Eggs aren't necessarily bad for cholesterol, even though they contain a lot of dietary cholesterol.
Eggs are often paired with bacon, sausage, and buttered toast in American diets, and these saturated and trans fat are much more likely to cause high cholesterol.
In fact, research has found that eating one egg per day does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
This article is part of Insider's guide to High Cholesterol.
The food you eat plays an important role in your heart health. Certain foods can contribute to plaque buildup in your arteries, causing atherosclerosis and potentially leading to high cholesterol or serious heart problems.
While it's common to limit foods that are high in cholesterol — like eggs — foods high in saturated and trans fat may actually be worse for your arteries. Here's what you need to know.
Eggs aren't necessarily bad for cholesterol
According to Sonya Angelone, a nutrition consultant for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eggs are the most concentrated source of dietary cholesterol in our diets. There's about 186 milligrams of cholesterol in one egg — all of which is concentrated in the yolk.
But in 2013, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology couldn't find convincing scientific evidence that limiting dietary cholesterol had an effect on "bad" cholesterol in the arteries. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans even lifted its cholesterol recommendation of 300 milligrams per day in 2015, saying it didn't have enough information to set a limit.
In fact, a 2020 study in the British Medical Journal found that people who ate about one egg per day were no more likely to develop coronary artery disease or stroke than people who didn't eat eggs. Commenting on the study, dietitian Carrie Ruxton, PhD, noted that eggs don't present a risk to blood cholesterol levels.
What experts have come to discover is that saturated and trans fats may contribute more to cholesterol levels compared to how much cholesterol you eat. That's because most of your cholesterol — about 80% — is produced in the body, according to Harvard Medical School. Your liver converts saturated and trans fats into cholesterol, which has led nutritionists to believe that those fats are actually worse for you than dietary cholesterol.
Typical breakfast and brunch menus often pair eggs with bacon, sausage, and buttered toast. Many of those foods are high in saturated or trans fats, Angelone notes. So even if eggs aren't doing too much to raise your cholesterol, your side dishes might be taking a toll on your health.
"Even if you don't eat cholesterol, it can still increase if your diet is high in saturated fat or trans fats," Angelone says.
A well-balanced diet is more important to manage high cholesterol
The US Dietary Guidelines include eggs in the same category with meats and poultry, recommending a total of 26 ounces per week for a 2,000 calorie per day diet. For reference, one large egg is measured at about 2 ounces, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Eggs can fit into a healthy diet, Angelone says, and sticking to around four per week is a good idea. In fact, eggs are a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which some dietitians believe is one of the healthiest eating plans.
While egg whites can also be a great low-cholesterol alternative, egg yolks are a good source of choline — an essential nutrient which Angelone says tends to be low in our diets. If you're concerned about high cholesterol, you should talk with your doctor about the best diet for you.
According to a 2015 review in the journal Nutrients, any debate over eggs is misguided. The study authors write that "an approach focused on a person's entire dietary intake as opposed to specific foods or nutrients should be the heart of population nutrition guidelines."
Overall, the rest of your food intake should ultimately include vegetables, fruits, and legumes — while limiting overly processed foods, refined grains, and sugar. A well-balanced diet is one of the best ways to keep your cholesterol under control and avoid heart disease or stroke.
"Heart disease is not just about how many eggs you eat," Angelone says. "A good diet has to include healthful foods and limit unhealthy foods."
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