorb more carotenoids. Veggies like tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato, spinach and kale contain carotenoids.
Researchers didn’t study other egg forms, but researchers note they believe the results would be similar so long as the egg yolk—the fat-containing part of the egg—is eaten.
Although other research has shown that topping a salad with oil-containing salad dressing helps absorption of the nutrients in salad, this is the first study to show that the fat in eggs can help increase nutrient absorption.
For max intake of nutrients, consider topping a salad with both an egg and a Tablespoon or two of an oil-containing salad dressing.
Amy's Egg-Containing Recipe to Try
You'll love this recipe: Wild Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes!
All of these recipes provide the health benefits of eggs. By the way, brown eggs and white eggs provide the same nutrients. What's YOUR favorite way to eat eggs?
This article was updated in June 2020. A version of this content originally appeared on WeightWatchers.com.
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines
- Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Associations of Egg and Cholesterol Intakes with Carotid Intima-Media Thickness and Risk of Incident Coronary Artery Disease According to Apolipoprotein E Phenotype in Men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- Egg Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- The Role of Retinal Carotenoids and Age on Neuroelectric Indices of Attentional Control Among Early to Middle-Aged Adults, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience
- Parahippocampal Cortex Mediates the Relationship Between Lutein and Crystallized Intelligence in Healthy, Older Adults, Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience
- Effects of Egg Consumption on Carotenoid Absorption from Co-Consumed, Raw Vegetables, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
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