The truth about eating eggs (2022)

Food Fictions|Nutrition

The truth about eating eggs

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The truth about eating eggs (1)

By Jessica Brown24th April 2020

Are eggs helpful to our health… or a cause of heart disease? BBC Future examines the evidence.

A

As many countries urge populations to stay at home, many of us are paying more attention to our diets and how the food we eat can support our health. To help sort out the fact from the fiction, BBC Future is updating some of our most popular nutrition stories from our archive.

Our colleagues at BBC Good Food are focusing on practical solutions for ingredient swaps, nutritious storecupboard recipes and all aspects of cooking and eating during lockdown.

If there was such a thing as a perfect food, eggs would be a contender. They’re readily available, easy to cook, affordable and packed with protein.

(Video) The truth about eating eggs - BBC REEL

“The egg is meant to be something that has all the right ingredients to grow an organism, so obviously it’s very nutrient dense,” says Christopher Blesso, associate professor of nutritional science at the University of Connecticut in the US.

Eating eggs alongside other food can help our bodies absorb more vitamins, too. For example, one study found that adding an egg to salad can increase how much vitamin E we get from the salad.

But for decades, eating eggs has also been controversial due to their high cholesterol content – which some studies have linked to an increased risk of heart disease. One egg yolk contains around 185 milligrams of cholesterol, which is more than half of the 300mg daily amount of cholesterol that the US dietary guidelines recommended until recently.

Additionally, there have been scientifically unsupported claims the eggs can guard against coronavirus, or that they have even been responsible for its outbreak. There has even been one outlandish theory that spitting in an egg before cooking it creates antibodies which can guard against the disease. (There's no evidence to support this.)

Does that mean eggs, rather than being an ideal food, might actually be doing us harm?

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Cholesterol, a yellowish fat produced in our liver and intestines, can be found in every one of our body’s cells. We normally think of it as “bad”. But cholesterol is a crucial building block in our cell membranes. It also is needed for the body to make vitamin D, and the hormones testosterone and oestrogen.

We produce all the cholesterol we need on our own, but it’s also found in animal produce we consume, including beef, prawns and eggs, as well as cheese and butter.

The truth about eating eggs (2)

Cholesterol is found in animal products like beef as well as eggs (Credit: Getty Images)

Cholesterol is transported around our body by lipoprotein molecules in the blood. Every person has a different combination of various types of lipoproteins, and our individual make-up plays a role in determining our risk of developing heart disease.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – referred to as “bad” cholesterol – is transported from the liver to arteries and body tissues. Researchers say that this can result in a build-up of cholesterol in the blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

But researchers haven’t definitively linked consumption of cholesterol to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. As a result, US dietary guidelines no longer have a cholesterol restriction; nor does the UK. Instead, emphasis is placed on limiting how much saturated fat we consume, which can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Foods containing trans fats, in particular, increase our LDL levels. Although some trans fats occur naturally in animal products, most are made artificially and are found in highest levels in margarines, snacks, and some deep-fried and baked foods, such as pastry, doughnuts and cake. (Read more about whether diets encouraging people to eat more saturated fat are good for you.)

The truth about eating eggs (3)

Some deep-fried foods, which contain trans fats, can increase our LDL (or "bad") cholesterol levels (Credit: Getty Images)

Meanwhile, along with prawns, eggs are the only food high in cholesterol that are low in saturated fat.

(Video) The Shocking Truth About Eggs | Dr. Mandell

“While the cholesterol in eggs is much higher than in meat and other animal products, saturated fat increases blood cholesterol. This has been demonstrated by lots of studies for many years,” says Maria Luz Fernandez, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut in the US, whose latest research found no relationship between eating eggs and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The truth about eating eggs

The discussion on the health effects of eggs has shifted partly because our bodies can compensate for the cholesterol we consume.

“There are systems in place so that, for most people, dietary cholesterol isn’t a problem,” says Elizabeth Johnson, research associate professor of nutritional sciences at Tufts University in Boston, US.

In a 2015 review of 40 studies, Johnson and a team of researchers couldn’t find any conclusive evidence on the relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease.

“Humans have good regulation when consuming dietary cholesterol, and will make less cholesterol themselves,” she says.

The truth about eating eggs (4)

Cholesterol is harmful when it is oxidised – but the antioxidants in eggs prevent that process from happening (Credit: Getty Images)

And when it comes to eggs, cholesterol may pose even less of a health risk. Cholesterol is more harmful when oxidised in our arteries, but oxidisation doesn’t happen to the cholesterol in eggs, says Blesso.

