A doctor weighs in on a promising new study and some common misconceptions.
When it comes to foods with confusing health messages, eggs may take the cake: Despite being a long-time breakfast and baking staple, health experts warned for years against eating them—especially the yolks—on a super-regular basis, for fears that doing so could raise cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.
In recent years, however, doctors and nutritionists have softened their stance on the incredible edible, and many have touted eggs' abundance of important vitamins, minerals, and protein. And now, a new study appears to support the notion that eggs really aren’t dangerous to heart health, after all.
So, is it really okay—healthy, even—to eat eggs every day? For the bottom line on this often misunderstood topic, Health spoke with Peter Schulman, MD, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut. Here’s what he wants breakfast lovers everywhere to know.
Eggs have cholesterol—but that's not necessarily a bad thing
It’s true that eggs have a higher level of dietary cholesterol than many other foods—about 185 mg in one large egg. Not too long ago, eggs were even branded “as bad for you as smoking.”
“Now we know that what really raises your cholesterol is saturated fat in the diet and not so much the cholesterol in foods,” Dr. Schulman explains. While U.S. dietary guidelines used to recommend consuming no more than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol a day, that recommendation was removed in 2016.
“When we eat cholesterol, it’s broken down in the gut; it’s not absorbed as a whole cholesterol molecule,” he says. Saturated fats, meanwhile, are broken into short chains of fatty acids that can become linked in the body—and that’s what has been shown to increase cholesterol levels significantly.
Yes, research suggests that eating foods that are high in dietary cholesterol, like eggs, can raise a person’s cholesterol a little bit. But another thing to consider, says Dr. Schulman, is the ratio of LDL (bad) cholesterol to HDL (good) cholesterol levels. “Eggs raise the HDL to a greater extent than it does the LDL,” he explains, “which leads to a more favorable risk profile when it comes to cardiovascular risk.”
Recent studies show no link to heart disease
On top of what scientists now know about dietary cholesterol’s effects on the body, studies also suggest that people who eat eggs aren’t any worse off than those who don’t. Research in recent years has failed to find a connection between one-a-day egg consumption and heart disease, even in people whose genetics put them at higher-than-normal risk.
A new study published in the journal Heart suggests that eating eggs may even have a protective effect: People who reported eating up to one egg per day had an 11% lower risk of developing heart disease—and an 18% lower risk of dying from it—over the following nine years than those who did not eat eggs. They also had a 26% lower risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke.
The study, which included nearly half a million Chinese people, could only show an association between eggs and heart health, not a cause-and-effect relationship. And no group in the study ate more than one egg a day on average, so the findings aren’t exactly an endorsement of a daily three-egg omelet at your local diner.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, while researchers controlled for other potential factors such as smoking habits, overall diet, and weight, this type of study is unable to fully account for all of the ways that egg-eaters may be different (and more or less healthy) than non egg-eaters.
Despite its limitations, Dr. Schulman says the study’s findings aren’t surprising and are further evidence that eggs aren’t bad for you. “I’ve been preaching this for a while,” he says. “This is more good news.”
Eggs are packed with nutrients and protein
There are a lot of great reasons to eat eggs, says Dr. Schulman: They’re rich in vitamin E, lutein, selenium, and folate, which play important roles in brain health, vision, and fighting inflammation in the body. They also contain protein (about 6 grams per egg), which can help squash hunger and keep you feeling full for hours.
“If people are trying to lose weight, the most important thing is to eat a good breakfast,” says Dr. Schulman. “If you eat a breakfast that’s only high in carbohydrates and no protein, you’re going to be hungry again very quickly.”
Instead, he recommends choosing high-fiber carbohydrates (like oatmeal) and adding an egg or two for staying power. Just be conscious that eggs also contain about 70 calories each—or more, depending on how they’re prepared.
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There’s one catch: Hold the white toast and bacon
Hard-boiled eggs are a healthy choice because they have nothing added to them, says Dr. Schulman; he also recommends cooking eggs in a pan with a little bit of olive oil. “Try to avoid butter,” he says, “but even a tiny bit of butter is not bad for most people.”
Be wary of egg dishes prepared by restaurants, he says, since they can involve larger portions and less healthy cooking techniques than doctors would recommend on a regular basis. “But even in those situations, I’d rather you choose eggs over a giant bagel or a low-fat muffin that’s probably mostly sugar,” says Dr. Schulman.
In Dr. Schulman’s opinion, the best way to prepare eggs is “without white toast.” And save the bacon for special occasions, he adds: It’s high in calories and saturated fat, and even “healthier” versions—like turkey bacon—tend to be very high in sodium.