Can You Eat Too Many Eggs?
For years, cholesterol-heavy eggs were practically a forbidden food. We dumped the yolks in favor of scrambled whites, brunched on egg white omelettes, and eggs Benedict became a distant memory. Then, suddenly, the tide turned and eggs were happily back on the menu. Today, they’re being hyped as a veritable superfood.
Before you eat them with abandon, here’s what you need to know.
The incredible egg
In many ways eggs are a natural health food. Just one large egg contains 6 grams of protein for approximately 70 calories. And not just any kind of protein. Eggs serve up the highest quality protein available, which our bodies use more efficiently than the type in foods like beef or beans. Eggs are also one of nature’s top sources of choline, a nutrient that keeps our cells healthy and our brains sharp. Plus, they supply small amounts of other important nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin D, and vision-friendly zeaxanthin and lutein.
Today’s eggs are healthier than ever
But what about their fat and cholesterol, you ask? Thanks to advances in agriculture, eggs now sport 14 percent less cholesterol than they did 15 years ago, with about 185 milligrams per large egg. At the same time, they have 64 percent more vitamin D, a double win. And if you think eggs are filled with fat you’ll be happy to learn that a large egg only contains 5 grams worth, of which a paltry gram and a half is saturated.
The cholesterol conundrum
Now that you’ve heard the good news, it’s important to keep in mind that 185 milligrams of cholesterol is still a pretty hefty dose. Trouble is, it’s hard to put that number into perspective. For decades, health experts advised us to cap cholesterol at 300 milligrams a day (200 milligrams if you had heart disease).
Now, the latest Dietary Guidelines tell us we no longer have to obsess about counting cholesterol. Not because it doesn’t matter, but because some of us are consuming too much of it. In fact, if you read the fine print you’ll see that the new guidelines advise us to consume foods with as little cholesterol possible.
“Even though the recommendations are no longer strict numbers, it’s still important to moderate your cholesterol intake,” says Jo Ann Carson, PhD, RDN, a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Why? Everyone responds to cholesterol differently. “If someone has high ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol they may be more responsive to cholesterol in their diets,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director and senior scientist of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University. “In that case it would be reasonable to limit intake.” She also notes that the focus of diets that lower cholesterol levels has shifted from reducing cholesterol to reducing saturated fat since the intake of the latter has more of an effect.
The bigger picture
Then, there’s the question of what else is on your plate. Cholesterol and saturated fat tend to travel together. So if you’re already eating lots of meat and cheese, a three-egg omelette is only going to pile on more cholesterol. However, “if you don’t have a problem with your LDL and if you’re not consuming lots of saturated fat-filled foods, eggs are probably not as big of an issue,” says Carson. “If you don’t have heart disease or diabetes, an egg a day can be a reasonable thing for most healthy people to incorporate into their diets.”