“When cholesterol is oxidised, it may be more inflammatory, and there are all kinds of antioxidants in eggs that protect it from being oxidised,” he says.

Also, some cholesterol may actually be good for us. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol travels to the liver, where it’s broken down and removed from the body. HDL is thought to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease by preventing cholesterol from building up in the blood.

“People should be concerned about cholesterol that circulates in their blood, which is the one that leads to heart disease,” says Fernandez.

What matters is the ratio of HDL to LDL in our bodies, as elevated HDL counteracts the effects of LDL.

However, while most of us are able to buffer the cholesterol we consume with the cholesterol we synthesise in our livers, Blesso says around a third of us will experience an increase in blood cholesterol by 10% to 15% after consuming it.

(Video) Do Eggs Raise Cholesterol?

Trials have found that lean and healthy people are more likely to see an increase in LDL after eating eggs. Those who are overweight, obese or diabetic will see a smaller increase in LDL and more HDL molecules, Blesso says. So, if you’re healthier to begin with, eggs potentially could have a more negative effect than if you’re overweight – but if you’re healthier, you’re also more likely to have good HDL levels, so an increase in LDL probably isn’t very harmful.

The truth about eating eggs (5)

One study found that an additional half egg per day was linked to a higher risk of heart disease... (Credit: Getty Images)

Research published earlier this year, though, challenged the recent consensus that eggs pose no harm to our health. Researchers looked at data from 30,000 adults followed for an average of 17 years and found that each additional half an egg per day was significantly linked to a higher risk of heart disease and death. (They controlled for the subjects’ diet patterns, overall health and physical activity to try to isolate the effects of eggs.)

“We found that, for every additional 300mg cholesterol person consumed, regardless of the food it came from, they had a 17% increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and 18% increased risk of all-cause mortality,” says Norrina Allen, one of the study’s authors and associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University in Illinois, US.

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“We also found that each half egg per day led to a 6% increased risk of heart disease and 8% increased risk of mortality.”

Despite the study being one of the largest of its kind to address this specific relationship between eggs and heart disease, it was observational, giving no indication of cause and effect. It also relied upon a single set of self-reported data – participants were asked what they ate over the previous month or year, then followed up their health outcomes for up to 31 years. This means the researchers only got a single snapshot of what the participants were eating, even though our diets can change over time.

The truth about eating eggs (6)

…but other studies have found that eggs are associated with a lower risk of heart disease (Credit: Getty Images)

And the study conflicts with past results. Numerous studies suggest eggs are good for heart health. One previous analysis of half a million adults in China, published in 2018, even found the exact opposite: egg consumption was associated with lower risk of heart disease. Those who ate eggs every day had an 18% lower risk of death from heart disease and 28% lower risk of stroke death compared to those who didn’t eat eggs.

Like the previous study, it too was observational – meaning it’s impossible to tease out cause and effect. (Do healthier adults in China simply eat more eggs, or do the eggs make them healthier?). That, of course, may be a big part of the confusion.

Good egg

While these studies have reignited the debate on the impact of cholesterol in eggs on our health, we do know some ways in which eggs could affect our risk of disease.

One way is through a compound in eggs called choline, which may help protect us against Alzheimer’s disease. It also protects the liver. (Find out if eggs are a good way of stopping a hangover.)

(Video) Are Eggs Healthy or Unhealthy?

The truth about eating eggs (7)

Choline, which is found in eggs, may protect us against Alzheimer’s disease (Credit: Getty Images)

But it may have negative effects, too. Choline is metabolised by gut microbiota into a molecule called TMO, which is then absorbed into people’s livers and converted to TMAO, a molecule associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Blasso has wondered if eating a lot of choline from eggs could lead to elevations of TMAO: he found studies where people were observed to have elevated TMAO levels up to 12 hours after eating eggs.

Research measuring egg consumption and TMAO has so far only found transient increases in TMAO. However, TMAO is measured as a marker for heart disease only at a baseline level, which can be detected when people are fasting. Blasso likens this to how our blood sugar levels increase temporarily after eating carbohydrates, but elevated blood sugar levels are only associated with diabetes when these levels are continuous.

This may be because when we eat eggs, we might only get choline’s beneficial effects, he says.

