Sorting through the conflicting information on the health benefits of eggs.
Are eggs a nutrient powerhouse or the ticket to heart disease? Decades of misinformation have confused the issue of whether eggs are healthy or not. The confusion centers on saturated fat and cholesterol. Government “experts” have, as far back as the 1960s, told Americans to limit foods high in saturated fat and to pursue low-fat diets instead. Many Americans subscribed to this ideology and avoided foods like eggs for their fat and cholesterol content. The truth is, eggs have many health benefits and contain dozens of important nutrients, and the science has proven that eggs can actually be heart protective.
Eggs are a superfood. Eating just two eggs can give you 10-30 percent of your daily vitamin requirements. One whole egg contains:
- 10% daily value of vitamin A
- 15% daily value of vitamin D
- 15% daily value of vitamin E
- 2% daily value of vitamin B1
- 18% daily value of vitamin B2
- 15% daily value of vitamin B5
- 7% daily value of vitamin B6
- 50% daily value of vitamin B12
Eggs also contain a host of minerals, including iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, copper, magnesium, selenium, and manganese.
Of these nutrients, choline is particularly important. This nutrient, which is a B vitamin, has been identified by government surveys as being under consumed in the US; an estimated 91.7 percent of Americans don’t get enough of it. Choline performs a variety of important functions in the body, including in neurotransmitter synthesis, lipid transport, and detoxification. Not getting enough is very problematic, particularly during pregnancy when low intake is associated with higher risk of neural tube defects in the newborn. Choline deficiency can also cause fatigue, insomnia, poor kidney function, and memory problems. While some choline is synthesized by the body, some people have a common gene variation (MTFHR polymorphisms) that causes them to need more choline to satisfy the body’s requirements. Choline deficiency can also lead to the development of fatty liver disease.
But what about all that saturated fat and cholesterol found in eggs, specifically the yolks? Should you be worried? The answer, in short, is no! Studies from the 1940s showed a correlation between high-fat diets and high-cholesterol levels, suggesting that a low-fat diet might prevent heart disease for high-risk patients. By the 1960s, low-fat diets were touted not just for those at risk for heart disease, but for everyone. From that point on, the low-fat ideology became a dogma promoted by physicians, the government, and the food industry. Ironically, it is during this time when the low-fat dogma dominated that obesity rates skyrocketed.
Newer research has shown the thinking behind the advantages of low-fat diets to be wrong for a variety of reasons. For one, we now know that eating foods that are rich in cholesterol doesn’t increase your cholesterol levels. In fact, eating a diet high in carbohydrates is the primary factor for high cholesterol levels. Carbs spike insulin levels, which cause cells to produce more LDL cholesterol. When LDL levels are elevated, cholesterol accumulates in artery walls, which can lead to heart disease and other complications.
Eggs have specifically been vindicated by recent research. A 2017 meta-analysis found that individuals with heart disease risk factors could safely consume seven eggs per week as part of a healthy diet. A Harvard study looking at 80,000 female nurses found that consuming one egg a day was not associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Another study of 500,000 Chinese adults found that people who ate eggs daily had a 14 percent lower risk of major cardiac events and an 18 percent lower risk of cardiac death.
Some integrative health experts even recommend eating 2-3 eggs per day.
Selecting the right eggs is another issue, particularly given the wide range of marketing claims, labels, and certifications that are out there. The best eggs are organic, pasture-raised eggs. “Free-range” and “cage-free” are meaningless marketing terms that are used by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to obscure the deplorable conditions in which their chickens are raised. Even the USDA’s organic label is losing some of its meaning: we reported previously that, according to the USDA’s own estimates, half of all organic eggs come from CAFOs. Higher quality eggs contain more micronutrients than conventional eggs, with three times more omega-3 fatty acids, 40 percent more vitamin A, and twice as much vitamin E. Buying CAFO-raised organic eggs means consumers are not getting the benefits they think they are.
The bottom line is, don’t let the residual effects of an incorrect dogma persuade you that eggs are unhealthy—the truth is quite the opposite. Bon appetite!