Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Should eggs actually be part of a balanced diet and should you be worried about their high cholesterol content? There’s so much about them to love, yet there’s still so much fear around them. For years, people have limited their egg intake thinking it was the major cause of high cholesterol levels and eating eggs will increase their risk of heart disease.
But the science shows that we were wrong. I was wrong too, and have been a huge egg fan for the past five years.
One of the biggest nutrition myths is that eating eggs raises serum cholesterol levels. We now know though that dietary cholesterol doesn’t really affect blood cholesterol except in the few people we call hyper responders. Another is that egg yolks are a waste of calories and don’t provide any nutritional benefit. Here’s the truth: Eggs are nutritional powerhouses.
Nutrition in an Egg
One large egg has 13 essential vitamins and minerals, six grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids in the appropriate ratio for our body (the building blocks of protein) — all for only ~70 calories!
Here are some of the stand-out nutrients found in eggs — especially the yolks — and what they can do for you:
Choline: Plays an essential role in fetal and infant brain development. Adequate choline during pregnancy also may aid in preventing neural tube defects.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin: These phytochemicals play a role in eye health, particularly in the prevention of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Vitamin D: Is essential for bone health by aiding the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because the most natural way to get vitamin D is through your skin from the sun. There aren’t many foods that naturally contain vitamin D, but egg yolks do!
Protein: Eggs are a good source of high-quality protein (one large egg has 6 grams), with 60 percent coming from the whites and 40 percent from the yolks. Protein helps with muscle recovery, appetite and blood sugar control, all of which are important for weight maintenance and diabetes prevention.
Leucine: An essential amino acid that plays a unique role in muscle protein synthesis.
Eggs and Cholesterol
Cholesterol is actually essential to the human body and plays a special role in the formation of brain cells and certain hormones such as androgens and estrogens.
What you may not realize is that there is a difference between dietary cholesterol found in food, and cholesterol in the blood, most of which is made in the liver.
Consumption of dietary cholesterol, such as that in eggs, has little impact on your blood cholesterol levels, and research has shown this repeatedly. Data from a January 2015 American Heart Journal study indicated that daily consumption of eggs or egg substitute had no adverse effects on any cardiac risk factors. Even more so, the authors of this study said that excluding eggs could potentially lead to alternate choices high in starch and sugar, potentially associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk.
So where does that leave you and your eggs?
It was previously stated that you should limit dietary cholesterol intake to <300 mg a day. One large egg contains ~186 mg of cholesterol, which is already more than ½ of your daily limit recommendation. The American Heart Association and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the removal of the daily cholesterol limit of 300 mg and suggested that we do not have an upper limit for cholesterol intake in their dietary recommendations.
Conclusion: Eggs can and should be part of a balanced diet!
This seaways us into our next topic... which brand of eggs do I buy at the grocery store?!
Have you ever wondered why chicken eggs come in a variety of colors-- white, cream, brown, blue or green? Do the different colors impact the flavor or the health value of the eggs?
Egg color is determined by the genetics of the hens. The breed of the hen will indicate what color eggs she will produce. For example, Leghorn chickens lay white eggs while Orpington’s lay brown eggs and Ameraucana produce blue eggs. An interesting tip is to look at the chicken’s ear lobes; typically those with white earlobes produce white eggs.
Other than appearance, there are no major nutritional differences between eggs from different breeds of chickens.
And to add more confusion to the mix, what about Egg Labels? What kind of eggs should I buy? Cage free, free range? What does that mean?
1. Grade AA, Grade A & Grade B
According to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, eggs are graded on appearance and quality.
Grade AA is the best, with "thick, firm whites and high, round yolks" and strong shells. Grade A is pretty much the same, but with "reasonably" firm whites instead — these are the ones usually sold in grocery stores.
And finally, there are Grade B eggs, which have "thin whites and wider yolks." The shells on Grade B eggs aren't cracked, but they may be a bit stained, making these eggs ideal for baking and other recipes that don't count on appearance.
Though it sounds appealing, this phrase tells you nothing about the egg production process or even the egg. It's basically stating the obvious: that the egg is, in fact, a real egg from a real hen. "All-Natural" has no meaning and is pure marketing.
The phrase "cage-free" paints an idyllic picture in one's mind: hens given freedom beyond the restrictive cages found in many production facilities. Cage free hens are given access to roam the facility. But usually facilities are dark and small.
"Free-Range" takes it a step further: in addition to not adhering to the cage system, free-range eggs come from hens that either live in, or are given access to, the outdoors.
Studies have found that there is no nutritional difference between eggs from free-range hens and eggs from hens housed in production facilities with cages.
5. Farm Fresh
This term is also for marketing purposes only, and doesn't really convey any information.
Sure, the words "farm" and "fresh" sound appetizing when placed next to each other. But "Farm Fresh" on a carton simply means you're getting good ol' fashioned eggs from a hen who lived on a commercial farm. If you want farm fresh eggs, check out farmers near you and support local!
If eggs are branded as organic, they should also have a USDA seal on the carton, which confirms that the farm or facility at which they were produced has been certified organic.
Organic eggs must come from free-range hens. Those hens also must be fed organic feed, mostly grain, and not fed poultry by-products, manure, antibiotics, or any "animal drugs."
7. No Hormones
This label — like "Farm Fresh" and "All-Natural" — states the obvious. No egg-laying hens in the U.S. receive hormones or hormone injections, which means phrases like "Hormone-Free" or "No Hormones" could technically be put on every carton in the store.
Omega-3 is a type of fatty acid that has been proven to help with heart and brain health. But just because your egg carton has the "Omega-3" label doesn't mean you're buying eggs with adequate amounts of the Omega-3 FA your body needs.
It means female hens are fed with some amount of flaxseed. That’s it. That is the only requirement. The amount they are fed with usually isn’t enough to give the egg any significant omega-3 fatty acid nutritional content.
So there you have it, eggs can be a part of your balanced diet!
Have you ever thought about eating eggs outside of breakfast?
Check out this delicious recipe from bon appetit for broccoli and egg fried rice!