Are eggs good for you? We look at this breakfast favourite, and whether it's a healthy staple or a recipe for high cholesterol and heart disease.
Eggs have long been the source of debate among health specialists, due to concerns over their cholesterol content, but not only do they remain one of the best natural sources of protein, they’re also packed with nutrients, including vitamins A, D and B12.
These are vital for our immune system, as well as helping to maintain strong bones and healthy blood cells. On a more practical note, their variations and suitability for almost any meal makes them a diet staple for both meat eaters and vegetarians.
1 medium egg, boiled, contains:
1.3g sat fat
Eat eggs for breakfast
When enjoyed for breakfast, eggs may help with weight management, as the high protein content helps us to stay fuller for longer, reducing the need for a mid-morning snack. Research has shown that adults who eat eggs for breakfast lose 65 per cent more weight than those who eat a breakfast bagel of equal calories.
How many eggs should we eat?
‘Two to three whole boiled eggs every two to three days for a balanced and varied diet,’ according to Dr Hyvernat. ‘This will enable you to benefit from their essential nutrients, while keeping saturated fat at a reasonable level.’
Are eggs good for you? The health benefits
Eggs are high in protein
Eggs contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein and a great healthy option. Most of the proteins come from the egg white, but the yolk is also filled with goodness. ‘The yolk has been unfairly criticised, yet it contains nutrients that are crucial to our health, including B12, zinc (to boost immunity), iron (helping red blood cells to carry oxygen), vitamin D (for healthy bones and a strong immunity) and potassium (heart health),’ explains nutrition expert Dr Laure Hyvernat.
Eating eggs can boost brain power, according to a recent study.* Researchers monitored the diets of around 1,400 men and women, aged between 36 and 83, for three years and found that those regularly eating eggs performed better on memory tests and other cognitive abilities. Researchers suggest this is down to eggs being full of choline, a crucial nutrient for healthy memory, mood and muscle control. Medical scientist Dr Nauf AlBendar (thewombeffect.com) says, ‘Choline is an essential nutrient that plays a role in preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida and fosters a baby’s brain development.’
‘Eating eggs is one of the best ways to promote eye health as they contain lutein and zeaxanthin,’ says Dr AlBendar. These are two of the main carotenoids – plant pigments responsible for bright red, yellow and orange hues in fruits and vegetables. These pigments help to boost our eye health as they block blue light from the sun and digital devices, which over time can cause damage to the eye.
They’re relatively low in fat
One average egg (58g) contains 4.6g fat (about a teaspoon). Only a quarter is saturated fat – the type that raises cholesterol – meaning two to three eggs a week will not have a negative effect on weight loss or your overall health.
Low in sodium
Too much salt in our diet can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. While the majority of our cooked breakfast favourites, such as bacon and sausages, have a high sodium content, eggs – when not cooked in butter or oil – make a healthy, low-sodium choice. ‘A medium egg contains 0.078g of sodium, 5% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for an adult woman aged 19 to 50 years,’ says registered nutritionist Dr Juliet Gray.
There’s a reason most well-known diet plans such as WW and Slimming World include eggs as part of their ‘free’/zero ‘syns’ selection, and that’s because they’re great for supporting our metabolism and helping to aid weight loss. ‘Eggs are not only a high-quality source of protein, but they contain minerals such as iron, phosphorus, selenium and zinc,’ explains Dr Kianoush Missaghi, training and nutrition specialist. ‘These work together to regulate your metabolism and hormones, and even provideprotection against oxidative damage and infection, and promote healing.’
Are eggs good for you? Be careful of
Bacteria causing infections and food-borne diseases can easily contaminate eggs so ensure you’re always buying them from verified farms or shops. ‘Eggs from hens raised on pasture are also better for us as they are much higher in omega-3 and important fat-soluble vitamins,’ says nutritionist Mays Al-Ali.
High cholesterol myth-busters
‘While it’s true that eggs, especially yolks, are one of the richest sources of dietary cholesterol, it seems to have only a small effect on blood cholesterol levels when compared with other cholesterol- containing foods,’ explains Dr AlBendar. Cholesterol is already present within the body and is needed for survival, but, as the liver produces it, you don’t need to get it from your diet.
So if you’re someone who already has high cholesterol, you will need to monitor your egg consumption. ‘The more cholesterol you eat, the more your body produces,’ explains Mays. ‘For this reason, in healthy individuals, eating a few eggs won’t cause a high rise in blood cholesterol level. Mays advises that if you do have high blood cholesterol, eat no more than three to four eggs a week, as a medium-sized egg contains 63% of the recommended daily intake.
Food poisoning and stomach problems
Always make sure eggs are cooked properly, as undercooked eggs can increase the risk of salmonella, which causes food poisoning. This can also cause bloating, vomiting, flatulence and other stomach problems. Cook until both the yolk and white are firm. Scrambled eggs should not be runny.
What about heart disease?
Research has not definitively linked cholesterol consumption with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, research has shown that having an egg a day could reduce the risk of stroke by 26%, along with an 18% lower risk of death by cardiovascular disease. Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week without increasing their risk of heart disease.
Skip the saturated fats
With eggs, it’s more about how you cook them and what you eat them with, rather than the egg itself, which increases your risk of high cholesterol. For example, the fat you cook them in and the bacon and sausages you might add to the meal, will be full of saturated fats. ‘The healthiest way to enjoy eggs is to cook them without adding fat. Try poaching or boiling them,’ advises consultant dietician Sophie Medlin.
All of the saturated fat in eggs is found in the yolk, so if you need to limit cholesterol intake but miss the taste, try mixing a whole egg with egg whites in your recipes. An omelette made with one whole egg and three egg whites is lower in cholesterol than an omelette made with two whole eggs, but offers more flavour than just using plain egg whites.