Can a healthy diet include eggs? As a Nutritionist and weight loss specialist, this is a question that I am frequently asked. There is good reason for the confusion.
As is often the case with nutrition recommendations and research, the thinking and official advice from USDA change over time. In fact, recently several of the USDA’s long-standing recommendations have changed dramatically.
What USDA Told Us About Diets for High Cholesterol
For more than 50 years, reputable groups including American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and, The USDA, recommended limiting dietary cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams a day.
For decades, researchers and health organizations believed diets high in eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods raised the cholesterol in your blood. We know that an elevated level of blood cholesterol, especially LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, is a proven risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
Eggs were often singled out as the worst offenders. That’s because ounce-for-ounce, eggs yolks are the most concentrated source of cholesterol in the American diet. A single egg contains between 141 to 234 mg of cholesterol, depending on size. Since the cholesterol is in the yolk, many people have been choosing egg whites, assuming they are a healthier alternative. I’ve shunned them myself. To me, egg whites taste like cardboard and are just not satisfying to eat.
Eggs Can Be Part of a Healthy Diet
For many decades it was incorrectly assumed that the cholesterol in eggs raised blood cholesterol levels and increased our risk for cardiovascular disease.
But it turns out that the amount of cholesterol in your diet is not a major factor in increasing the cholesterol level in your blood or increasing your risk for heart disease.
Research Shows that the Real Heart Disease Culprit is Saturated Fat
Current research shows that foods high in saturated fats raise blood cholesterol much more than eating food like eggs.
For example, a 2016 study of more than 1,000 men, ages 42 to 60, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating one egg daily was not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating eggs did not cause an increase in cardiovascular risk even for people with a strong genetic susceptibility to elevated cholesterol levels.
As the authors concluded, “The health effects of eggs, or any other food, cannot be reliably determined by a single nutrient in the food, such as cholesterol…in eggs.”
UDSA Changes its Guidelines for a Healthy Diet
For the first time, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans no longer recommend a daily limit on dietary cholesterol. The new Guidelines even include eggs in their examples of a healthy diet that will reduce the risk of chronic health conditions. Many other countries have set no upper limit for cholesterol intake.
I eat eggs three times a week for breakfast. A good, healthy breakfast, which I often recommend to my weight loss clients, is a vegetable omelette and a piece of whole grain toast.
If you limit or eliminate eggs from your diet you miss out on a healthy source of a high-quality protein and 13 vitamins and minerals. You will also lose the benefits of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are contained in the yolk.
What if You’ve Been Diagnosed with High Cholesterol?
What if you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol? Some people are “hyper-responders,” which means that they experience an increase in blood cholesterol when they consume excess dietary cholesterol. Genes may play a role.
If you have diabetes or other cardiovascular risk factors, your doctor may continue to advise you to limit your dietary cholesterol. The latest Dietary Guidelines still recommend that people eat as little cholesterol as possible in general.
The reason for this advice is that typically foods rich in cholesterol, like fatty meats, butter, and ice cream, also tend to be high in saturated fat. But, one large egg has only 1.6 grams of saturated fat. That is only 8 percent of the Daily Value for saturated fat.
Click here to read full Berkeley Wellness Article about whether eggs are part of a healthy diet.