November 23, 2017
Are Eggs Bad for Your Heart?
Claim Check

Are Eggs Bad for Your Heart?

by Densie Webb Ph.d., R.d.  

The claim: Eggs raise blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.

The facts: It’s no wonder this myth still circulates. Recommendations to limit dietary cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams a day have been around for decades, from the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and, until recently, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Ounce-for-ounce, eggs (specifically egg yolks) are the most concentrated source of cholesterol in the American diet (141 to 234 mg per egg, depending on size).

For decades, researchers and health organizations believed diets high in eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods raised the cholesterol in your blood. An elevated level of blood cholesterol, especially LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, is a proven risk factor for cardiovascular disease (which includes heart attacks and strokes).

But it turns out that the amount of cholesterol in your diet is not a major factor in increasing the cholesterol level in your blood or increasing your risk for CVD, even when eating as much as one egg a day. Saturated fats raise blood cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol does.

For example, a 2016 study of more than 1,000 men, ages 42 to 60, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that egg intake (up to one a day) was not associated with an increased thickening of the carotid artery, a marker for cardiovascular disease, even among those with a strong genetic susceptibility to elevated cholesterol levels. As the authors concluded, “The health effects of eggs, or any other food, cannot be reliably determined by a single nutrient in the food, such as cholesterol…in eggs.”

For the first time, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans no longer recommend a daily limit on dietary cholesterol and have even included eggs in all the examples of healthy eating patterns that have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic health conditions. Many other countries have set no upper limit for cholesterol intake.

And indeed, unnecessarily limiting or eliminating eggs from your diet removes a source of a high-quality protein and 13 vitamins and minerals, as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

So is it okay to go wild with foods rich in cholesterol? No. Some people are “hyper-responders,” who do experience an increase in blood cholesterol when they consume excess dietary cholesterol. Genes may play a role. And if you have diabetes or other cardiovascular risk factors, your doctor may continue to advise you to limit dietary cholesterol.

Bear in mind also that the latest Dietary Guidelines still recommend that people eat as little cholesterol as possible in general, since foods rich in cholesterol (like fatty meats, butter, and ice cream) also tend to be high in saturated fat. One large egg, however, has only 1.6 grams of saturated fat (8 percent of the Daily Value).

Also see Do Spicy Foods Cause Ulcers?