Why have eggs had such a bad rap in recent years?
When it comes to health, eggs have long been in the crossfire of controversy, largely due to their cholesterol content. Up until a few years ago, experts believed dietary cholesterol (i.e. the amount of cholesterol found in food) would affect blood cholesterol – the kind that causes clogged arteries and heart attacks. However, recent research has flipped this thinking on its head, suggesting that it’s saturated fat, not dietary cholesterol, that can impact blood cholesterol. Registered dietician Louise Bula, who freelances for HRS Communications, also told us a large part of the egg controversy revolves around salmonella. “There was a salmonella scare back in 1988 that led to a dramatic reduction in the sale of eggs. Following this scare, a vaccination programme was introduced, leading to the creation of the British Lion Mark, now printed on eggs in red ink, enabling eggs to be traced back to the farm they came from. A British Lion egg provides consumers with the reassurance they won’t get salmonella.”
Back to the cholesterol issue – what does the latest science say?
In a nutshell, eggs aren’t quite the devil they’re made out to be. “People assume dietary cholesterol will increase blood cholesterol levels, but this isn’t the case,” Louise explains. “Cholesterol is produced in large amounts by your liver and your liver actually reduces the amount of cholesterol it produces in response to you eating more dietary cholesterol. As a result, this won’t impact blood cholesterol.” Louise also told us many studies have shown regular consumption of eggs as part of a healthy, balanced diet won’t affect cholesterol levels or heart disease risk factors for the majority of people. On the flipside, it appears to be saturated fat that impacts your body’s ‘bad’ cholesterol. The NHS recommends eating no more than 20g of saturated per day – for reference one large egg contains around 1.6g of saturated fat.
Is ditching the yolk a good idea?
It’s a fact the majority of cholesterol is found in the egg’s yolk, but only eating the white means you’re missing out on vital nutrients. As Louise says, “Egg whites are rich in protein that helps keep you fuller for longer, but you can find high levels of essential nutrients like selenium, vitamins A, D B2, B12, folate and iodine in the yolk. The yolk is also packed with antioxidants that help protect vision and brain function. For example, vitamin D is especially important for the majority of us living in the UK who don’t get enough of it.” When you eat just the egg white, you may be cutting back on calories and a small amount of saturated fat, but you’re also missing out on nutritional benefits and will only get around 3.5g, or half, the amount of protein.
So, is it okay to eat eggs every day?
Absolutely – if they agree with you and you enjoy them. “It’s usually recommended for people to aim for no more than two to six egg yolks per week, although there isn’t enough scientific research to back up this claim. At present, the majority of studies show eating one to three eggs per day is completely safe,” Louise adds. “However, it’s best to cook them without adding salt or fat, as frying eggs with oil or butter can increase their fat content by 50%, which will impact your cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. To make your eggs as healthy as possible, I recommend poaching, boiling or even baking your eggs – shakshuka is a great, and healthy, way to cook eggs. Omelettes are also good, but try to add little oil or use a non-stick pan to avoid adding any extra fat to the dish. In terms of which oil to use, a spray oil is a great way to control how much you’re using without going overboard.”
What else can you pair eggs with to ensure a balanced meal?
“The best thing about eggs is that they are versatile and affordable. Plus, they can be combined with pretty much any food and you can make a meal out of it,” Louise adds. “Combining an egg with some cheese or a milky coffee helps boost calcium absorption in the gut because of the vitamin D in the egg yolk. You can also pair eggs with spinach, which helps the body absorb more vitamin E, a fat-soluble nutrient needed for your immune system, skin and eyes. Studies have also shown pairing eggs with tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes can boost the absorption of carotenoids, a group of antioxidants that have a range of anti-inflammatory benefits, including a lower risk of cancer.”
The bottom line?
The health experts agree eggs are part of a balanced diet, with science showing they won’t affect your cholesterol levels. And when it comes to how many eggs is safe to eat, it all comes down to the rest of your diet. A single large egg contains around 80 calories, 5g of fat and 7g of protein. If you’re already getting plenty of protein and fat in your other meals, eating a three-egg cheese omelette with a couple of rashers of bacon every day may not be the wisest idea. Stick to poached, boiled or baked eggs and serve with plenty of fibre in the form of wholegrain carbs, fruit and vegetables for a rounded, protein-rich meal that won’t negatively impact your cholesterol.
Louise Bula is a registered dietician specialising in diabetes and weight management; she also freelances for nutrition communications agency HRS Communications. For more information, read the official NHS guidelines on eggs.
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