Reality check: Are eggs really healthy?

Eggs are one of the few food sources that contain vitamin D. Barbara Spaggiari/EyeEm/Getty Images

Eggs — are they or aren’t they healthy?

It’s a question that’s been bounced around among nutritionists, dietitians and egg eaters alike, but it seems like no one can come to a real consensus of just how healthy eggs are.

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Some believe eggs are packed with cholesterol that can be bad for heart health, while others argue that those claims are misguided. So which claim is true?

The answer is not as black and white as one would think, according to registered dietitians Andrea D’Ambrosio of Dietetic Directions and Andy De Santis of Andy the RD.

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“There is no denying that eggs have a lot going for them,” De Santis says. “They are an inexpensive source of high-quality protein that also happens to be a source of antioxidants, namely lutein and zeaxanthin (which benefit eye health).”

In an effort to cut down on total calories and total fat, it’s not uncommon for health-conscious consumers to ditch the yellow yolks, D’Ambrosio says, and instead opt for just the egg whites.

“It is true that skipping the egg yolk will decrease total calorie and fat intake,” she says. “But you will be missing out on key nutrients, such as choline.”

Choline, D’Ambrosio explains, is a nutrient for brain development. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers need this nutrient in their diets to support the infant’s brain development.

The yolk also contains half of the total protein, as well as other vitamins and minerals, like folate, choline, vitamin A, riboflavin, iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and healthy fatty acids.

But perhaps the biggest debate has been surrounding the cholesterol content of eggs — is there such a thing as too much?

According to D’Ambrosio, these claims stem from research which took place in the 1970s. Much of the research during that time concluded that foods high in cholesterol (like eggs) will increase your blood cholesterol.

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However, she says, when examining the early research, it became apparent that the foods examined were not only high in cholesterol, but also high in saturated fat (like butter and fatty meats), as well as trans fats (like man-made, partially hydrogenated oils).

“Therefore, newer research has concluded that the saturated and trans fats are actually the main culprits for increasing blood cholesterol,” D’Ambrosio points out. “Interestingly, emerging research is now examining how much of the cholesterol in eggs is actually absorbed by our bodies and it appears to be lower than suspected.”

But whole eggs can still be a part of a heart healthy diet, she adds.

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Those without high cholesterol, diabetes or a history of heart disease can eat an average of one egg a day without increasing blood cholesterol or risk of cardiovascular disease, D’Ambrosio says. However, the Canadian Diabetes Association suggests that if you do have high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease, limit whole eggs to two or less per week.

De Santis agrees.

“Researchers tend to agree that an egg a day for an otherwise healthy person will have no negative implications for their health,” he says. “That is on average, seven eggs a week.”

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However, research out of the University of Eastern Finland studied the dietary habits of 1,032 men between the ages of 42 and 60 with no baseline diagnosis of cardiovascular disease and found that having a high-cholesterol diet and eating eggs did not increase the risk of a heart attack.

Another study out of the University of Sydney also found that eggs were not linked to cardiovascular risk. Researchers concluded that eating up to 12 eggs per week for a year did not increase one’s risk of cardiovascular disease in people with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes specifically.

Other fun egg facts:

  • Brown and white eggs are not different in terms of nutrition
  • 1 serving from the meat and alternatives group in Canada’s Food Guide is two eggs
  • All the egg’s vitamins are in the yolk
  • Eggs are one of few foods that contain vitamin D (25 IU vitamin D)

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