Revisiting Eggs and Cholesterol Questions

March certainly ‘comes in like a lion’ around here, right?  It’s currently snowing, but hopefully by the time this goes to print our temps will have risen above freezing…

Back to nutrition.  I received a question in response to my column last month about eggs.  Did you know you can ask me questions?  PLEASE DO.  (It gives me a topic about which to write!  Half the battle, sometimes…)

February’s column was about eggs, and how they might very well be a ‘perfect’ food.  The egg is packed with important things like choline (for your brain), lutein and zeaxanthin (for your eyes), and is low in calories.  Eggs are high in protein and contain 5g of healthy fat, both of which help you feel fuller, longer.  The only thing they don’t contain is carbohydrate, so pair your eggs with some fruit, vegetables or toast for a balanced breakfast.  (Anyone remember those ‘…all part of a balanced breakfast’ commercials for sugary cereals in the 1990s? Name ONE person who actually ate half a grapefruit, a muffin, orange juice AND the bowl of Capt’n Crunch.)

Anyway, here’s the question:

Q: How many eggs are healthy to eat per week?

Here’s the short answer:

A: For most people, 1-2 eggs per day is perfectly fine.  While eggs are high in cholesterol, studies show that increased dietary intake of eggs does not significantly raise an individual’s blood cholesterol or risk for heart disease.  However, if you have high cholesterol, an increased risk of heart disease and/or eat other foods high in cholesterol (such as cheese) frequently, it may be beneficial to limit your egg intake to 4-5 eggs per week.

Here’s the longer answer:

Yes, eggs do contain more cholesterol than many other foods (proportionally speaking), approximately 212mg per egg.  The USDA-recommended daily intake of cholesterol is 300mg, or about 1.25 egg yolks (cholesterol is in the yolk, not the white).  For people who are already watching their cholesterol, it’s understandable to be concerned about your daily and weekly egg intake.  While our dietary sources of cholesterol (i.e. the foods we eat that contain cholesterol) have some impact on our blood cholesterol (the amount of cholesterol in our bodies), they do not have a lot of impact.  There are other things that have a bigger impact on your blood cholesterol than the things you choose to eat.

First of all, cholesterol isn’t all bad. In fact, 80% of the cholesterol circulating in our bodies is actually MADE by our bodies.  Cholesterol helps in the production of Vitamin D, sex hormones (like testosterone and estrogen), and bile acids.  It’s present in all our cells, and necessary for our bodies to function properly. 

In a nutshell, multiple cholesterol-containing particles of various sizes circulate in our bloodstream, all transporting triglycerides to tissues in our bodies.  Cholesterol gets a bad name mainly because of LDL (low density lipoprotein) particles that contribute to clogged arteries.  However, HDL (high density lipoproteins) is termed ‘good’ cholesterol, because these particles help remove cholesterol from your bloodstream and artery walls, and transport it to the liver, where it gets excreted.

So, how can we affect—even in a small way—the amount of cholesterol circulating in our bloodstream? First, limit the amount of saturated fats you consume.  Foods high in saturated fats include animal products in general (red meat and cheese more specifically), fried foods and baked goods, such as store-bought muffins.  While you don’t have to give up steak completely, opt for meats that are lower in fat (such as poultry or fish), and choose healthier fats (such as olive oil).  Additionally, exercise helps increase your HDL, which in turn helps to decrease your LDL cholesterol.   However, remember that the amount of cholesterol our bodies make related to the food we eat is only 20%–not very much.  Generally speaking, it’s more important to embrace a healthy lifestyle and diet overall, than to stress about how many eggs you ate at breakfast. 

That being said, if you are watching your cholesterol, on cholesterol-lowering medications, or eat many sources of foods high in either cholesterol or saturated fats, it’s perfectly fine to limit your egg intake.  A great way to enjoy eggs without eating too many yolks (remember, that’s where the cholesterol and most of the calories are) is to use one yolk and multiple whites.  This works well for egg salads, scrambled eggs and omelets.

Keep those questions coming!

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