Search online for “Are eggs good or bad for my health?” and you’ll find a scramble of reports debating the issue.
But that’s not the right question to ask, says Prof. Katherine Tucker of the Department of Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences in the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences.
“Eggs may be good and bad for you, depending on how many you consume,” she says. “Eggs include a lot of healthy nutrients, like zeaxanthin that protects your eyes and vitamin D that protects your bones, but if you eat too many, then you may be at higher risk of heart disease.”
Tucker was a co-author, with researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, on a study published in the March issue of the medical journal JAMA that found that the more eggs an individual consumes, the greater the risk for heart disease, stroke and overall mortality.
The study analyzed data from six study groups across the U.S., which included nearly 30,000 U.S. adults. People provided information about their dietary habits, health and lifestyle information. Researchers tracked their health for up to 31 years. Based on that analysis, the researchers estimate that each additional 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol consumed per day was associated with a 17 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and an 18 percent higher risk of early death.
One large egg contains nearly 200 milligrams of cholesterol, which is roughly the same amount as an 8-ounce sirloin steak. Other foods that contain high amounts of cholesterol include processed meats, cheese and high-fat dairy products.
“Eating several eggs a week is reasonable, but I recommend that people avoid eating three-egg omelets every day,” says Tucker. “Nutrition is all about moderation and balance.” The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are published every five years, dropped the dietary cholesterol warning to consumers in the 2015-2020 report. Meanwhile, egg consumption per capita in the U.S. continues to rise. In 2017, people ate, on average, 279 eggs each per year, compared with 254 eggs in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The study results determined that exercise, overall diet quality and the amount and type of fat in the diet didn’t change the association between the dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease and death risk.
“This is a strong study because of the modeling that adjusted for factors such as the quality of the diet,” says Tucker. “For example, even for people on healthy diets, the harmful effect of higher intake of eggs and cholesterol was consistent.”
However, the study also has some limitations. Diet data was collected using food frequency questionnaires, which estimate food intake but may contain errors. The data were also collected during a single baseline visit and do not evaluate whether diets changed over time. “Therefore, this study alone cannot define a specific number of eggs or precise grams of cholesterol that should be consumed,” Tucker notes.