Eggs get a weird rap in life. We hear they’re good for us, we hear they’re bad for us. We hear that they can raise your cholesterol, then we hear that they’re loaded with protein and are great for you. So what’s going on? What’s the truth behind this exceptionally popular breakfast item that adds so much to so many recipes? Let’s take a look!
What’s In An Egg?
Before we can dive into this, I think it’s important to get an understanding of exactly what’s in an egg? From my initial understanding – and something I think I’ve been pretty clear on since age 3, an egg consists of two parts (at least that we’re concerned with) the white and the yolk.
The egg yolk is the yellowish-orange part of the egg. It exists to supply food to the baby chicken when it’s developing inside of the egg. The yolk is nutrient dense and contains the vitamins, minerals, and most of the protein in an egg. It also contains the fat and cholesterol that we mentioned in the intro.
The egg white exists to protect the yolk and the developing baby chick. It provides additional nutrition, but is mostly water (around 90%) and protein (the remaining 10%).
Side note – If the idea of eating a developing baby chick turns your stomach, don’t worry. The eggs that you buy in the store are unfertilized, so there’s no chicken developing inside the shell.
The yolk contains a fair amount of cholesterol, but it’s HDL – the good kind of cholesterol (as we discussed in Fat – The Dirty Word In Nutrition). Unfortunately, the yolks are also a source of not only the good fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) but also saturated fats – the bad ones. It’s this cholesterol that leads to most of the fear surrounding eggs.
The Egg Controversy
So what exactly is the controversy about eggs, and why can’t it be resolved one definitive way, or another?
The general overview is that eggs may be bad for your heart, but not eggs specifically – that would be far to easy. The controversy stems around our old nemesis cholesterol.
As mentioned, both types of cholesterol are found in eggs, HDL and LDL. As we learned in Fat – The Dirty Word In Nutrition, HDL cholesterol is considered “good” because it helps to rid your body of the bad LDL cholesterol (along with the other important roles that cholesterol plays in your body). LDL Cholesterol on the other hand causes trouble for your body, and especially your heart. This might explain why there’s such a mixed bag of evidence reported about eggs. Some reports claim eggs raise cholesterol levels, but others claim that eggs don’t seem to raise cholesterol the same way that trans and saturated fats do (cholesterol is just another word for fat in the blood). Since both types of cholesterol are found in eggs, are they lowering or raising your cholesterol? That’s the part that no-one can seem to agree on. Are they raising your overall cholesterol levels – but not in a bad way due to the types of cholesterol they contain?
The truth is, like so many nutrition based controversies, there’s just no definitive answer to whether or not eggs are 100% healthy for you. There are too many variables to get a solid answer.
Further confusing the results of studies are the foods that many people eat along with eggs – things like bacon and sausage which also increase cholesterol and can add to your risk of developing heart disease. Layering even more confusion is the way many people prepare their eggs – in butter, grease or oils.
So what’s a boy or girl to do?
Many health experts recommend limiting your consumption of dietary cholesterol. Their suggestion is to keep your consumption under 300 milligrams per day. Since eggs have around 187 milligrams of cholesterol per egg, the cholesterol adds up quickly – I mean, who eats 1 egg for breakfast? Because they’re so high in cholesterol, they’re an easy target – BUT, most people just look at the total number without considering how much is the good vs. the bad cholesterol.
According to our friends over at Healthline, you can safely eat around 3 eggs a day. For around 70% of the population, consuming this number noted no increase in the bad LDL Cholesterol.
If you’re still not sure, the good news is all of the cholesterol is found in the yolk. So if you’re concerned with limiting your cholesterol intake, and want to sidestep the entire debate, consider eating egg whites instead.
The bad news is that most of the flavor in eggs comes from the yolks. So if you do stick to just the whites, consider additives like herbs (fresh or dried) to liven things up. A shake of basil or thyme into your egg white omelette along with some salt and pepper can help increase the flavor a bit. Better still is adding chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers or spinach.
If you feel this is all overly cautious, you’re not alone. Since the research is foggy and contradictory. If you have – or are at risk of – any cardiovascular issues, make this decision with your doctor. Especially if you have a family history of heart disease. Your doctor will be able to help you decide what is best for your particular circumstance.
In the mean time, enjoy your breakfast – whether it’s a full on “with yolk” egg, or a lighter egg white!
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Eggs May Be Bad for the Heart, a New Study Says—But There’s More to the Story
Associations of Dietary Cholesterol or Egg Consumption With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality
Eggs: Are they good or bad for my cholesterol?
Healthline: Eggs and Cholesterol — How Many Eggs Can You Safely Eat?