Eggs are making headlines again this week so I thought I’d break down some of the info for you around eggs, cholesterol, and heart health.
Many people who choose eggs do so for the protein content; a large egg supplies about 6 grams of this hunger-busting, muscle-boosting nutrient. Most of that protein is found in the lower-calorie whites, but that doesn’t mean you should toss the yolk. The yolk is where you’ll find meaningful levels of valuable vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as potentially anti-inflammatory fats (provided you’re choosing organic or pasture-raised eggs, which are higher in omega 3 fats). The question about egg yolks comes up because it’s also where you’ll find the saturated fat and cholesterol in eggs, and there have been concerns about these two substances and the risk of heart disease.
What the science shows
Most of the science over the past 20 years has repeatedly shown that eating an average of just under 7 eggs a week is a nutritious and safe habit. In fact, the American Heart Associationsupports this habit as part of a healthy diet and in 2015, the scientific advisory committeefor the US Dietary Guidelines removed cholesterol limits from the guidelines because the body of evidence linking dietary cholesterol to cholesterol in the blood (and therefore, a higher risk of heart disease) was weak.
The latest study re-raises this question, finding that cholesterol in the diet as well as overall egg consumption were linked to a higher risk of heart disease and death. But it’s important to note that the type of study wasn’t designed to show cause and effect. It gathered pooled research from six previous studies that tracked what people ate for a number of years and then looked to see if the participants developed heart disease. After analyzing the data, they found a link, but it’s merely that. We can’t say whether egg consumption actually caused heart disease. It’s also worth mentioning that studies like this ask participants to remember what they ate over previous weeks—a memory challenge that proves difficult at times!
It’s really impossible to draw any major conclusions based on one study—we have to look at the totality of evidence. And the evidence that has mounted over the past two decades doesn’t line up with this recent study.
Can a heart healthy diet include eggs?
I haven’t switched my opinion about eggs based on these findings, but I do think it’s a good idea to consider how you’re buying and eating them. Organic and pasture-raised eggs have more omega 3 anti-inflammatory fats—the heart-healthy type found in fish. I prefer these eggs to conventional eggs because of their more favorable nutrition profile.
I’d also consider what your egg-based meal looks like. Common sides, like, bacon, sausage, and refined grains (think: white toast) have been associated with a higher risk of heart disease and other health concerns. Your heart will thank you for limiting these foods. Instead, focus on heart-healthy sides. Heart-healthy egg companions include foods like, a base of salad greens or cooked greens, sliced avocados, a hash made from sweet potatoes, peppers, and onions, as well as black beans.
How to protect your heart
Eating habits play a large role in heart disease risk, but other lifestyle measures can also impact your heart health. Of course, physical activity can help reduce your risk, and so can coping with stress in healthful ways. Making sure that your relationships are well tended to is another way to reduce your risk of heart disease. In general, happier marriages and healthier relationships are tied to better health outcomes.
Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans (both men and women) and it’s nothing to take lightly. As always, you should check in with your doctor at routine intervals to have your biomarkers for heart disease measured. This goes beyond checking cholesterol levels and is a smart plan whether you eat eggs or not.