Eating just half an egg a day could increase your risk of death by 7%, according to a new study, due to the cholesterol content of the yolk. And apparently eating a whole egg a day could increase your risk of dying by 14%.
However, researchers of the 16-year study said the research was ‘observational’ finding an association between egg consumption – rather than a direct link.
If you Google the health benefits vs. risks of eggs, it won’t be long before your brain feels fried because of the many conflicting studies out there.
In February 2020, two such studies hit headlines. The first, published in the European Heart Journal, suggested eating eggs could increase the risk of some types of stroke. The second, however, suggested the opposite. The research found “no significant associations” between eating up to seven eggs per week and instances of heart disease or stroke.
So where do we stand with eggs?
Where does the confusion come from?
Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, says “messaging around eggs can often be scrambled” because egg yolks are a source of dietary cholesterol. Many of us have a vague idea that high cholesterol is bad for our health – but that oversimplifies the equation and makes eggs the scapegoat.
“Like high blood pressure, having a high cholesterol level is a risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases,” Taylor explains. “However, for most people it’s the cholesterol we produce in our bodies that is more important – and this is influenced more by the amount of saturated fat we eat.”
Our understanding of how cholesterol in food is metabolised in the body “has come a long way”, adds Dr Frankie Phillips, a dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA).
“We know that there are other dietary factors involved in raising blood cholesterol levels and risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Public confusion around eggs may also stem from outdated warnings around food safety, experts believe. For example, you might remember your grandma freaking out if you licked the baking bowl as a kid – or dared to eat an egg slightly “underdone”.
“We now know that Lion-stamped eggs are free of salmonella and can be consumed runny – dippy eggs are okay even for toddlers,” says Dr Phillips.
So I can happily chow down on eggs for breakfast?
Correct! For most people, the positive health impacts of eggs will outweigh the negative.
“Eggs are the perfect balance of amino acids to make up the proteins the body needs,” explains Phillips. “They also provide a host of nutrients including iron, iodine, selenium, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin A and vitamin D. They are actually quite low in saturated fat, so wouldn’t be expected to have a significant negative impact on blood cholesterol.”
It’s important to remember, though, that your cooking method can impact an egg’s nutritional value. “Although they are low in saturated fat, eggs can have a lot of fat added to them,” adds Phillips. “If they are fried or slathered in mayonnaise that adds a lot of extra fat, including saturated fat, and also adding extra salt can have implications for blood pressure.”
She recommends opting for boiled, poached, or an omelette – fried or scrambled with lots of butter should be reserved as a treat.
Is there such thing as too many eggs?
The advice on eggs has changed in the past couple of decades as our understanding has developed, says Taylor, but it has been the same for more than 10 years now. “For most people, there is no specific limit on the number of eggs we should eat in a week, and it’s fine to eat them as part of a healthy and balanced diet,” she says.
Phillips agrees, adding: “Provided it still fits with a balanced diet, seven eggs a week is fine.”
However, you may want to limit your consumption if you’ve been diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolaemia – a type of high cholesterol that’s inherited. “It’s still okay to eat some eggs, but just a couple a week,” says Phillips.
When it comes to a diet that will help lower your overall risk of heart and circulatory diseases, variety is key, says Taylor. Eat eggs, by all means, she says, but include plenty of fruit and vegetables alongside foods like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and oils, as well as white and oily fish in your diet.