When you think of breakfast foods, chances are the first thing that will cross your mind is eggs. They’re versatile and filling, making them the ultimate breakfast food. Unfortunately, there’s another side to eggs that makes them a bit controversial and it all comes down to the yolks. The reality is that this yellow-aspect of eggs is packed with what some believe to be one of the worst things for your health – cholesterol.
Thanks to the presence of cholesterol, some advise that egg consumption is the worst thing you can do for your health. However, various studies have come out to state that eggs can form part of a healthy and balanced diet, so what’s the truth?
What is cholesterol?
Before we delve into whether you should remove eggs from your diet, it’s first important to understand what cholesterol is.
Cholesterol is a fatty compound produced by the liver, and the body needs it in order to function properly. Cholesterol helps to maintain the integrity and fluidity of cell membranes, all while being used by the body to produce bile for digestion, as well as vitamin D, and steroid hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone (1).
So, if the liver produces cholesterol, shouldn’t that mean that cholesterol is meant to be in the body? Yes, however, there are foods high in cholesterol (eggs, shellfish, red meat, and fried foods) and when consumed, the consensus is that this can raise cholesterol levels, which can then cause a few problems.
The problem with cholesterol
The issue with cholesterol comes down to its effect on heart health. As cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of mortality worldwide, anything that raises the risk for it is heavily scrutinized.
There are two general types of cholesterol and these are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
When cholesterol is touted as a villain, that’s down to the effects of LDL cholesterol, which is also known as the “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol have been proven to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke as the buildup creates plaques that narrow the arteries, making it incredibly hard for blood to effectively flow through the body.
HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is the “good” cholesterol and that’s because it absorbs cholesterol, carrying it back to the liver and in doing so, reduces the risk for heart disease and stroke.
So, are eggs unhealthy?
Now that we have a little background on cholesterol, it’s time to discuss whether its presence in eggs makes it an unhealthy breakfast food.
As mentioned, there exist foods that are high in cholesterol and when consumed, these foods may increase the levels of cholesterol in the body, potentially causing future problems. However, it’s not that simple.
According to a 2020 study published in Circulation, there is no significant link between dietary cholesterol and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, the same study, which came from the American Heart Association (AHA), even concluded that you can eat a whole egg daily. They even approved two eggs daily for healthy older adults because of the overall benefits.
But don’t eggs increase cholesterol levels, you may ask?
Well yes, but also, not in the way that you may think. While eggs may slightly increase LDL cholesterol levels, they also increase HDL levels, which means that the levels of cholesterol will remain steady.
If you need more convincing, a study published in the American Journal of Nutrition studied the egg consumption of 177555 people.
Not only did the researchers find no significant link between egg intake and cholesterol levels, or major cardiovascular disease events, but they also found no significant association between how many eggs someone ate and their cholesterol levels.
The verdict on cholesterol
Dr. Jonny Bowden is an LA-based board-certified nutritionist and he is also behind the The Great Cholesterol Myth, Revised and Expanded:Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease, a book he co-authored with leading US cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD.
Dr. Bowden has devoted his career to challenging the myths around high cholesterol and its link to heart disease so that everyone can take more control of their health outcomes, be empowered with better knowledge, and stretch their thinking when it comes to medication, diet, and lifestyle, and the impact on health.
“We all need cholesterol for immunity. We can’t take cholesterol out of our bodies. Instead of focusing on correcting the real causes of heart disease and remedying them, we throw medication at it.” – Dr. Johnny Bowden
It’s clear that eggs are a significant part of a healthy diet and eating them will have little to no impact on your cholesterol levels, but rather improve your overall health. That said, if you are worried about your cholesterol levels, or rather your heart health, then Dr. Bowden recommends the following dietary habits:
Eat less of this for heart health:
- Processed carbs
- Trans fats
- Processed meats
- Excess vegetable oils
Eat more of this for heart health:
- Wild salmon
- Berries and cherries
- Grass-fed meat
- Dark chocolate
- Garlic and turmeric
- Pomegranate juice
- Green tea and red wine
Want to know more?
The concerns around cholesterol all come down to cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks and stroke. It’s clear that we all want to reduce our risk of a heart attack. That said, perhaps it might be useful to look at things from the other side? Perhaps it’s time to discuss what makes the perfect heart attack?