Whether you love them boiled, fried, poached, over easy or scrambled, eggs are officially back the daily menu—though they never left for many of us—thanks to the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines released in January, which no longer include a cholesterol restriction on specific foods. Updated every five years, the new guidelines state the relationship between dietary cholesterol (found only in animal foods) and blood cholesterol levels is inconclusive, and more research is needed. The guidelines recommend to continue limiting dietary cholesterol with the exception of cholesterol from eggs and shellfish.
Eggs have gotten a bum rap since the 1960s when they were thought to be linked to heart disease and stroke due to a high saturated fat and cholesterol content. A large egg contains 186 mg cholesterol, which means having two for breakfast would have put you over the U.S. Dietary Guidelines’ recommended daily cholesterol restriction of 300 mg—up until now. The research associating dietary cholesterol with heart disease has been labeled as hazy by members of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, who point out how dietary guidelines in Europe, Asia, and Canada don’t have a restriction on cholesterol intake.
“It is now evident that dietary cholesterol does not increase blood cholesterol as much, or if at all, as thought in the past,” says Tara Collingwood, R.D.N., a sports nutritionist in Orlando, Florida, official nutritionist for runDisney, and member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (though she did not advise on the actual dietary guidelines).
The new guidelines also recommend a limit of 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. The saturated fat from one egg equals 1.6 g, or 1 percent of calories in a 1,500-calorie daily diet. “We need to worry more about saturated fat and not so much about dietary cholesterol,” says Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at Tufts University who is also a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
So where does this leave you in terms of egg consumption? Can you have as many as you’d like, or should you continue to eat them in moderation? Read on to find out more, before you order that three-egg omelet.
Why Eggs Are Good for Your Health
First, you should know exactly what eggs bring to the plate. Eggs are one of the best sources of macronutrients and micronutrients. A large one provides 6 grams of protein, which adds up to 13 percent of your daily recommended amount. Eggs are also one of the most easily absorbed protein-rich foods. Your body is able to more effectively use egg protein than the kind you get from milk, fish, beef, tofu, or beans. Egg yolks contain vitamin A (good for eyes and skin), vitamin D (helpful for bones), and B vitamins (important in the body’s protein-building process). Eggs also have important minerals, such as iron and zinc. They’re also one of the few dietary sources of choline, good for the brain.
The fat in eggs can be beneficial for health. When volunteers ate eggs with raw salad, absorption of the carotenoids in the vegetables significantly increased, according to a 2015 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by guidelines committee member Wayne W. Campbell, Ph.D., and his Purdue University colleagues. Carotenoids are good for eyesight and help lower risk of certain cancers.
Additionally, eggs may help lower incident of type 2 diabetes. In one Finnish study, also published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, researchers found that people who ate more eggs (about three and a half weekly) had a lower risk of diabetes, versus subjects eating one egg a week. In the study, egg eaters were more likely to have a healthier diet and were less likely to smoke.
The Incredible Edible Egg Debate
So how many eggs can you have? “An egg or two a day is fine,” says Nelson. “As long as they are prepared in a healthy way, there is no need to restrict them.”
Campbell, a nutrition professor at Purdue University, has similar thoughts. “Based on the cholesterol issue alone, there is no need to restrict egg intake,” he says. “But all things in moderation still holds.” If you’re eating a lot of foods rich in saturated fat—like butter, cheese, cream, or high-fat meats—you should probably limit your egg intake.
Should anyone else limit egg intake? Yes, says Collingwood. People with heart disease or a high risk of it, or those with uncontrolled high blood pressure should consider restricting intake to one egg daily, or choose egg whites only.
What About Egg Whites?
Are these diet standbys sidelined now? Nope. They can remain an important part of the diet, especially for people watching their total calories or saturated fat intake. “There is no need to pit egg whites, egg substitutes, and whole eggs against each other,” says Campbell. “If consuming egg whites and egg substitutes is helping you attain a heart-healthy diet, then stick with them.”
One more thing to keep in mind about eggs: They can be incubators for harmful bacteria. In other words, disease-causing bacteria grows especially well in them, so refrigerate them as soon as possible after buying. Also, cook egg dishes until their internal temperature rises to 160° F, which will instantly kill almost any bacteria. What does this look like? That’s when the white part has coagulated completely (it’s solid, but tender), meaning there’s no watery liquid within the shell.