How healthy are eggs actually – and how many is too many?

There are few natural, whole foods that have been examined as closely as eggs have.

Historically thought to be associated with high cholesterol, eggs were often limited on “heart-healthy” diets for what now appears to be largely unsubstantiated reasons.

Recent research suggests there are far more positives than negatives when it comes to incorporating eggs into a balanced healthy diet, and of all the food we should be worried about eating too much of, eggs are not one of them.

What do eggs offer nutritionally?

A couple of eggs offer close to 20 grams of protein along with a good dose of omega-3 fat and 13 other key vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, D and selenium. In fact, the overall nutritional profile of eggs is so strong they are frequently referred to as one of nature’s superfoods.

Enjoying an egg or two, with wholegrain toast and vegetables is an exceptionally filling, nutrient-rich breakfast option.

The myth of eggs and cholesterol

For more than 50 years, eggs have been targeted as a food to actively limit if you have high blood cholesterol levels.

This recommendation came via the American Heart Association, which in the late 1960s made a blanket statement that all individuals should limit their dietary cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day, or no more than three whole eggs a week to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

More up-to-date science has now shown that eggs as an individual food make very little difference to cholesterol levels overall. Specifically, we now understand that dietary cholesterol consumed via animal foods including shellfish, eggs, meat and dairy does not automatically increase blood cholesterol levels.

We also now know that from a dietary perspective, it is our overall intake patterns that are predictive of inflammation and the health of our arteries, rather than overconsuming individual foods, especially nutrient-rich, whole foods that are also affordable, such as eggs.

hit vitamin d

Nutritionally, eggs are a powerhouse for several reasons. Overall, their saturated fat content is relatively low, while they offer the benefits of omega-3 fat, another nutrient found naturally in a handful of foods.

Eggs are also one of the richest natural food sources of vitamin D. With up to 36 per cent of Australian adults suffering from low vitamin D during winter, just two eggs each day provides more than 80 per cent of the daily recommended intake of this important nutrient required for bone health, calcium metabolism and mood management.

Eggs and the full factor

A less frequently mentioned benefit associated with eggs is that they are an exceptionally filling food, which may be partially explained by their high leucine content, an amino acid that is involved in insulin regulation on the body.

Two eggs offer close to two grams of leucine, the amount shown to support glucose control and appetite after consumption.

This means that enjoying an egg or two, with wholegrain toast and vegetables is an exceptionally filling, nutrient-rich breakfast option that is likely to keep your blood glucose levels controlled, and make you feel full and satisfied for several hours after eating.

Like many of the foods we eat, it is not the eggs that are the issue, rather it’s how we enjoy them. For example:

  • Boiled or poached on a slice or two of small wholegrain bread is a protein- and fibre-rich breakfast that will likely keep you satisfied until lunchtime.
  • Eggs made with cream and served on enormous slices of butter-soaked sourdough – not so great. Eggs served fried with bacon and on large, soft white bread rolls is not ideal nutritionally either.

The key to enjoying your eggs and the health benefits they offer is to serve them in as natural a form as possible, alongside wholegrains and vegetables, just as they do as part of a Mediterranean diet.

How many eggs are too many?

Currently the Heart Foundation does not set a limit on the number of eggs recommended for consumption each week.

A closer look at the scientific evidence does suggest that for those who do have high blood cholesterol, enjoying one egg each day or roughly six eggs each week is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Good for the budget

In current times, with the cost of fresh food ever rising, eggs are a cost-effective protein. Selling for as little as $4-5 per dozen, or less than $1 a serve, for almost 20 grams of protein, there are few whole natural foods that match protein per serve at this price point.

Susie Burrell is an accredited practicing dietitian and nutritionist and holds a masters in coaching psychology.

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