Touted for their benefits as a great protein source, eggs have also been maligned because their yolks contain about 186 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol — more than half of the American Heart Association’s daily recommendation.
Worries about cholesterol and its impact on the heart have prompted many people to substitute whole eggs with egg whites only, or to completely eliminate eggs from their diet. But there’s a lot about eggs you may not know. They contain essential vitamins and minerals that benefit brain and heart health, and they provide an essential source of protein.
“If you think about its availability and low cost and all the good things in it, it’s actually pretty darn good,” says James A. Underberg, MD, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
Here’s a handy guide that unscrambles the truth about eggs so you can get the most out of this nutritious and delicious food.
Eggs Don’t Raise Cholesterol Levels
Eggs do contain a lot of cholesterol. However, for most people, only a small amount of that cholesterol goes into the bloodstream. According to the American Heart Association, saturated fat in a person’s diet has a greater impact on raising blood cholesterol levels than cholesterol in food. One large egg has only 1.6 grams of saturated fat. Compare that to one tablespoon of butter, which contains 7 grams saturated fat.
Eggs are one of the best forms of protein, because you can avoid the carbs.James Underberg, MD
“It’s important that people understand that a major determinant of bad cholesterol is saturated fat, not cholesterol,” says Katherine Tallmadge, a nutritionist and author of the book Diet Simple. “People are afraid of cholesterol in food so they cut out eggs, but they get plenty of saturated fat in butter and cheese — so their cholesterol stays high.”
Eggs Are Loaded With Nutrients
“Eggs are probably one of the best forms of protein out there because you get it without the carbs,” says Dr. Underberg. Along with providing 6 grams of protein, an egg is a good source of B vitamins, folic acid, and iron. Egg yolks also contain the nutrient lutein, which, according to a study in the journal Circulation, can protect against the progression of heart disease.
The high cholesterol content in egg yolks can give people a scare. But that creamy, yellow center is loaded with nutrients to counter its negative qualities. The yolk contains nearly half of all the protein found in an egg and is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which helps build strong bones and teeth and aids in the absorption of calcium, Tallmadge says. According to a study of pregnant women published in The FASEB Journal, choline, an essential nutrient found in egg yolk, was shown to decrease the risk of fetal neural tube defects like spina bifida.
Have Diabetes or Heart Disease? Proceed With Caution
A review of studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that egg consumption was linked to cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes, but not in the general population. The Harvard School of Public Health suggests that people who have heart disease should limit their egg consumption overall to include no more than three yolks per week.
Underberg advises against completely banning eggs from your diet, considering all of the health benefits they provide. “If you’re diabetic and want to eat eggs, do it without the bread or corn beef hash. Stay away from the carbs, and keep [eggs] to a minimum,” he says.
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How to Pair Eggs With Other Foods
It’s all about the company your eggs keep, so pay attention to the side dishes you pick. “People have eggs alongside foods that are high in saturated fats, like bacon, sausage or buttered toast,” says Tallmadge. “Those meal patterns raise cholesterol levels and make it seem like eating eggs is worse than it actually is.”
Underberg suggests pairing eggs with healthy foods like tomatoes and avocados, steel-cut oats, or one piece of whole grain toast. “It makes the food pairing process less toxic,” he says. To eliminate unhealthy oils and butter, Underberg advises poaching or boiling eggs instead of frying or scrambling.