For a while, nutrition experts hypothesized that the high cholesterol content of eggs raised blood cholesterol levels, which can increase a person's risk of heart disease. But this hypothesis was never proven. In fact, several studies have shown that the consumption of eggs is not associated with higher cholesterol levels but is associated with higher nutrient intake.
In 2000, researchers set out to assess the nutritional significance of eggs in the American diet and to estimate the degree of association between egg consumption and cholesterol levels. Their straightforward results were published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Eggs make important nutritional contributions to the American diet and their consumption is not associated with high cholesterol levels. Specifically, the study showed that egg consumers had a higher intake of important nutrients like vitamins B12, A, E and C than non-egg eaters, and people who reported eating four or more eggs per week actually had significantly lower average cholesterol levels than those who reported eating zero to one eggs per week.
Here are four more ways eggs can enhance your health:
- Eggs are an excellent source of low-cost, high-quality protein. One large egg provides more than 6 grams of protein, yet contains only 75 calories. And the protein is "complete," providing all nine of the body's essential amino acids.
- Eggs are one of the best sources of choline. Found primarily in the egg yolk, one large egg provides 30 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of this essential nutrient, which plays an important role in brain health and the reduction of inflammation. Many people are deficient in choline, which is found in trace amounts of many different foods.
- Eggs are a great food for those trying to lose weight. Because of the high amount of quality protein in eggs, they make a very satisfying breakfast, which is especially useful for people trying to lose weight. In one study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2007), subjects following low-fat, calorie-restricted diets were randomly assigned to one of two breakfasts: a bagel or two eggs. After eight weeks, the egg eaters experienced 65 percent greater weight loss, 83 percent greater decrease in waist circumference and a greater improvement in energy levels compared to the bagel-eating group. Also worth mentioning is that changes in plasma cholesterol and triglycerides did not differ significantly between the two groups. Researchers postulated that eating eggs for breakfast enhanced weight loss by increasing satiety, resulting in better adherence to a reduced-calorie diet.
- Eggs protect eyesight. Egg yolks contain a highly absorbable form of vision-protective carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, which help to prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Studies published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that eggs increased blood levels of these nutrients without increasing cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
How Many Eggs Should You Eat?
Just because something is good for you doesn't always mean that more of it is necessarily better. In a 2007 study published in the journal Medical Science Monitor, no significant difference in cardiovascular diseases (like stroke and heart attack) were observed between people who consumed more than six eggs per week and those who consumed one or fewer eggs per week. So a couple of eggs a day, a few days a week, should be safe and healthy for most people.
According to Becky Hand, a registered dietitian, "One egg daily can easily be a part of a well-balanced, nutritious diet for healthy adults." An important exception is for diabetics, who experienced an increased risk of coronary artery disease when consuming greater than six eggs per week. If you have a medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes, Hand suggests checking with your physician (or dietitian) regarding egg consumption and dietary restrictions.
"Designer" Eggs: Are They Worth the Money?
When you go to stock up on eggs, be prepared for an onslaught of choices. Beyond just white and brown, you’ll see a whole new world of choices in the refrigerator case. Are these "designer" eggs worth the extra money? It depends on the designer.
- Cage-Free, Free Range, Pastured, and Pasture-Raised: You may feel like you're doing a good deed by purchasing eggs with one or more of these terms on the package. But in truth, these labels really don't mean a whole lot, as there are no rules or regulations about using these terms. If you want high-quality eggs from humanely raised chickens, find a local producer whom you trust. To find one, go to www.LocalHarvest.org, enter "eggs" in the "Name/Description/Product" box and enter your zip code in the "Where?" box. A list of farmers in your area will pop up, many of whom sell their eggs at local farmers markets.
- Certified Organic: The hens who lay these eggs are cage-free, have outdoor access and eat a 100 percent organic and vegetarian diet that is free of antibiotics and pesticides. Third-party auditors enforce these standards.
- Grade AA, A and B: Eggs in the U.S. are classified according to quality and freshness standards established by the USDA. AA is the most superior in quality, followed by A and B.
- Omega-3 Enhanced eggs: When is an egg not just an egg? When it's engineered to contain Omega-3s. The hens that lay these eggs eat a diet rich in Omega-3s, which includes algae or flaxseed. The eggs they lay contain higher Omega-3 content but taste like regular eggs. These eggs may help contribute to your intake of essential fatty acids, but they don’t contain enough to make up for a diet that is otherwise low in Omega-3s.
Tips for Safe Egg Consumption
No matter what kind of eggs you choose to eat, be sure to follow proper handling and preparation guidelines to ensure that your eggs are safe to eat. Raw or improperly handled eggs can be a source of disease.
- Avoid raw eggs and foods made with raw eggs (Caesar dressing, homemade mayonnaise, eggnog and cookie dough). These foods are safe if a pasteurized egg product is used.
- Check the carton to be sure that the eggs you are buying are clean and free of cracks.
- Store eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator (not in the door), and use within three to five weeks, or by the expiration date on the carton. Hardboiled eggs should also be stored in the refrigerator and used within one week.
- When cooking with eggs, don’t leave the carton on the counter during prep time. Take out the eggs you will use and return the carton to the refrigerator.
- Wash all surfaces, cooking utensils, and skin with warm, soapy water before and after handling eggs.
- Cook eggs until yolks are firm.
- Cook egg-containing dishes to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy any bacteria safely.