Eggs and Cholesterol: Should You Worry About Eating Eggs?
A medium-sized egg contains about 200 mg of cholesterol, equivalent to 66% of the recommended daily intake. But should you worry about eating eggs? Let’s take the myth of eggs and cholesterol away. We explain how cholesterol is regulated by our body and we reveal the results of various scientific studies on the consumption of eggs and the effect on blood cholesterol levels.
How does the body regulate cholesterol levels?
Usually, when we hear the word cholesterol, we automatically think of medications, heart attacks, and premature death. But the truth is quite another: cholesterol is very important for our body. It is an essential structural molecule for each cell membrane, used to make steroid hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol. Without cholesterol, we would not even exist.
And since cholesterol is extremely important, the body has developed very complex ways to make sure we always have enough. Did you know that our liver produces cholesterol? When we eat many foods rich in cholesterol, the liver reduces its production so that the total levels of cholesterol in the blood varies very little even with a high supply of dietary cholesterol.
The egg cholesterol myth
Until the end of the last century, it was recommended to limit the consumption of eggs, because of their high cholesterol content, as a measure of cardiovascular prevention. In 1973, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended limiting intake of eggs to a maximum of three per week. This idea was accepted for years by health professionals, who in turn transmitted it to the general population.
However, the effect that dietary cholesterol (ingested through food) exerts on plasma cholesterol levels (the present in the blood) in healthy people is minimal and depends to a large extent on individual factors such as genetics, body weight or life habits (physical activity and smoking).
The main dietary factors responsible for the rise in blood cholesterol levels (and particularly harmful cholesterol, LDL) are saturated and partially hydrogenated fats (also called trans fatty acids). Therefore, restricting the consumption of this type of fat is more beneficial for the lipid profile of the blood than reducing the cholesterol in the diet. Although most foods high in cholesterol are often also high in saturated fats, the egg is not. A medium-sized egg contains about 200 mg of cholesterol but has more unsaturated fat than saturated fat and only 70 calories. Because of its phospholipid content, which interferes with their absorption, this cholesterol has very little effect on blood cholesterol.
Egg consumption and heart disease
The false belief that egg intake could increase cardiovascular risk through its effect on plasma cholesterol levels, not yet universally banished, has no scientific support. The results of numerous studies, without exception, have shown conclusively that the intake of one egg a day is not detrimental to the blood lipid profile nor increases the risk of suffering cardiovascular disease. Two meta-analyses performed on the results of 166 clinical studies show this.
The evidence that egg intake does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease has led major scientific societies to modify their dietary recommendations in relation to eggs. Thus, the AHA, in its 2000 review, states that “cholesterol from eggs does not pose an added risk for cardiovascular disease, allowing us to recommend taking one egg a day instead of the previous recommendation, up to three eggs per week”.
On the other hand, epidemiological studies that have directly evaluated the influence of egg ingestion on cardiovascular disease have not found any association between the two. This is shown by the Physicians’ Health Study, which included more than 21,000 participants, concluding that “egg consumption was favorable in relation to cardiovascular mortality compared to those who only ate occasionally, especially in diabetic patients”. And the Nurses’ Health Study, which, after a follow-up of 88 757 women over 16 years, concluded that “there is no relationship between egg consumption and the incidence of coronary heart disease, with the same risk of taking an egg a week or one egg per day”.
What happens when we eat several eggs a day?
A 2016 Finnish study of more than 1,000 men concluded that increased egg consumption is not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke, even in those who are genetically predisposed to high blood cholesterol.
In fact, a research published in the Metabolism journal showed that eating several eggs a week causes cholesterol particles less likely to produce heart problems. In addition, a specific protein present in the egg yolk blocks the aggregation of platelets (the cells responsible for blood clotting) inside the blood vessels, which minimizes the risk of heart attacks.
But what is most likely to affect your health is how eggs or other foods with which you combine them are prepared, warn researchers. For example, a large poached egg or an omelet made with spinach, have 71 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat on average. But a dish of scrambled eggs with bacon hollandaise sauce has about 800 calories and 26 grams of saturated fat.
For this, nutritionists recommend including eggs in your balanced diet but taking care of what you combine. You have to balance them with other healthy foods. Accompany them with fruit or combine them with vegetables and grains.
So, do not worry anymore about eating eggs. And considering all the goodness eggs provide, don’t go without them unless you are allergic of course. Here are some of the benefits to take advantage of.
– To lose weight
In a study, people who followed a diet that included eggs for breakfast managed to lose 60% more weight than those who started their day with a bagel that had an equivalent amount of calories. Researchers claim that the high-quality protein of whole eggs (13% of the recommended daily intake) helps to control appetite. In addition, egg protein is easily absorbed by the body, making it a suitable food for muscle recovery after a long run or rhythm training.
– Combatting inflammation
Whole eggs are one of the best sources of a nutrient called choline (a large egg has 30% of the recommended daily intake, especially in the yolk). Aside from intervening in brain health, choline helps the body’s circulatory system eliminate compounds that could cause inflammation, which could lead to disorders such as muscle swelling after hard training, or diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
– To maintain strong bones
Eggs are a natural source of vitamin D, involved in the production of bone tissue. One egg contributes 10% of the recommended daily intake. There are some types of eggs that even double that figure.
– For clear vision
The egg yolk contains the lutein pigment, which helps prevent age-related macular degeneration (a very common form of blindness). In addition, although spinach and other vegetables contain higher amounts of lutein, the eggs provide a form that is better absorbed.