Nutrition experts often know what they are doing, but their track record in identifying unhealthy foods is not very good. Red meat, cheese and coconut oil are just a few examples of healthy food that has been wrongly pronounced bad for you. The worst example of this, however, is decades of propaganda against eggs, which are in fact among the healthiest foods on the planet.
No Relation Between Eggs and Heart Disease
Eggs have long been considered unhealthy because they contain cholesterol; a large egg contains 212 mg of cholesterol, which is more than most other foods1.
Cholesterol is normal and necessary in the body, however, and is among other things an important part of the coverings of nerve fibers that allows them to transmit electrical impulses; cholesterol is also made by the liver, whether we take any in or not.
Unless the level is very high, and there are some usually inherited diseases in which this is the case, the real health issue with cholesterol is the balance between small complexes of fats and protein (low-density lipoproteins or LDL), which are harmful to the heart and blood vessels, and the larger high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which are beneficial2.
Eggs raise the “good” cholesterol HDL, and help to shift the balance between “bad” and “good” cholesterol in favor of the HDL3. A recent meta-analysis, a large study statistically combining the results of previously-published papers, looked at 17 well-conducted studies on egg consumption and health. Eating eggs had no association with either heart disease or stroke in otherwise healthy people4. Multiple previous studies have reached the same conclusion5.
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Bottom Line: Eggs contain cholesterol but despite decades of warning, eating them is not associated with heart disease or stroke.
Eggs are Good For Your Brain and Eyes
So eggs are not bad for you, but are they healthful? They are rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthine, which protect the eyes against cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness with aging6.
In one study, supplementing a normal diet with an average of 1.3 egg yolks a day for 4.5 weeks increased blood levels of lutein by up to 50 per cent and more than doubled levels of zeaxanthine7.
A large egg contains only 77 calories, with 5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein, which includes all 9 of the essential amino acids which the body cannot make and have to be taken in through the diet.
In addition to lots of iron, phosphorus, selenium and vitamins A, B2, B5 and B12, one egg contains 113 mg of the brain nutrient choline, which may be lacking in the diet of as many as 90 per cent of Americans8.
Bottom Line: Eggs contain all 9 essential amino acid, are a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals and are among the best sources of choline for the brain and antioxidants that protect vision.
Eggs Help Keep You Full Longer
Eggs score high on the Satiety Index, a measure of how well a food can make you feel full and therefore likely to eat fewer calories overall5. They contain only a trace of carbohydrates, so they will not raise blood glucose levels and contribute to the risk of developing diabetes.
In a study comparing how much 30 overweight or obsess women ate for lunch after having either eggs or a bagel for breakfast, the egg group ate less at lunch, during the rest of the day and in fact for the next 36 hours9.
Another study restricted the total number of calories overweight men and women could eat but gave them a breakfast of either 2 eggs (340 calories) or 340 calories’ worth of bagels.
After 8 weeks the egg-eating group had a 61 per cent greater reduction in body mass index (BMI), 65 per cent greater weight loss, 34 per cent greater reduction in waist circumference and 16 per cent greater reduction in body fat content10.
Eggs are very well-designed; after all, they contain everything that is needed to produce a chicken! Pastured eggs, obtained from free-range chickens who are allowed to roam and are therefore healthier and more content, and eggs enriched with omega-3 fatty acids are preferable.
Since eggs are safe for the heart, it is fine to eat the yolks, because that is where most of the nutrients are. If you need any more reasons to eat eggs…they are cheap, they go with anything and they taste great.
Bottom Line: Eggs are a nutritious, protein rich food which can make you feel full and eat less. Studies show that eating eggs for breakfast can help you lose weight. Omega-3-enriched and pastured eggs are preferable, and the best nutrients are in the yolks. If any food deserves to be called a super-food, it is the egg.
- Mutunqi D, Waters D, Ratliff J et al. Eggs distinctly modulate carotenoid and lipoprotein subclasses in men following a carbohydrate-restricted diet. J Nutr Biochem, 21(4): 261-267, 2010.
- Fernandez ML. Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations. Curr Opin Nutr Metab Care, 9(1): 8-12, 2006.
- Gardner CD, Fortmann SP, Krauss RM. Association of small low-density lipoprotein particles with the incidence of coronary artery disease in men and women. JAMA, 276(11): 875-881, 1996.
- Rong Y, Chen L, Zhu T et al. Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Br Med J, 346: e8539, 2013.
- Lee A, Griffin B. Dietary cholesterol, eggs and coronary heart disease risk in perspective. Nutr Bull, 31(1): 21-27, 2006.
- Gale CR, Hall NF, Phillips DIW, Martyn CR. Lutein and zeaxanthine status and risk of age-related macular degeneration. Inv Ophth Vis Sci, 44(6): 2461-2465, 2003.
- Handelman GJ, Nightingale ZD, Lichtenstein AH et al. Lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in plasma after dietary supplementation with egg yolk. Am J Clin Nutr, 70(2): 247-251, 1999.
- Jensen HH, Batres-Marquez SP, Carriquiry A, Schalinske KL. Choline in the diets of US populations: NHANES 2003-2004. FASEB J, 21(suppl): LB46, 2007.
- Vander Waal JS, Marth JM, Khosla P et al. Short-term effect of eggs on satiety in overweight and obsess subjects. J Am Coll Nutr, 24(6): 510-515, 2005.
- Vander Waal JS, Gupta A, Khosla P, Dhurandhar NV. Egg breakfast enhances weight loss. Int J Obesity, 32: 1545-1551, 2008.