Myth Bust: Eggs are bad for me (2-3 minutes read)
Easter is over for another year and we say farewell to the rows of perfectly sculpted chocolate eggs lining the supermarkets. However, that doesn’t mean we have to say goodbye to all eggs because at FFF we’re big fans of eggs, whether they’re scrambled, poached, boiled or used in baking!
Eggs have gained a pretty bad rep in the media over the years, with many avoiding them due to fears over their impact on cholesterol levels. But is there any truth behind these fears and should we be avoiding or limiting our intake of eggs?
Firstly, what is cholesterol?
As discussed in our previous blog, cholesterol is a fat-like substance present in all our cells. Its main function is to maintain the integrity and fluidity of cell membranes and also to serve as a precursor for the synthesis of substances including steroid hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D (1).
Cholesterol is carried around the body by two main kinds of carriers:
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL, often referred to simply as ‘bad cholesterol’) – which carry cholesterol to your body’s working tissues.
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL, or ‘good cholesterol’) – which pick up excess cholesterol in the body after it has been used and transports it back to the liver.
Cholesterol levels depend largely on your genes and lifestyle (2). Some people have a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol. This is sometimes known as familial or primary hypercholesterolemia – this poses some serious health risks. Further, some medical conditions such as an underactive thyroid gland or taking certain medications can raise cholesterol levels (2).
Lifestyle factors such as diet (high intake of saturated fats), exercise habits and smoking can impact cholesterol levels.
Why have eggs caused such a stir in the past?
Eggs (the yolks to be precise) contain cholesterol. Over the years it was believed that dietary cholesterol caused high blood cholesterol, and therefore increased our risk of heart disease and stroke. This caused panic, with some countries including egg restrictions to their dietary guidelines. The most widely known dietary recommendation in the world is the 1968 warning from the American Heart Association to consume no more than three egg yolks per week!
Do eggs pose a cause for concern?
In short, no!
Whilst there is dietary cholesterol in eggs, this does not necessarily translate to raised cholesterol levels in our blood. Research has shown that levels of LDL cholesterol increases in some people, but this has only been found to a small extent (3).
Furthermore, research has found that some of the micronutrients and other bioactive compounds in egg yolks could interfere with cholesterol absorption – which could provide insight into why eggs do not have a marked impact on cholesterol levels (4).
The information available to date does not support a link between dietary cholesterol and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy individuals (5). There is, however, a large body of evidence that saturated fat and trans-fats increases cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Dietary cholesterol is common in foods that are high in saturated fat and so this might have contributed to the link between dietary cholesterol and CVD. Although eggs contain saturated fat, they also contain unsaturated fat, which has been shown to reduce our risk of heart disease on the whole.
Currently, there is no recommended daily allowance or limit of eggs in our guidelines and so eggs can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Plus, they contain many beneficial nutrients, including:
- Protein: with 6g protein per (medium-sized) egg, they can be considered a high protein food item. They are an inexpensive source of good quality, easily digestible protein. They also contain all essential amino acids and so are classified as a complete source of protein.
- Choline – is a nutrient important for normal cell activity, healthy liver function and transportation of nutrients around the body. It is needed in the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and is also a part of cell membranes. It is of even greater importance during pregnancy as it supports healthy brain development of the growing foetus.
- Vitamin A – retinol is the form of vitamin A which is most bioavailable to the body. Pro-vitamin A carotenoids can be converted to retinol to be more easily used within the body. Most carotenoid forms of vitamin A function as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Eggs contain two powerful antioxidants – lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which play an important part in optimal eye health.
- Vitamin D – eggs are one of the few foods that provide vitamin D. It plays an important part in promoting great bone health and immune function. A diet lacking in vitamin D can lead to increased frequency of sickness, impaired wound healing, increased risk of bone fractures, muscular aches and pains, fatigue and tiredness, as well as detrimental effects on mood.
Eggs are nutrient-dense, pretty low in calories and delicious in every form! They are an extremely versatile ingredient that can be enjoyed at any time of day.
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- Zampelas and Magriplis, 2019. New Insights into Cholesterol Functions: A Friend or an Enemy?. Nutrients, 11(7), p.1645.
- informedhealth.org. 2017. High cholesterol: Overview. [online] Available at: <https://www.informedhealth.org/> [Accessed 24 March 2021].
- Vincent, M., Allen, B., Palacios, O., Haber, L. and Maki, K., 2018. Meta-regression analysis of the effects of dietary cholesterol intake on LDL and HDL cholesterol. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 109(1), pp.7-16.
- Kim, J. and Campbell, W., 2018. Dietary Cholesterol Contained in Whole Eggs Is Not Well Absorbed and Does Not Acutely Affect Plasma Total Cholesterol Concentration in Men and Women: Results from 2 Randomized Controlled Crossover Studies. Nutrients, 10(9), p.1272.
Soliman, G., 2018. Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients, 10(6), p.780.