“The problem is when, instead of being absorbed into the blood, choline continues to the large intestine, where it can become TMA and then TMAO,” says Fernandez.

“But in eggs, choline is absorbed and doesn’t go to the large intestine, so it doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease.”

Meanwhile, scientists are beginning to understand other health benefits of eggs. Egg yolks are one of the best sources of lutein, a pigment that has been linked to better eyesight and lower risk of eye disease, for example.

The truth about eating eggs (8)

Egg yolks are an excellent source of lutein, which has been linked to better eyesight (Credit: Getty Images)

“There are two types of lutein found the retina of the eye, where it can protect the retina from light damage by working as a blue light filter, as exposure to light makes the eye deteriorate,” says Johnson.

While researchers are a long way from understanding why eggs affect us differently, the vast majority of recent research suggests they pose no risk to our health, and are much more likely to provide health benefits.

Even so, having eggs for breakfast every day probably isn’t healthiest option, either – at least as it’s recommended we have a varied diet… rather than put all our eggs in one basket.

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(Video) Everything You Need To Know About Eggs

FAQs

What is the truth about eating eggs? ›

Those who ate eggs every day had an 18% lower risk of death from heart disease and 28% lower risk of stroke death compared to those who didn't eat eggs. Like the previous study, it too was observational – meaning it's impossible to tease out cause and effect.

What are the negative effects of eating eggs? ›

5 Side Effects Of Eating Too Many Chicken Eggs
  • Body cholesterol rises. In one large egg contains 186 mg of cholesterol. ...
  • Cardiovascular risk. High cholesterol levels in the body can affect heart health. ...
  • Bloated stomach. ...
  • Insulin resistance. ...
  • Boils or pimples appear.

Is it OK to eat an egg every day? ›

The bottom line

Eggs are a nutritious protein source and a staple in many people's diets. Though they're high in cholesterol, they also have many health-promoting qualities. For healthy adults, eating 1–2 eggs a day appears safe, as long as they're consumed as part of an overall nutritious diet.

Should we really be eating eggs? ›

These foods are known to increase the risk of heart disease, and they should be eaten sparingly. Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week without affecting their heart health. Some choose to eat only the egg white and not the yolk, which provides some protein without the cholesterol.

What form of egg is healthiest? ›

The bottom line

Overall, shorter and lower-heat cooking methods cause less cholesterol oxidation and help retain most of the egg's nutrients. For this reason, poached and boiled (either hard or soft) eggs may be the healthiest to eat.

Are eggs inflammatory? ›

Consuming eggs regularly can lead to an increased amount of swelling and joint pain. The yolks contain arachidonic acid, which helps trigger inflammation in the body. Eggs also contain saturated fat which can also induce joint pain.

Why are egg yolks not healthy? ›

While egg yolks are high in cholesterol and are a major source of dietary cholesterol, it is saturated fatty acids that have a greater effect on our blood cholesterol levels and, therefore, heart disease risk.

Is 2 eggs a day too much cholesterol? ›

The American Heart Association recommends up to one egg a day for most people, fewer for people with high blood cholesterol, especially those with diabetes or who are at risk for heart failure, and up to two eggs a day for older people with normal cholesterol levels and who eat a healthy diet.

Is 3 eggs a day OK? ›

Intake of up to 3 Eggs per Day Is Associated with Changes in HDL Function and Increased Plasma Antioxidants in Healthy, Young Adults.

Will I gain weight if I eat 2 eggs a day? ›

Eating eggs may support weight loss, especially if a person incorporates them into a calorie-controlled diet. Research suggests that eggs boost metabolic activity and increase feelings of fullness. Eating an egg-based breakfast may stop a person from consuming extra calories throughout the day.

Do eggs raise cholesterol? ›

Answer From Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D. Chicken eggs are an affordable source of protein and other nutrients. They're also naturally high in cholesterol. But the cholesterol in eggs doesn't seem to raise cholesterol levels the way some other foods, such as those high in trans fats and saturated fats, do.

How many eggs per day is healthy? ›

A maximum of 2 eggs a day would suffice for an average adult - one whole and one egg white - best consumed during breakfast. Egg whites source you with quality protein. Those who require more protein can easily meet the requirement through other food items like lean meats.

Do doctors recommend eating eggs? ›

These days most doctors encourage the eating of eggs as part of a healthy diet, as they are one of nature's most nutritionally dense foods - containing high levels of protein, Vitamins A, D, B and B12, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin that can help prevent eye damage in old age.

