Ask the RD: Are Eggs Bad For Heart Health? (Again)
Often, I hear clients say, “I like eggs, but my cholesterol is high” or “I usually eat egg whites in the morning, aren’t the yolks ‘bad’?” But if you take a look at the latest science, you’ll see eggs can certainly be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Although eggs were exonerated in recent years from their reputation as a hindrance to cholesterol, it’s difficult for individuals who are told one thing for decades to suddenly believe the opposite. That was the case with nutrition myths surrounding carbs, full-fat dairy or soy, for example.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans removed the recommendations of restricting dietary cholesterol to 300mg/day, due in part to a lack of evidence supporting a role of dietary cholesterol in the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Prior, it was commonly hypothesized that because eggs were a source of dietary cholesterol — 186mg per one large egg — they were most likely to raise blood cholesterol and therefore, CVD risk.
However, more recent research has challenged that notion, pointing instead toward high saturated fatty acid intake as the main offender in regard to heart disease risk, not dietary cholesterol. These two nutrients often go hand-in-hand, as animal products high in saturated fat, such as beef, butter and cheese, are also high in cholesterol. Two exceptions to this include shrimp and eggs, which have very low amounts of saturated fat.
The boat was rocked earlier this year, though, when a study came out in JAMA that suggested a higher consumption of dietary cholesterol or eggs was significantly associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease. News headlines everywhere were suddenly positioning eggs as the bad guy again.
But it’s important to keep in mind all studies need to be taken into greater context. For instance, in this JAMA study, all of the dietary data used was self-reported by the individual study participants, meaning the likelihood of misreporting and measurement error is significant. It’s also worth noting that although this study adjusted for factors like smoking, exercise and some dietary patterns, it is extremely difficult to adjust thoroughly for dietary patterns — especially in an observational study such as this one. What individuals may have been eating with their eggs — cheese, bacon, sausage, butter, etc. — may have influenced these research results.
THE CASE FOR EATING WHOLE EGGS
I always encourage eating the whole egg, as the yolk is rich in vitamins and minerals. It contains choline, which is important for cellular structure and neurotransmitter production, as well as vitamin A, zinc, iron and vitamin D, to name a few. For just 70 calories, one whole egg also contains about 7 grams of high-quality protein and less than 2 grams of saturated fat.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING EGGS
Eggs have a wide range of price points, which is why it’s important to understand how to decode carton labels. If animal welfare is a priority for you, there are certain standards some companies and farms follow to promote health and wellness of their chickens and provide significant outdoor access. Another wonderful way to purchase high-quality eggs and support local businesses is at your local farmers market, where it’s often possible to chat with farmers about how they raise their chickens.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s always key to remember dietary patterns as a whole are the most important when it comes to long-term health, not eating or avoiding any one food. Eggs can be a versatile, inexpensive source of daily protein, and given the latest research, part of a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and other lean proteins.