Ask an R.D.: Are Eggs Healthy and Do They Cause High Cholesterol?By Carole Anderson Lucia
Several years ago, when I decided to raise a flock of chickens so my family could enjoy fresh eggs nearly any day of the year, people looked at me as if I’d gone a bit loopy. “Eggs are terrible for you!” some exclaimed.
“You’ll give yourself a heart attack!” others admonished.
I’d heard the warnings that eggs could cause high cholesterol and increase the risk of so-called cardiovascular events, but I wasn’t convinced that such claims were true. Undaunted, I continued on my chicken-tending, delicious egg-eating quest. And guess what? No signs of heart issues or high cholesterol for me or anyone in my family.
Now that all of the chatter about the so-called health risks of eggs has subsided, I feel more than a little vindicated. But how did something so delicious — and healthy — become so maligned? And what does the science say now?
I spoke with Briana Rodriquez, R.D., Jenny Craig’s registered dietitian, to find out the truth about eggs. She shared information about how enjoying them in moderation, and as part of a healthy diet, can not only help you in your weight loss efforts, but may also contribute to your overall health goals. Here’s how.
How Eggs Got a Bad Rap
The story dates back several decades, when high levels of cholesterol in the blood — particularly LDL, or “bad” cholesterol — were found to be strongly correlated with heart disease. With that discovery, experts warned people to avoid cholesterol-containing foods, including eggs, thinking they could contribute to this disease by increasing harmful cholesterol in the bloodstream.1,2
Since that time, research has shown a weak correlation, at best, between the cholesterol in foods — called dietary cholesterol — and the cholesterol in your blood. In fact, scientists have discovered that dietary cholesterol does not raise blood-cholesterol levels for most people.3,4 However, it’s still important to be mindful of your overall cholesterol intake.
Even though eggs do contain cholesterol — and a fair amount of it, at about 200 milligrams per egg — scientists now know that the cholesterol in food is not the same as the cholesterol in your blood, as most of the cholesterol in your blood is actually produced by your body.3,4 In fact, dietary cholesterol is no longer considered a “nutrient of concern,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in 2015.5 As such, the guidelines removed the previous recommendation to limit the consumption of dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day.4
The Main Causes of High Cholesterol
According to experts, it’s the amount and type of fats and carbohydrates in your diet, along with your genetics, that have the greatest impact on the cholesterol in your bloodstream — not just the cholesterol in the foods you eat.1,3
“Of all the fats found in foods, trans fats affect blood-cholesterol levels the most by causing your body to produce more LDL cholesterol. It’s also important to limit your saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of your daily calories,” Rodriquez explains. “The types of fats in eggs are mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which are actually good for you in small amounts, especially if you use them in place of trans fats. Eggs also contain a small amount of saturated fat which can increase both HDL (the “good” kind of cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol levels, so it’s beneficial to be mindful of your consumption, but not necessary to eliminate it from your diet.”6
Rodriquez adds that saturated fats are the visible type found in poultry and meats, as well as in full-fat dairy products; trans fats are the type found in many cakes and pastries.
What Research on Eggs Has Found
According to Harvard Health, numerous studies — looking at literally hundreds of thousands of people over decades — have shown that moderate egg consumption of up to one egg per day does not increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular diseases for the majority of people.2 However, if you have diabetes or heart disease, or if you are at risk of developing heart disease, it may be advisable for you to limit your egg consumption to three eggs per week; be sure to check with your doctor.2
Are Eggs Healthy, Then?
“Despite years of thinking eggs are bad for us, we now know that just the opposite is true,” Rodriquez says. “Eggs have high-quality protein and many important nutrients, some of which can actually lower the risk of certain diseases. They are a healthy addition to a healthy diet if eaten in moderation.”
Here are just some of the other benefits that eggs bring:
- They may help protect against heart disease and stroke. One observational study found that people who ate up to one egg per day reduced their risk of stroke by 26 percent and their risk of heart disease by 12 percent when compared with people who rarely or never ate eggs.7 “This may be due to the fact that eggs increase HDL cholesterol, which helps reduce the build-up of fat in your blood vessels,” Rodriquez explains.
- They’re rich in protein and satisfying. Logging in at just 78 calories, one large egg contains more than 6 grams of protein, which helps you feel full longer. And eggs are naturally low in sugar, at just .5 gram each.8
- They may help you lose weight. One study that compared two different breakfasts, both with the same number of calories, found that people on a reduced-calorie diet who had an egg-based breakfast lost more weight than those who ate a bagel-based breakfast.9 After eight weeks, the egg-eating group experienced a 61 percent greater reduction in BMI, a 65 percent greater weight loss and a 34 percent greater reduction in waist circumference compared to the bagel-eating group.
- They’re a natural source of vitamin D. Eggs are one of the very few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health.10
Should You Skip the Yolks?
Since the yolk contains 100 percent of the cholesterol in eggs, it may be advisable to limit your egg consumption to a few times a week or opt for egg whites if you have diabetes, high LDL cholesterol or already have heart disease, but otherwise you could be missing out by skipping the yolks.1,4 “Not only are the yolks delicious, but they contain many vital nutrients,” Rodriquez says.
Ditch the yolks, for instance, and you’ll lose nearly half of the protein; you’ll also lose out on fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. Compared to the whites, the yolks also contain more of these nutrients:12
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
“Plus, they contain all of the egg’s DHA and carotenoids, as well as all of the vitamin A, E, D and K,” Rodriquez adds.
What’s more important than limiting your yolks, many experts say, is to pay attention to how you prepare your eggs — and what you eat with them. For instance, a poached egg is preferable over one fried in butter. “Opt for items such as salsa and fresh vegetables like zucchini, broccoli or asparagus as accompaniments rather than sausage and home fries,” Rodriquez adds. “Jenny Craig’s new breakfast foods are the perfect choice if you’re looking for a protein-packed, convenient, nutrient-rich start to the day.”
So what’s the final verdict on the health status of eggs? Rodriquez states, “When eaten in moderation, eggs are an excellent food to include in a balanced diet.”
Looking for a healthy egg dish to enjoy? Check out Jenny Craig’s new breakfast foods which include our Ranchero Skillet, Cheesy Egg & Sausage Scramble and Egg & Vegetable Sunrise Scramble. Contact us today to schedule a free appointment and find out how these delicious meals can be part of a healthy eating plan and help you work toward your weight loss goals.