Eggs are a popular and highly nutritious food rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, and fat. In parts of the world where eggs are affordable and easily accessible, many people eat them regularly or daily.
At some point, you may have heard that the cholesterol found in eggs contributes to heart disease — the leading cause of death worldwide.
For years, this belief was perpetuated by health officials and medical and nutrition associations alike, leading some people to avoid eating eggs.
Eggs are undoubtedly higher in cholesterol than many other foods. Still, they’re also packed with beneficial bioactive compounds and other disease-fighting nutrients.
Recent research suggests that the link between eating eggs and elevated heart disease risk may not be as strong as once thought — though there is still much debate on the topic.
Many health guidelines and recommendations have lessened the restrictions they once set around egg consumption. Yet, many still worry that eggs could harm their heart health.
This article explores the relationship between eggs, cholesterol, and heart health. It includes recommendations for how many eggs you can safely eat and who should consider limiting their intake.
Do eggs raise cholesterol levels?
Recent observational studies and meta-analyses have found that eating eggs may not increase your risk of heart disease or its risk factors, like inflammation, stiffening of the arteries, and high cholesterol levels.
A few randomized controlled trials (RCTs) — the gold standard of scientific research for their ability to reduce bias — note similar findings, though typically in smaller study groups of 20–50 healthy adults.
For example, one small RCT found that when compared with an egg-free high-carb breakfast, eating two eggs or a 1/2 cup (118 mL) of liquid eggs for breakfast had no significant effects on blood cholesterol levels.
RCTs in people with diabetes have found that eating 6–12 eggs per week didn’t negatively affect total blood cholesterol levels or heart disease risk factors. Rather, it increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. It removes other types of cholesterol from the blood, so higher HDL levels are favorable.
On the contrary, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often referred to as the bad type of cholesterol because it raises your risk of heart disease.
Trials comparing egg-based breakfasts and egg-free meals noted that cholesterol did increase in the egg-breakfast groups. However, the LDL-to-HDL ratio — a biomarker commonly used to assess heart disease risk — remained unchanged.
Nevertheless, other studies have observed links between egg intake, cholesterol levels, and a higher risk of chronic disease and death.
For example, a recent meta-analysis of 17 RCTs found that people with high egg consumption for an extended period of time tend to have higher cholesterol levels than those who eat fewer eggs.
Yet, some studies also say that the negative associations of eating eggs may be more notable if they’re eaten alongside other high-cholesterol foods. Aside from eggs, this can include yogurt, cheese, processed meats, and fried foods.
All in all, discrepancies remain about how eggs influence cholesterol and their overall role in the risk of heart disease and death. Many experts agree that more human studies are needed to address these questions better.
Summary: Because current evidence is conflicting, more rigorous studies in humans are needed to better understand how eating eggs affects blood cholesterol levels in different populations.
How many eggs are safe to eat per day?
As we continue to learn how eggs interact with cholesterol and chronic diseases, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the risk associated with eating too many eggs differs among individuals.
Suggested read: Are whole eggs and egg yolks healthy?
Factors like genetics, family history, how you prepare your eggs, your overall diet, and even where you live could influence how many eggs you can safely eat daily.
Also, consider the total cholesterol in your diet from foods besides eggs. If your diet is relatively low in cholesterol, you may have more room for eggs. However, if your diet is higher in cholesterol, it may be best to limit your egg intake.
For a healthy adult with normal cholesterol levels and no significant underlying heart disease risk factors, some research suggests that 1–2 eggs per day can be safe. It may even be healthy and benefit your heart health.
A study of 38 healthy adults found that as many as three eggs per day improved LDL and HDL levels and the LDL-to-HDL ratio. Yet, experts might shy away from suggesting more than two eggs per day, with many still suggesting that you stick to 1.
A study in Korean adults further observed that eating 2–7 eggs per week helped maintain high HDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Meanwhile, eating two or more eggs per day didn’t have the same protective effects.
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that include high blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood fat levels, plus weight gain around the waist. They increase the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
The risk could vary for different groups
Though it appears that having a couple of eggs a day is safe for most healthy adults, it’s important to note that some research still suggests otherwise, particularly for certain groups.
One study of nearly 200,000 U.S. veterans associated eating just one egg per day with a slightly elevated risk of heart attacks. The effect was strongest in those with diabetes or overweight, suggesting that overall health status influences how many eggs are safe to eat.
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Similarly, eating 2–4 eggs each week in European and Korean adults may contribute substantially to dietary cholesterol intake and increase the risk of heart disease, especially in people with diabetes.
Another study examined a sample of more than 100,000 U.S. adults and found that older adults who ate more than 5–6 eggs per week had a 30% increased risk of heart disease. However, it’s no guarantee the increased risk is due to eggs alone.
Regardless of egg intake, heart disease risk increases as you age due to changes like fat buildup and stiffening of the arteries. Therefore, it’s important to consider your overall picture and health status when deciding how many eggs are safe to eat.
If you have high LDL cholesterol levels, overweight or obesity, have a chronic disease like diabetes, or have a family history of heart disease, it may be best to eat no more than one egg per day or 4–5 eggs per week.
