Eggs are high in cholesterol, but they are also a rich source of nutrients. So, can you eat eggs every day?

I don’t know about you, but eggs are a staple in our home.

Omelette night is a family favourite (and my night-off for cooking). It’s an easy and delicious dinner that my husband and son have fun making together. And if we’ve been out all day and haven’t given much thought to dinner, a fried egg with baked beans on toast is a winner.

However, with heart disease, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes in the family, I started to wonder how often we should be eating eggs – if at all.

Heart health, better breakfasts and brainy babies

Lila Bruk, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), says that the relationship between egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease is mixed.

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A study of nearly 30 000 people found that eating three to four eggs per week was associated with six percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and eight percent higher risk of any cause of death.

However, a Chinese study found that people who ate an egg a day had a 26% lower risk of haemorrhagic stroke, a 28% lower risk of haemorrhagic stroke death and an 18% lower risk of CVD death.

Researchers from the University of Sydney concluded that eating up to 12 eggs a week does not increase cardiovascular risk factors in people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes while another study found that eating an egg a day helps lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly, another study found that eating a high-fat, low-carb breakfast – like an omelette – can help those with type 2 diabetes control blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Researchers found that it prevented the blood sugar spike after breakfast, lowered overall glucose exposure and improved the stability of glucose readings for the next 24 hours, which could be good for anyone – even if you don’t have diabetes.

And of all the things I wish I could ‘redo’ as a first-time mom, feeding my child eggs from a young age will not be one of them, thanks to findings from Washington University in St. Louis.

Their researchers found that babies who were introduced to eggs from six months old had significantly higher blood concentrations of key nutrients for brain development – choline, other biomarkers in choline pathways, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

What are we to believe?

The various studies whip up a rather scrambled view, but health experts still tend to agree that you can and should eat eggs in moderation, even if you are concerned about cholesterol.

As Dr Nick Fuller, lead researcher from the University of Sydney study, explained, eggs are a source of protein and micronutrients that could help to regulate the intake of fats and carbohydrates while supporting eye and heart health, healthy blood vessels and healthy pregnancies.

Bruk says that eggs can be consumed as part of a heart-healthy eating plan that includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, fish, olives, seeds, nuts and oils made from them.

So don’t be too quick to scratch eggs off your shopping list.

The problem with plant-based diets

How many eggs can you eat in a day?

“The average egg yolk has approximately 185mg of dietary cholesterol and the recommendation is approximately 200-300mg of dietary cholesterol per day,” says Bruk, “As a result, having one egg yolk per day is generally recommended as the maximum if one is trying to manage one’s dietary cholesterol intake.”

If you have elevated cholesterol levels, Bruk adds that you need to focus on reducing dietary cholesterol intake from other sources, like red meat, and making more heart-healthy choices, like increasing your intake of fruit and veg, choosing lower-fat dairy, exercising regularly, limiting convenience meals.

Echoing Bruk’s sentiments, new recommendations from the Australian Heart Foundation do not place a limit on eggs consumption for healthy people, but for those at risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, they recommend no more than seven eggs per week. 

If the magic number is seven, is it okay if you indulge once in a while – with a two or three-egg omelette, for example – but still stick to the weekly limit?

Bruk says that this depends on whether you have a cholesterol problem or not. “Generally I would recommend keeping to the one yolk per day religiously, but an occasional overindulgence won’t be too problematic.”

The sunny side up

The good news is that, with a few tweaks, everyone can enjoy egg-based meals (and some quick, easy cooking).

One way to keep within the daily limit and enjoy egg-based dishes is to use egg whites instead of egg yolks where possible.

Egg whites do not contain cholesterol and therefore, there is no restriction on their intake from a cholesterol point of view,” says Bruk.

She also says you could make the yolk “stretch” further by adding veg. For example, you could add chopped mushrooms to scrambled eggs and red peppers and courgettes to frittatas.

While a fried omelette may be delicious, Bruk points out that preparation counts too and poached, baked or boiled eggs are far better than fried eggs for keeping cholesterol in check.

An egg-xcellent recipe

To help portion control eggs, Bruk suggests making mini frittatas, which can be baked in a muffin tin.

“This can be done by chopping fillings such as mushrooms, peppers, feta cheese, tomatoes and spinach, beating eggs (as many eggs as the number of muffins you want to make) and pouring the egg mixture into the muffin tins until each cup of the muffin tin is halfway full. Sprinkle the fillings on top and bake at 180C until cooked through (approximately 15 minutes),” says Bruk.

Eggs may continue to be a controversial dietary topic, but all things considered, omelette night will still be on in our home (although we may try adding egg whites) and I’m game to try Bruk’s frittatas recipe – especially if it means I get another night off cooking.

Sources: BMJ, University of British Columbia Okanagan campus, University of Eastern FinlandNorthwestern University, University of Sydney, Washington University in St. Louis via ScienceDaily and the National Heart Foundation of Australia.