It’s true that eggs are the richest source of dietary cholesterol – one egg has almost 50 to 250 mg of cholesterol, depending on its size.
It’s also been established that a higher amount of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) in the blood increases the risk of heart disease.
Despite both of these facts – and contrary to popular belief – eggs are still one of the healthiest foods we have! Read on to understand why.
Cholesterol and Our Body
The first thing to keep in mind is the difference between ‘dietary cholesterol’ and ‘blood cholesterol’:
I] Dietary Cholesterol – as you might have guessed, dietary cholesterol is the cholesterol that we get through the food we eat. It doesn’t always significantly impact our blood cholesterol.
2] Blood Cholesterol – this (in reasonable amounts) is essential for our wellbeing: it’s required to build cell structures and is also used to make hormones like testosterone, oestrogen and cortisol.
There are two forms of protein-packaged cholesterol molecules that are transported around the body, in the blood:
a. LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) – the “bad” cholesterol
b. HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) – the scavenger that cleans up the bad cholesterol.
That’s why blood tests show us the ratio of good to bad cholesterol (HDL:LDL) levels in our blood, rather than the overall blood cholesterol level.
Eggs, Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Now that the difference between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol has been established, let’s see why eggs do not, in fact, increase our LDL levels or cause heart disease (when eaten in moderation).
1] The Body Regulates its Cholesterol Production
The more dietary cholesterol one eats, the less cholesterol one’s body produces, so as to regulate the cholesterol level. So at any given point, the level changes only a little.1
That said, the degree of change in the level does seem to vary from person-to-person.
Studies show that in about 70% of people, dietary cholesterol has no effect on LDL or total cholesterol; but the values increase slightly in the remaining 30%. And, although we now know that LDL does increase the risk of heart disease, it is incorrect to assume that small changes in LDL can translate into clinically significant changes in risk.
Moreover, eggs seem to increase the size of LDL to its larger form (which is not associated with heart disease), and often also increase the HDL level.
2] There’s No Direct Association between Dietary Cholesterol and Heart Disease1
LDL is just one of many risk factors that contribute to heart disease.
The myth of eggs causing heart disease seems to have originated from observational studies in the early 20th century, where cholesterol-rich foods were fed to animals in extremely large quantities. Seeing that these foods were generally unhealthy, it was no wonder that they led to heart disease – something that still hasn’t been attributed to the cholesterol, solely.
A number of studies, with hundreds of thousands of people, have consistently shown that people who eat whole eggs are no more likely to develop heart disease than those who don’t eat eggs. In fact, they showed that the likeliness of stroke was reduced with egg consumption, probably due to its antioxidants (the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthine)! 1
Those who have diabetes, however, should know that there are some restrictions on their dietary cholesterol, for which they should consult their doctors.
3] Weight Loss Due to Protein-Rich Food Can Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Out of all the food groups, proteins promote satiety the most and even help the body burn more calories in a day (read more about this here).2
With a whole 6 grams of protein, eggs have been shown to have a 50% greater effect on satiety, in comparison to breakfast cereals and bagels.
Obesity, as compared to a slight LDL fluctuation, has a far greater association with heart disease. So, by promoting weight loss through satiety, eggs can actually help fight heart disease.
Egg and Nutrition
Eggs are packed with a little bit of almost every nutrient we need and are among the most nutritious foods you can find.3
A single egg can provide nearly 6% of your daily vitamin A requirement and has several other vitamins (like many B-vitamins as well as D, E and K) and minerals (like phosphorus, calcium and zinc and selenium).4, 5It basically has everything that’s needed to make a baby chicken and, understandably, comprises a lot of nutrients.
Most importantly, it’s a good source of choline, a fatty acid that makes up the structure of every cell in our body and membranes of our brain – and most people don’t know that they lack it.
Eggs are also one of the rare foods that provide the body with all the essential amino acids it needs (but can’t produce, which is why they’re called “essential”), in a single serving of 6g of protein.
All this in just (around) 70 calories!
As amazing as all of this sounds, it’s still important not to overdo your consumption of eggs, since there aren’t any studies that show the effects of having more than 3 per day. If you’d really like to, though, you could (along with your doctor) monitor your blood cholesterol over time, to see how you respond to it.
Those who would like more information on managing cholesterol levels can keep an eye out for an upcoming article on how to improve one’s cholesterol profile. In the meantime, let your friends and family find out just how great eggs can be for their health, too ?
1. Lee A, Griffin B. Nutrition Bulletin 2006, 31(1): 21-27.
2. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. Nutrition & Metabolism 2014, 11: 53.
3. SelfNutritionData. Nutrition Facts: Egg, whole, cooked, hard-boiled. California, USA: Condé Nast; 2014.
4. Koike N, Stumpf WE. Exp Dermatol 2007, 16(2): 94-97.
5. Dowd J, Stafford D. The Vitamin D Cure, Revised. Wiley, 2012.