McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

The nutrition info and health benefits behind American’s touted most favorite breakfast food.

Previously and even today, health and nutrition experts will claim eggs to be the golden protein or golden food while others put eggs on the list of foods you should avoid. So what gives?

For those who are in opposition of eggs, believe the cholesterol in eggs would cause plaque build-up in the arteries, which could lead to serious problems like heart disease and stroke. These days, though, there’s been much debate with everyone asking, are eggs healthy?

To help you make an informed decision about adding eggs to your daily eating rotation, I lay out all you need to know about the protein-packed food.

Are Eggs Healthy?

The nutrition behind eggs

Let’s take a look at the nutrition behind one hardboiled egg to get a quick overview of what nutrients you’ll find in eggs, this includes the whole egg (egg white and egg yolk). So many people are still in the era of the 90’s when it comes to ordering egg-white omelets to pick the “healthier” version, yet they’re missing out on the most nutritious part of the egg, the yolk!

Egg whites are a great source of protein, actually, most of the protein that comes from an egg is in the egg white, but the egg yolk also contains minerals that are crucial to our health including vitamin B12, zinc, iron, vitamin D, choline, and vitamin A.

  • 78 calories
  • 6 grams of protein
  • 5 grams fat
  • 0.6 grams carbohydrates
  • 0 grams fiber
  • 0.5 grams sugar

Important vitamins and minerals in eggs

  • Phosphorus (86 milligrams), which is important for bone health and digestion
  • Potassium and sodium (just over 60 milligrams of each)—both electrolytes you need to maintain energy
  • Vitamin A (260 IU), an antioxidant that fights free radicals, and is also important for brain, vision, and immune function
  • Folate (22 milligrams), necessary to make DNA
  • Vitamin D (44 milligrams), crucial for healthy bones and helping your body absorb calcium
  • Vitamin B12 (0.6 µg), which keeps your nerves and blood cells healthy, prevents anemia and gives you energy
  • Choline (110 milligrams), crucial for DNA synthesis, as well as a neurotransmitter synthesis, lipid transportation, and membrane signaling throughout the body
  • Zinc (0.5 milligrams), important for your immune system and wound healing
  • Iron (0.6 milligrams), a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs throughout your body—without iron your body can’t make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen

Another nutrient that has caused some of the controversies over eggs is cholesterol. One hardboiled egg contains 186 milligrams — and that’s coming from the yolk which is again, where we all got caught up in only eating the egg whites back in the 90’s because of the fear of adding cholesterol to our diets, from the yolks. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of dietary cholesterol.

Is the Cholesterol in Eggs Unhealthy?

The cholesterol in eggs has long been touted as the problem with eating them. The fact is, though, dietary cholesterol doesn’t affect the cholesterol in your body. Even the saturated fat found in the yolks of eggs likely won’t cause the heart attacks, which experts used to declare. So the two main arguments against eggs don’t really stand up to science. One study says, in fact, that total fat (particularly saturated fat) isn’t what you should be worried about, but rather trans fats (7). You won’t find trans fats in eggs.

Also, that same study found that cholesterol levels weren’t associated with an increased risk of heart attacks. The only link they found came from low levels of high lipoprotein (or HDL) cholesterol—also known as the “good” kind—and increased risk of pre-diabetes.

The American Heart Association recommends you limit intake of trans fats as much as possible (1). For someone who eats, 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 11 to 13 grams a day. Trans fat is high in processed and packaged foods, like cookies or cupcakes, while you’ll find saturated fats in foods like meat and cheese.

According to the updated Dietary Guidelines, your goal for cholesterol for the day should be 100 to 300 milligrams (2). In that case, if you’re shooting for the lower range, you could still eat eggs, but keep it to one or stick to egg whites. An older study from 2010 pointed out that if you do have a family history of heart disease, and you’re overweight and sedentary, it’s probably a good idea to limit dietary cholesterol intake (aka eggs) (3).

Aside from the intake numbers, more recent research points to the fact that cholesterol levels in eggs aren’t linked to heart disease, which is the main problem with high cholesterol levels in eggs in the first place (4) (5). Translation: Eggs are a solid way to start the day.

The Health Benefits of Eggs

The protein, vitamins, and minerals alone make eggs a great food if it fits your lifestyle! The key when you’re buying or consuming eggs is to make sure you know the source, i.e. where are they coming from, how are the chickens fed, how are they treated, etc. As you know, we talk a lot about sources of our food within the NS food philosophy and it’s especially important if you consume animal proteins.

