This One High-Cholesterol Food Is Actually Associated With Better Heart Health, According to a Surprising New Study

Time to stock up.

Eggs, previously thought of as heart-unhealthy because of their high-cholesterol yolks, may actually have a handful of heart-healthy benefits, according to a new study.

"Over time, I think the last five or so years, maybe even longer, we’ve changed our views on eggs," says Julia Zumpano RD, LD, an outpatient dietitian with Cleveland Clinic's preventive cardiology nutrition program. 

A new study is putting data to those views. The research, published online in January, showed that consuming five or more eggs per week as part of a healthy diet could lower the risk of high blood pressure and fasting glucose levels. And therefore, egg consumption could help reduce long-term chances of developing high blood pressure and diabetes.

So, should you go on an egg hunt and stock up? Zumpano shares her thoughts on the findings and creative ways to add eggs to your diet.

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About the Study

Researchers drew participants from the Framingham Offspring Study, which began enrolling children of a previous study in 1971 to undergo exams every four years to check for cardiovascular disease and other health issues. For this study, researchers included 2,349 adults ages 30-to-64. They also kept dietary records from 1983-1995.

Zumpano flagged the age range of the participants.

"The participants were…more on the younger end," Zumpano says.

The risk of heart disease and stroke is higher in people 65 and older, according to the National Institutes on Aging. Scientists separated egg consumption into three buckets: <0.5 eggs, 0.5–<5 eggs, and ≥5 eggs per week.

"Higher egg intakes were associated with a slightly lower level of fasting glucose, and overweight individuals benefited from more egg consumption," Zumpano says. "Participants with normal fasting blood sugar at baseline had a lower risk of developing a higher fasting glucose or type 2 diabetes. The effects were even stronger when participants had healthier eating habits."

Bottom line? “It’s reflecting the concept that eggs are not horrible for you," Zumpano explains.

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Why Eggs May Lower Blood Pressure

Despite eggs' reputation, Zumpano isn't all that surprised by the study's findings. Plenty of attention is paid to the cholesterol in egg yolks, but Zumpano says eggs are low in a critical mineral that can hurt blood pressure.

"Eggs have very little sodium," Zumpano says. "We can add it, but there are about 70 mg of sodium in a large egg...Eggs may get a bad rap, but that’s why it could help with the blood pressure.”

It's not just about eating eggs, though. Zumpano says it's also about what you may not be consuming when you chow down on an omelet, like sausage and bacon, which are much higher in sodium. Bacon can have more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving, while sausage has a whopping 640 milligrams. And Zumpano notes that carbohydrates also typically have more sodium than eggs.

"Much of the sodium in the American diet comes from carbs," she says. "If you’re eating pancakes or waffles, even whole grain, it most likely has a lot of sodium in it, so the value of protein and real one-ingredient foods is being reinforced by this study.”

The FDA recommends limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams per day, or about one teaspoon of salt.

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Why Eggs Lower Fasting Glucose

Blood sugar levels also affect heart health. The CDC lists diabetes as a risk factor for heart disease because high blood sugar can harm the blood vessels and nerves that control your ticker.

But eggs can help lower fasting glucose levels and help reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Zumpano says the reason behind these findings is similar to the ones surrounding blood pressure.

"Eggs are so high in protein and filling, which keeps you from consuming too many carbohydrates, which can lead to higher blood glucose levels," Zumpano says. "By taking away eggs, we are left with very carb-heavy breakfast choices like cereal, pancakes, oatmeal and all the bread products."

Do Egg Yolks Have Health Benefits?

Right now, Zumpano typically tells patients without high cholesterol or heart disease risk factors that an egg yolk per day is safe. She tells patients with high cholesterol to stick to four egg yolks per week. But people can have unlimited egg whites, which don't have yolks.

So, why not just stick to egg whites? While they do have protein, they don't have that high-cholesterol yolk. But yolks have the major nutritional benefits.

“The yolks have vitamins A, D and E," Zumpano says. "It also can be high in omega 3s if the eggs are grass-fed or supplemented with flax seed. They also have tryptophan and tyrosine, which are amino acids that can help with heart disease. The yolk has a lot of nutritional benefits."

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Ways To Add Eggs to Your Diet

Zumpano suggests having about a half dozen hard-boiled eggs in your fridge. "You can throw them on a salad," Zumpano says. "You can also throw them on a slide of whole-grain toast with avocado."

Omelets are another great option, but Zumpano has some creative ways to consume eggs, too.

"I like to scramble an egg and put it in my broth-based soups…it creates a natural thickness to a soup and gives you a lot of protein and vitamins," she says. "I put them in hot pasta to add flavor and extra protein to regular protein pasta."

Consider this your official excuse to whip up a delicious egg dish.

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