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After a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that consuming eggs can increase your risk of heart disease, the old debate resurfaced: Are eggs actually bad for you? Studies like this will tell you that each omelette you have is upping your risk of death, but we shouldn’t be so quick to jump to that conclusion based on this one report. Here’s a look at the research and the current recommendations for including eggs in your diet.
The March 2019 study followed more than 29,000 men and women for an average of 17.5 years (the entire study spanned from March 25, 1985 to August 31, 2016), with all of the participants self-reporting the number of eggs they ate during that time. Researchers concluded that there were 5,400 “[cardiovascular disease] events and 6,132 all-cause deaths” during the span of the study, and that every additional 300mg of cholesterol a day that a person consumed would increase their risk of cardiovascular disease by 17 percent. It was also found that each additional half of an egg eaten increased the all-cause mortality risk by six to eight percent. For reference, per the USDAs Nutrient Database, one egg typically has around 186mg of cholesterol.
However, the study was an observational one and not a controlled experiment. During a controlled experiment, other factors are controlled by researchers, including a subject’s entire diet, but this isn’t the case in an observational study. This means that you cannot definitively conclude that eating eggs directly causes heart disease, because there are other factors at play, such as genetics, a diet high in saturated fat, or a lack of physical exercise.
This limitation was also pointed out by the researchers of the study and on the Harvard School of Public Health website, which stated: “However, a major limitation [of the study] is the use of a single measure of diet to look at outcomes up to 30 years later. During this time, some individuals may have changed their diet after developing high cholesterol or other conditions, which may influence the results of the study. These findings should be interpreted in the context of several previous studies, which have shown that low to moderate egg intake is not associated with a higher risk of CVD in generally healthy people.”
Based on this recent study, some folks believe they should be cutting back or even cutting out eggs completely from their diet. “People should not start avoiding eggs altogether as a result of one observational study,” according to registered dietitian Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle. “Characterizing certain foods as ‘bad’ based on a single study is usually what gets us into trouble as a society from a dietary perspective.”
Malkani confirmed that the study had several limitations, specifically that the data was self-reported, which isn’t particularly reliable. In addition, Malkani says, “[the] study also did not account for individual variations in cholesterol metabolism. Both genetics and family history are factors that play a role in assessing a person’s cardio-metabolic health.”
When studies like these are published, Malkani says that it can be helpful to remember the importance of the larger context of your overall diet, your current state of health and your medical history. “If you include a moderate amount of eggs in a diet that incorporates a wide variety of foods and a focus on fruits and vegetables, there is likely very little cause for concern,” she says. “For those who still have questions about whether eggs are healthy for them, in particular, a registered dietitian is the best resource for personalized dietary recommendations.”
Eggs are a nutrient-dense food and a complete protein. They provide 13 essential vitamins and minerals at just 70 calories and contain 543 milligrams of the amino acid leucine, which plays a role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
Most of the eggs’ nutrients are in the yolk, so don’t toss them! Nearly half the protein (more than 40 percent) is found in the yolk, along with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E, as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Much of the fat found in the yolk is unsaturated and helps with the absorption of important nutrients.
“While eggs in moderation are a healthy choice for most people, I take into consideration a person’s medical history, genetics, current state of health and nutrient needs before making a personalized recommendation on [the] number of eggs per day or week,” Malkani says. For example, if someone has high cholesterol or a strong family history of high cholesterol, Malkani recommends fewer eggs per week. “Through nutrition research, we are learning more and more that there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone and that personalized dietary recommendations yield better results.”
Bottom Line: Whole eggs are brimming with nutrition and can be part of a well-balanced, muscle-building diet. A good rule of thumb is one whole egg per day, but if you have a history of heart disease or want further guidance, then see your registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), who can check out your overall diet and provide guidelines that are specific to you.
Toby Amidor is an award-winning dietitian and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners, The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy CookbookThe Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook, and The Greek Yogurt Kitchen.