Make sure you know your farmer, where the food is coming from, and how it’s produced. Getting eggs from a large supermarket where those eggs are a most likely a product of factory farming, is not only harmful to the animals, but also to our environment and plays a huge role in climate change. I encourage you to ask “where is this coming from?” Aside from checking the source, there are several health benefits of eggs:

1. Better brain performance from eggs

In a study that focused on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found no association between moderate egg consumption and these mental conditions. In fact, they found that it could actually slightly improve brain cognition (6). This is likely due to choline, a B vitamin that’s essential for memory and brain function. As mentioned above, you’ll find more than 100 milligrams of choline in eggs.

2. Muscle building and sustained energy from eggs

The best thing about combining protein and fat in one food? It’ll keep you fuller for longer—and you get a good amount of both macronutrients from eggs. A hearty breakfast, featuring eggs, will help stabilize your energy levels and keep you feeling full until lunchtime. With six grams of protein and five grams of fat in just one egg, you’ll feel satisfied after your first meal, plus you’ll help maintain your energy until the afternoon. What’s more: The protein—particularly important after a workout—will help you build stronger, bigger muscles.

3. Immune support from eggs

As shown in the nutrition info, eggs also pack in potassium, B vitamins, vitamin A and D and phosphorus. Beginning your day with a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals helps your body perform better and gives you a solid start to a day of healthy meals. All of these nutrients help your body function better and could leave you more energized and ready to take on any task ahead. Plus, they provide benefits to your longterm health like fighting off diseases and keeping your immune system functioning—that’s thanks to the antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and digestive support.

Healthy Egg Recipes

Of course, to gain the health benefits of eggs, it’s important to prepare them healthfully. Here, you’ll find a few of my favorite healthy egg recipes:

Dill Hummus Cucumber Slices with Hardboiled Eggs
Poached Egg Plate with Castelvetrano Olive Butter
Simple Congee Breakfast Porridge
Baked Eggs with Garlic Kale and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Beauty Bowl with Turmeric Eggs
Pesto Green Eggs & Avocado Toast
Egg in a Hole
Last Bits Breakfast Frittata
The Best Egg Salad

Are Eggs Healthy? The Bottom Line

It all comes down to whether you enjoy them, because yes eggs can be part of a healthy diet. As with all foods, just watch how often you eat them, plus the portion sizes.

Do you love eggs? How do you like to make them? Share your recipes or questions with me and the NS community below or with #nutritionstripped.

References
  1. The Skinny on Fats. The American Heart Association
  2. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions.
  3. J David Spence, MD, FRCPC, David JA Jenkins, MD, PhD, FRCP, and Jean Davignon, MD, MSc, FRCPC. (2010, November.) Dietary cholesterol and egg yolks: Not for patients at risk of vascular disease.
  4. Nicholas R Fuller, Amanda Sainsbury, Ian D Caterson, Gareth Denyer, Mackenzie Fong, James Gerofi, Chloris Leung, Namson S Lau, Kathryn H Williams, Andrzej S Januszewski, Alicia J Jenkins, Tania P Markovic. (2018, May.) Effect of a high-egg diet on cardiometabolic risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) Study—randomized weight-loss and follow-up phase.
  5. J. K. Virtanen, J. Mursu, H. E. Virtanen, M. Fogelholm, J. T. Salonen, T. T. Koskinen, S. Voutilainen, T.-P. Tuomainen. (2016, February.) Associations of egg and cholesterol intakes with carotid intima-media thickness and risk of incident coronary artery disease according to apolipoprotein E phenotype in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.
  6. Maija PT Ylilauri Sari Voutilainen Eija Lönnroos Jaakko Mursu Heli EK VirtanenTimo T Koskinen Jukka T Salonen Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen Jyrki K Virtanen. (2017, January.) Association of dietary cholesterol and egg intakes with the risk of incident dementia or Alzheimer disease: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study
  7. Rajiv Chowdhury, MD, PhD; Samantha Warnakula, MPhil; Setor Kunutsor, MD, MSt; Francesca Crowe, PhD; Heather A. Ward, PhD; Laura Johnson, PhD; Oscar H. Franco, MD, PhD; Adam S. Butterworth, PhD; Nita G. Forouhi, MRCP, PhD; Simon G. Thompson, FMedSci; Kay-Tee Khaw, FMedSci; Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH; John Danesh, FRCP; Emanuele Di Angelantonio, MD, PhD. (2014, March.) Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary RiskA Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.