It used to be that the health community was wary of eggs due to their high cholesterol content. But times have changed, and we now know that cholesterol levels in food don’t raise serum cholesterol levels in the majority of people. Nutrition experts now believe that eating eggs in moderation, as part of a balanced diet, can be healthy. But many members of the public haven’t gotten this message.
“People are confused,” said Isabel Maples, MEd, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “They want to eat eggs, but they aren’t sure if they should eat eggs—particularly if they already have heart disease. But people definitely can enjoy eggs as part of a healthy diet.”
Eggs, it turns out, are a nutritious option for most people—including those with heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) used to recommend limiting egg consumption to just three per week. Now, the AHA says that one whole egg per day (or seven eggs per week) can be part of a healthy eating pattern.
Eggs come in a variety of sizes, from small to jumbo. A large egg is an average-sized egg. It supplies 75 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein. In other words, one egg has about a teaspoon of fat and roughly the amount of protein in 1 oz of meat. Saturated fat makes up part of that fat—1.6 grams of it.
MyPlate recommends limiting saturated fat to < 10% of total calories. The AHA is more stringent, recommending that saturated fat be between 5% and 6% of one’s daily calories.
To put that into perspective, on a 2,000-calorie diet, MyPlate would limit saturated fat to 22 grams and the AHA would keep it to 13 grams. In the past, a cholesterol limit of 300 mg per day was recommended by MyPlate and the AHA, although neither organization now sets a limit on dietary cholesterol because there’s not enough evidence that doing so makes a difference.
Egg yolks are rich in antioxidants; two major carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, give egg yolks their yellow color. Egg yolks are also a main source of choline, which is related to B vitamins and serves as a building block for acetylcholine.
Eggs offer plenty of health benefits, which span several organ systems.
The carotenoids in egg yolks, for instance, are important in eye health; they help prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
“The research is showing that lutein and choline are important to maintain cognitive function as we age. Choline seems to help protect against Alzheimer’s’ disease,” said Maples.
The nutrients found in eggs can also boost heart health, according to Maples.
Eggs as part of a balanced diet
Maples pointed out that eggs are normally conceived as part of a “big breakfast,” including sausage, hash browns, bacon, white toast, jam, and so forth. They are also prepared using unhealthy oils, including butter, lard, and bacon grease.
The key to realizing the nutritional value in eggs, according to Maples, is to consider eating eggs alongside healthier alternatives, such as grapefruit or whole-wheat products. Moreover, eggs can be eaten alone. Hard-boiled eggs with no additional salt or seasoning make for a great snack.
“For a healthier breakfast, pair eggs with nutrient-rich foods, like avocado, whole-grain toast, and juice,” said Maples. “Plus, eggs aren’t just for breakfast.”
An egg before exercising, for instance, can provide some satiety without making you feel stuffed. Eaten after a workout, eggs can counteract the effects of fatigue.
“After a hard workout, a mix of carbohydrates and protein may help replenish energy store and decrease muscle soreness, which can help you recuperate faster, studies show,” explained Maples.
Brown or white?
Some people think that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, but this is not the case.
“Many people I know buy brown eggs thinking that they are more nutritious,” said Maples, “but brown eggs are just laid by a different breed of chicken.”
On a related note, Maples highlighted other varieties of egg sold at the grocers, including:
- Those with higher omega-3 content
- Vegetarian eggs, which come from chickens that consume vegetarian-friendly feed
- Organic eggs, which come from chickens that consume organic feed
- Free-range eggs, which come from free-range chickens that are free to roam and eat insects in addition to feed
- Pasteurized eggs, which offer the option of eating eggs raw without being infected with salmonella
All of these characteristics should be clearly—and usually boldly—displayed on the label.
But despite this variety in egg alternatives, Maples sees limited differences in nutritional content.
“There’s an egg for everyone! Having so many choices, on the other hand, can be confusing,” she said. “As a registered dietitian, I don’t recommend one egg over the other. Don’t feel pressured to pick one egg or the other for better nutrition, quality, or safety—because the basic egg is still a great choice. However, if you like the flavor (or something else about a specialty egg) and can afford them, then go ahead,” she added.
Maples pointed out, however, that fancier varieties of egg also come with much higher price tags.
“Enjoy eggs as part of a healthy diet but keep the balance in there,” concluded Maples. “Use other protein sources and a balance of other food groups. All of this helps moderate how many eggs you need.”