Long vilified by well-meaning doctors and scientists for their high cholesterol content, eggs are now making a bit of a comeback. While it’s true that egg yolks have a lot of cholesterol—and so may weakly affect blood cholesterol levels—eggs also contain nutrients that may help lower the risk for heart disease, including protein, vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin, and folate.
A solid body of research shows that for most people, cholesterol in food has a much smaller effect on blood levels of total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol than does the mix of fats in the diet. Recent research has shown that moderate egg consumption—up to one a day—does not increase heart disease risk in healthy individuals (1, 2) and can be part of a healthy diet. (Make sure to store eggs in the fridge and cook them until the whites and yolks are firm, to prevent food-borne illness. For more tips on how to reduce your risk of salmonella from eggs, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.)
People who have difficulty controlling their total and LDL cholesterol may want to be cautious about eating egg yolks and instead choose foods made with egg whites. The same is true for people with diabetes. In the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, heart disease risk was increased among men and women with diabetes who ate one or more eggs a day. (1) For people who have diabetes and heart disease, it is best to limit egg consumption to no more than three yolks per week.
This research doesn’t give the green light to daily three-egg omelets. While a 2008 report from the ongoing Physicians’ Health Study supports the idea that eating an egg a day is generally safe for the heart, it also suggests that going much beyond that could increase the risk for heart failure later in life. (3) You also need to pay attention to the “trimmings” that come with your eggs. To your cardiovascular system, scrambled eggs, salsa, and a whole wheat English muffin are a far different meal than scrambled eggs with cheese, sausages, home fries, and white toast.
1. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, et al. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA. 1999; 281:1387-94.
2. Fernandez ML. Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2006; 9:8-12.
3. Djousse L, Gaziano JM. Egg consumption and risk of heart failure in the Physicians’ Health Study. Circulation. 2008; 117:512-6.