Are eggs really bad for cholesterol? It’s not that simple

Lifestyle

Remember when Nigella’s ex, Charles Saatchi, lived off nine eggs for nine months in a bid to lose weight?

Chowing down on three eggs for breakfast, three eggs for lunch and three eggs for dinner seemed to work; he lost 4st in the period. But aside from cracking under the pressure of such a bonkers diet, what impact would eating so many eggs have on someone’s health?

Eggs are the most concentrated source of cholesterol in a standard diet, and we know that while our bodies rely on it to build healthy cells, too much can increase our risk of heart disease.

Each egg yolk contains around 186mg of cholesterol and a 2019 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that higher-cholesterol diets which included more eggs were ‘significantly associated with a higher risk of incidence’ of cardiovascular disease.

A team of US researchers analysed the data of nearly 30,000 people for up to 31 years and they found that 300mg of dietary cholesterol per day was associated with 17% higher risk of heart and circulatory disease…and an 18% greater risk of death.

If you’ve got high levels of cholesterol, you can start to develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels, which then break and form clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke. In other words, high cholesterol is a serious health issue.

Yolk vs white

Well, egg yolks contain all kinds of nutrients. Together, whites and eggs contain the right balance of protein, fat and calories to allow people to feel full. But most of the nutrients are contained in the yolk – including vitamins B6 and 12, A, E, D, K, Niacin, Riboflavin and Thiamin.

While there’s more protein and less fat in the white than the yolk, the yolk is believed to contain nutrients proven to reduce blood pressure, gastrointestinal distress while boosting the immune system. In other words, you’re better off just eating the whole egg, rather than just the whites.

Our bodies create cholesterol

When it comes to heart health, the types of fat you eat are more important than the amount of cholesterol you consume. That’s because only around 20% of the cholesterol in our systems comes directly from food – the rest is produced by the liver converting saturated and trans fats into the waxy substance.

That means that if you regularly tuck into a breakfast of, say, a sausage and egg muffin, you’re getting a gut load of cholesterol and saturated fat which then get metabolised as even more cholesterol.

Watch what you eat your eggs with

While the research isn’t conclusive over eggs alone, it’s worth saying that if you do eat them, think about what you’re having them with.

If you tend to eat a tonne of eggs as part of a regular fry up, you might be setting yourself up for future health issues. But if you eat a balanced diet that’s low in deep-fried, processed grub, then eggs can act like little nutrient bombs.

According to Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, it’s not worth freaking out over frightening studies because they only show an association rather than cause and effect.

‘Eggs are a nutritious food and, while (the 2019) study focuses on the amount we’re eating, it’s just as important to pay attention to how the eggs are cooked and to the trimmings that come with them.’

She recommends swapping your fry up for poached eggs on wholegrain toast, for example. Rather than feasting on bowls of eggs and cooked meats, put boiled eggs in salads, pair omelettes with plates of veg or swap your side of bacon for another source of good fats like avocado.

TL;DR don’t worry about the cholesterol content of your eggs and concentrate more on what you’re eating your eggs with and how they’re cooked. The odd fried egg or fry up won’t hurt but as with anything, moderation and balance is key.