Soft boiled eggs are a huge part of my diet, I eat an average of 2 per day, yolks and all. After one particularly ravenous morning when I ate four eggs, I worried that maybe this behavior was bad for my health. Specifically, bad for my cholesterol levels which means bad for my heart. I’ve never had high cholesterol, but have always heard that cholesterol is harmful and that eggs are basically cholesterol bombs. So will my zealous egg consumption make me sick? Here’s what I learned…

NUTRITIONAL COMPOSITION OF EGGS

Aside from being super tasty, nutritionally speaking, eggs are a pretty ideal fuel source! Typically, one free-range egg delivers:

  • 70 calories (3% daily value based on 2,000 calorie diet)
  • 6 grams of high-quality protein (12% DV)
  • 5 grams of fat (8% DV) 
  • 1.5 grams of saturated fat (8% DV) 
  • 70mg Sodium (3% DV)
  • 0 grams carbohydrates
  • Essential nutrients like: Iron, Vitamin A, Calcium, minerals, and carotenoids (which help fight disease and are believed to reduce age-related memory and muscle degeneration).
  • 185mg Cholesterol (62% DV) 

Aside from cholesterol uncertainty, I think we can all agree that this nutrition information is compelling! One egg provides a great balance of protein, fat and omega 3s that satiate and nourish with a small caloric impact. They are also an affordable and quick food source, which I appreciate! As for the cholesterol guilt and concern, it’s not really warranted. Let’s dive in…

THE GOOD & BAD PARTS OF CHOLESTEROL

  • What it is: Cholesterol doesn’t sit on our bodies in a visible way like muscle or fat. Instead, cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream to and from our cells in two forms – low density and high density lipoproteins (LDL and HDL, respectively). Our bodies naturally create and use cholesterol to make estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D, and other vital compounds. Sometimes folks refer to cholesterol as a ‘building block’ for our cells and by extension, a healthy body. Important note: the cholesterol that enters our body through the food we eat is called dietary cholesterol.
  • Why people freak out about cholesterol: Together with other substances, an excess of cholesterol in the body can form thick, hard deposits inside our arteries, which makes them more narrow and less flexible. If a clot forms inside our artery it can severely slow or stop critical blood flow and result in a heart attack or a stroke. The gravity of any type of heart failure has caused eggs and cholesterol to get a bad reputation, but it’s not that simple. To learn more about the various misconceptions about cholesterol and heart health, check out this resource from the AHA.
  • “Bad cholesterol”: The low density type of cholesterol contributes to clogged arteries and plaque build up that put one at risk for heart attacks, etc. The ideal is to have low levels of LDL in your blood.
  • “Good cholesterol”: The high density type partially counteracts the effects of the LDL cholesterol. It helps flush about 25% of the low density lipoproteins out of our arteries and to our liver, where it is broken up and eventually expelled from our bodies.

WHAT YOU SHOULD ACTUALLY FOCUS ON

We can probably all agree that having too much cholesterol sounds bad and scary, but there is a catch that it important to note when making food choices!

  • Saturated and trans fats – High cholesterol levels are not only caused by eating high cholesterol foods. In fact, the greatest factor of your blood cholesterol levels is not the amount of food you eat with cholesterol in it — it’s the mix of fats and carbohydrates in your diet. Contrary to historic assumptions, studies now suggest that the greatest culprits for high levels of bad cholesterol are foods high in saturated fats, like meat, poultry and full-fat dairy. These foods are important to consume in moderation because high saturated fat consumption triggers the liver to more (unnecessary) cholesterol, which clogs arteries.
  • Lifestyle – Although genetics can play a role in unhealthily high cholesterol levels, your lifestyle is a huge determinant. Leading causes of high cholesterol and the associated health risks are: inactivity, tobacco use, unhealthy diet and excess weight. So per usual, the recommendation is to be active, maintain a healthy body weight, and eat a good balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.

WHAT STUDIES SAY ABOUT DAILY EGG CONSUMPTION

  • You don’t need to avoid eggs – People who consume eggs in moderation actually have lower risk of heart disease than those who eat none.
  • Dietary cholesterol isn’t a nutrient at risk of over-consumption, watch fats – This news from the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee nullifies prior guidance to limit dietary cholesterol consumption to 300mg per day. Learn more here.
  • Do limit consumption if you are diabetic! If you have diabetes or any heart disease risk or symptoms, consult your doctor. Although not definitive and mostly based on studies of male patients, existing research suggest that people with diabetes have greater mortality risk if they eat high-egg diets.

THE BOTTOM LINE

  • Active folks with a balanced diet can safely eat 2+ entire eggs per day and not worry about it.
  • If you like eggs but are trying to cut back on your calories or overall fat consumption, enjoy one egg with the yolk and the other without.
  • If you are at risk for heart disease or have been diagnosed with diabetes or high cholesterol consult with your doctor!
  • I am not a doctor, click the studies I linked to for insights for the people with the degrees!

Images by Penniless PhotographerElise Mesner, As It All Fades, Six and Five Studio and Food Nude.