What are humans supposed to eat naturally? ›

Although many humans choose to eat both plants and meat, earning us the dubious title of “omnivore,” we're anatomically herbivorous. The good news is that if you want to eat like our ancestors, you still can: Nuts, vegetables, fruit, and legumes are the basis of a healthy vegan lifestyle.

Can you live without eating eggs? ›

Eating eggs increases your risk of early death, according to a new study. By eliminating eggs from your diet, you increase your chances of living longer.

Does frying an egg destroy the protein? ›

Does Frying an Egg Retain Its Protein? A fried egg contains the same amount of protein as an egg cooked scrambled, boiled, done over-easy or eaten raw stirred into in a glass of tomato juice. But a fried egg's protein will be more easily digested and absorbed than a raw egg's.

Are brown eggs better than white? ›

However, there's no nutritional difference between brown and white eggs. In the end, the only real difference is shell color and maybe price. Nevertheless, other factors do affect the flavor and nutrition of eggs, including the hen's diet and housing conditions.

Are boiled eggs healthier than scrambled? ›

As per the USDA Nutrition Database, hard-boiled eggs contain more protein than scrambled eggs. It also has fewer calories and more healthy nutrients like B-complex vitamins and selenium as compared to scrambled eggs.

What are the 10 most inflammatory foods? ›

Here, we look at the top ten foods which set the stage for inflammatory diseases:
  • Sugars. ...
  • Common Cooking Oils. ...
  • Trans Fats. ...
  • Dairy Products. ...
  • Feedlot-Raised Meat. ...
  • Red Meat & Processed Meat. ...
  • Alcohol. ...
  • Refined Grains.

Which protein causes joint pain? ›

Gluten. Millions of people in the United States are sensitive to gluten, the proteins found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is proven to be pro-inflammatory in the small intestines, and research indicts that it can affect other organs and tissues – including the joints.

What are the worst foods for inflammation? ›

8 Worst Foods to Eat for Inflammation
  1. Added Sugars. ...
  2. Processed Meats. ...
  3. Highly Processed Foods. ...
  4. Refined Carbs. ...
  5. Too Many Omega-6s (And Not Enough Omega-3s) ...
  6. Trans Fats. ...
  7. More Than Two Cocktails. ...
  8. Artificial Sweeteners.
31 Aug 2022

Are eggs carcinogenic? ›

Eggs can be a source of carcinogenic chemicals that are formed during high temperature frying. That would be consistent with the bladder cancer data, suggesting fried egg consumption may double cancer risk, but not boiled eggs.

Which is healthier egg white or yolk? ›

Nutrients in egg yolk

Yolk is nutritionally richer than whites. It contains essential nutrients like Vitamin B6, B12, A, D, E and K. It is also rich in calcium, magnesium, iron and selenium.

Is egg white better than egg yolk? ›

Vitamins and minerals

The egg white contains much smaller amounts of these B vitamins. The yolk also contains a variety of minerals which are incredibly important for our bodies to function properly - these include selenium, phosphorus and iodine, whereas the whites contain much lower concentrations of these nutrients.

What happens if you eat boiled eggs everyday? ›

The high levels of protein content in eggs will also help keep you full for longer and a hard-boiled egg might help keep you going throughout the day. According to Today, the antioxidants in egg yolks might even help reduce the risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, and several other age-related conditions.

Does exercise Lower cholesterol? ›

Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol. With your doctor's OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week.

Is boiled egg healthy? ›

Hard-boiled eggs are an excellent source of lean protein. They'll fill you up without packing in too many calories, which is helpful if you want to lose weight. The protein in hard-boiled eggs also works alongside vitamin D to promote prenatal development.

Does egg yolk increase blood pressure? ›

Egg consumption has no significant effects on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults.

How many eggs should I eat to get enough protein? ›

Heart experts generally recommend limiting eggs to one per day or half a dozen per week.

Do eggs burn belly fat? ›

They're also one of the best foods for shrinking belly fat. In addition to being chock-full of weight loss-promoting vitamins and minerals, eggs are low in calories and high in protein, which means they will help keep you full.

How many eggs do bodybuilders eat? ›

That's about 155 grams of protein per day for a 200-pound man. If eating 4 meals per day, that would amount to about 39 grams of protein per meal, or about 11 egg whites.” To be fair, Torraca isn't telling anyone else to copy him.

