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Ask Dana: Are eggs healthy or not?”

QUESTION:

Dear Dana,

Every morning I like to enjoy a few eggs with my turkey sausage and coffee.  But, I recently went for an annual check-up and my cholesterol was really high.  It was so high that my doctor now wants me to start medication to control it.  She also told me to eat less cholesterol.  That got me wondering if my morning habit of eggs was the real culprit. I see so many conflicting messages about eggs.  Some things say they are good for you while other articles say they are not. What is the final answer – are they healthy or not?

-Benjamin Cooper
Albuquerque, New Mexico

are eggs healthy or not

ANSWER:

Dear Benjamin,

Eggs are one of those foods that are continually in the news and frequently being studied in terms of their nutritional impact on health.  As with a lot of nutrition research, often we learn that previously held opinions change as we learn more about how the body processes various nutrients.   This has certainly been the case with cholesterol and, of course, eggs.

Eggs are a good source of protein and other nutrients, but they are high in dietary cholesterol.  The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults limit their dietary intake of cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams each day and that those with high cholesterol, heart disease or even a strong family history of cardiovascular disease should eat less than 200 milligrams per day.  Notably, one large egg yolk contains 186 milligrams of dietary cholesterol.  So, the conclusion many years ago was to limit how many eggs people ate each day.

However, recent studies have shown that dietary cholesterol has less impact on cholesterol totals than we previously thought.  Research has shown that it is the saturated fat in foods that really contributes to elevated blood cholesterol levels.  In 2019, the American Medical Association found that there was no association between eating cholesterol and elevated blood values of cholesterol.  Furthermore, a 2018 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating an average of one egg a day was not associated with an increased risk of heart disease in healthy individuals.

However, it is important to note that everyone is unique in their own way and that includes their tolerance to dietary cholesterol. Folks with pre-existing heart conditions or a genetic tendency to high cholesterol should consult with their doctor or dietitian to determine a healthy amount of eggs and daily dietary cholesterol.  It is important to focus on a daily saturated fat intake as these can greatly impact total cholesterol numbers.  Saturated fats are high-fat foods that are solid at room temperature like butter, cheese, lard and the solid fat around a piece of ribeye steak.

With all nutrition decisions, it is important to focus on a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats rather than focusing on limiting a single food or food group.  Making an appointment with any of the dietitians at IDS is a good place to begin if you need more direction.  We would be happy to guide you in meal planning and helping you find a balance of healthy foods for your good health.

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