It can be hard to evaluate so many risk factors independently. Therefore, working directly with a physician, dietitian, or trained healthcare professional may be the best way to decide how many eggs are safe to eat each day or week.
Summary: For most healthy adults, eating 1–2 eggs a day is safe depending on how much other cholesterol is in your diet. If you already have high cholesterol or other risk factors for heart disease, eating no more than 4–5 eggs per week may be best.
Is better to eat only egg whites?
On average, one large egg contains around 200 mg of cholesterol.
The cholesterol is concentrated in the yolk. Therefore, some people eat only egg whites to reduce their cholesterol intake while still getting a good source of lean protein.
However, you shouldn’t dismiss the yolk completely because of its cholesterol content. The yolk is also the egg part packed with iron, vitamin D, carotenoids, and more.
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These bioactive nutrients are thought to be responsible for many of the health-promoting qualities of eggs, like reduced inflammation, increased HDL cholesterol levels, and improved metabolic health.
For example, one study in 37 adults with metabolic syndrome found that those who ate a low-carb diet including three whole eggs per day for 12 weeks had improved markers of inflammation and cholesterol balance, compared with those who ate a yolk-free egg substitute.
There isn’t much evidence to support eating only egg whites in healthy individuals. In fact, by avoiding the yolk, you might be missing out on many of the health benefits eggs have to offer.
On the other hand, if you’re at high risk of heart disease or already have high cholesterol, prioritizing egg whites and moderating how much egg yolk you eat during the week could help prevent further increases in your cholesterol.
Summary: Egg yolks are high in cholesterol and nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Eating only egg whites to avoid the cholesterol from the yolk may only be necessary for people at an elevated risk of heart disease.
Eggs, cholesterol, and heart disease
Studies show that too much cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat from any source can increase blood cholesterol levels — particularly LDL cholesterol, which raises your risk of heart disease.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans once recommended consuming no more than 200–300 mg of cholesterol daily depending on your heart disease risk factors. Breakfast with 2–3 eggs could easily set you over that limit.
However, that recommendation has since been restated. Now, the same guidelines place no limit on the daily amount of cholesterol in your diet. Instead, they suggest limiting your intake to keep your blood cholesterol levels within normal limits, which is an individual amount.
Though dietary cholesterol can raise LDL levels, it’s important to note that it is only one piece of the puzzle when assessing a person’s overall risk of heart disease.
Eggs are high in cholesterol but are not the only food affecting LDL cholesterol levels. For example, high blood cholesterol levels can also be a result of a diet that is:
- High in saturated fat. Saturated fats like butter, cheese, and processed meats raise LDL cholesterol levels, especially when compared with unsaturated fats.
- High in trans fat. Though some forms of trans fat occur naturally, they’re usually artificially made and found in fast foods, baked goods, and processed margarine and shortening.
- Low in fiber. Adding high-fiber foods like oats, beans, peas, seeds, and fruit might help reduce LDL cholesterol levels and your overall risk of heart disease.
- Too high in calories. For some people, limiting their calorie intake — particularly calories from fat — has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Thus, it’s important to consider your whole diet when deciding how many eggs it’s safe to eat each day or week.
Eating more eggs may be fine if you don’t eat many other cholesterol-containing foods. However, if you often have eggs with other cholesterol-rich foods like bacon, sausages, or butter, limiting your egg intake is likely better.
Summary: Although eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, they might not raise blood cholesterol levels as much as foods high in saturated or trans fats.
Health benefits of eggs
Eggs are affordable, versatile, a great source of lean protein, and easy to prepare.
They also offer many health benefits outside the debate surrounding their cholesterol content.
Notably, eggs are:
- Packed with vitamins and minerals. Especially choline, selenium, and the B vitamins.
- Rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect your body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals and associated chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.
- Believed to improve some biomarkers of heart disease. These include inflammatory biomarkers like blood levels of interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein.
- Filling and could support weight loss. Thanks to their high content of lean protein, eggs may be more filling than high-carb breakfasts like cereal, which could help you feel full for longer and thus eat fewer calories throughout the day.
Lastly, eggs can be prepared deliciously in many different ways.
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You can enjoy them in veggie-packed omelets, frittatas, and breakfast burritos. You can also boil, scramble, panfry, or poach them. Or, you can incorporate them into baked goods, sauces, salad dressings, shakshuka, stir-fries, and more.
When preparing eggs, your imagination and your taste buds are the only limits.
Summary: Eggs are not only an easy-to-prepare source of protein, but they’re also nutrient-dense, help you feel full, and may even combat heart disease.
Eggs are a nutritious protein source and a staple in many people’s diets.
Though they’re high in cholesterol, they also have many health-promoting qualities.
For healthy adults, eating 1–2 eggs a day appears safe, as long as they’re consumed as part of an overall nutritious diet.
If you’re worried about cholesterol levels or heart disease risk, working with a trained professional like a doctor or a dietitian is the best way to determine how many eggs are safe.
Try this today: To cut down on the cholesterol content of your eggs at breakfast, try making simple substitutions like cooking them in avocado oil instead of butter or pairing them with roasted veggies instead of sausage and bacon.