Is fried egg healthy? ›

Just like eggs cooked in other ways, fried eggs are rich in nutrients and can contribute towards a healthy diet when eaten as part of a balanced meal.

Does olive oil raise cholesterol? ›

Olive oil is packed full of beneficial antioxidants that can lower your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol while leaving your "good" (HDL) cholesterol untouched.

Is peanut butter good for you? ›

Peanut butter is loaded with so many good, health-promoting nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, iron, selenium and vitamin B6. Research shows that people who regularly eat nuts and nut butter, including peanut butter, are less likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Can I eat 2 eggs a day? ›

A number of studies suggest that about one egg a day has no adverse effect on health outcomes. A study in my lab found that eating two eggs daily for six weeks also had no harmful effects in healthy adults, and we are even seeing similar results in people with high cholesterol.

Can you live on eggs? ›

Eggs can be a healthful source of protein, but they should not be the only food a person eats. The egg diet may lead to weight loss initially, but it is not a balanced or safe weight loss plan in the long-term.

Is 3 eggs a lot of protein? ›

They're the perfect little package. Not only are they protein-rich (about 7 grams each), but eggs — specifically the yolks — contain inflammation-fighting omega-3s; vitamins D, E, and B12; and minerals like selenium.

Are eggs good eating at night? ›

Yes, having eggs before bed can help improve your sleep. Because eggs are an excellent source of tryptophan, melatonin, and vitamin D, they can enable some people to experience better sleep. If you struggle with falling asleep on a regular basis, consider having an egg or two a couple of hours before going to bed.

What is the latest research on eating eggs? ›

Researchers have shown how moderate egg consumption can increase the amount of heart-healthy metabolites in the blood, publishing their results today in eLife. The findings suggest that eating up to one egg per day may help lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

How many eggs should I eat a day? ›

The American Heart Association recommends up to one egg a day for most people, fewer for people with high blood cholesterol, especially those with diabetes or who are at risk for heart failure, and up to two eggs a day for older people with normal cholesterol levels and who eat a healthy diet.

Do eggs raise cholesterol? ›

Eggs are fairly low in fat

Egg yolks contain some fat, but the white hardly contains any. One average egg (58g) contains around 4.6g fat, which is about a teaspoon. Only a quarter of this is saturated fat, the type that raises cholesterol levels in the body.

Are eggs good for your stomach? ›

As part of a balanced diet, eggs contribute to a healthy digestive tract and can be helpful during acute digestive problems. In addition to being packed with nutrients, eggs are usually easy to digest compared to some other high-protein foods, such as meat and legumes.

Are eggs healthy or not 2022? ›

Are eggs healthy? One egg gives you 6 grams of protein and they're packed with vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B12, vitamin B9 (folate) and lutein. “For somebody on a strict budget, it's a good, inexpensive source of different nutrients and high-quality protein,” says Campbell.

Do eggs raise cholesterol 2022? ›

Chicken eggs are an affordable source of protein and other nutrients. They're also naturally high in cholesterol. But the cholesterol in eggs doesn't seem to raise cholesterol levels the way some other foods, such as those high in trans fats and saturated fats, do.

Is 1 egg a day enough protein? ›

It is best to limit your intake to one whole egg a day, but if you are on a high protein diet, you can also consume up to three. People with diabetes and cardiovascular issues should be extra cautious and not consume more than one whole egg a day.

Will I gain weight if I eat 2 eggs a day? ›

Eating eggs may support weight loss, especially if a person incorporates them into a calorie-controlled diet. Research suggests that eggs boost metabolic activity and increase feelings of fullness. Eating an egg-based breakfast may stop a person from consuming extra calories throughout the day.

Are boiled eggs good for you? ›

Hard-boiled eggs are a low-calorie, nutrient-dense food. They're an excellent source of high-quality protein and rich in B vitamins, zinc, calcium and other important nutrients and antioxidants like choline, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Can you live on eggs? ›

Eggs can be a healthful source of protein, but they should not be the only food a person eats. The egg diet may lead to weight loss initially, but it is not a balanced or safe weight loss plan in the long-term.

Do eggs raise blood pressure? ›

Egg consumption has no significant effects on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults.

Does olive oil raise cholesterol? ›

Olive oil is packed full of beneficial antioxidants that can lower your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol while leaving your "good" (HDL) cholesterol untouched.

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