The nutritional pros and cons of eggs have proven controversial for decades. The arguments against eating them usually revolve around the cholesterol and fat content, but eggs are also full of other nutrients.
One large egg boasts around 72 calories and 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of total fat and 207 milligrams of cholesterol in addition to many vitamins and minerals, according to the USDA.
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Here's what that means for you: Generally, most people can eat eggs in moderation as part of a balanced meal plan. You'll still want to take your overall health and eating habits into account when considering whether you should incorporate eggs into your diet. You'll want to limit your egg intake to three yolks (or three whole eggs) a week if you have certain health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Feel like you're good to get cracking? Read on for the health benefits of eggs.
1. Eggs Are Rich in Protein
The body uses dietary proteins to build and repair tissues as well as to produce hormones and enzymes. The average person needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to carry out basic life functions, according to the Mayo Clinic. So a person weighing 150 pounds needs at least 55 grams of protein per day.
"It's important to regularly consume complete protein sources so your body can properly carry out functions like muscle recovery and nutrient transport," says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, a registered dietitian-nutritionist. Eating eggs at breakfast can also lead to a decreased calorie intake later on, which may be beneficial for weight management, according to an August 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
To get the most protein out of your eggs, eat the whole egg and not just the egg white. If you're used to whizzing up egg-white omelets, you may be missing out on precious protein. While a whole egg contains 6.24 grams of protein, an egg white contains only 3.64 grams, per the USDA.
2. They Contain Some Vitamin D
An estimated 42 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Often called the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is a steroid hormone that the skin makes when it's exposed to sunlight, but you could also get the nutrient through some dietary sources. Vitamin D helps the intestine absorb calcium and phosphorus and is crucial for bone health, immune function, cell signaling and much more, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Low intakes of vitamin D are associated with various health concerns, and vitamin D is considered a nutrient of public health concern due to low levels in the population, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. "Not getting enough vitamin D can raise our risk for depression, a weakened immune system, fatigue, diabetes and other diseases," Burgess says.
There are few food sources of vitamin D, and eggs are one of them. One egg contains 1 microgram of vitamin D, which clocks in at about 5 percent of most people's daily requirement, according to the USDA. Eggs fortified with vitamin D provide enough of the nutrient to help meet the daily requirements for adults and children, according to a November 2013 study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
These ubiquitous orbs are also good for your brain: Eggs contain a number of nutrients associated with keeping your mind in tip-top shape, most notably B vitamins and choline.
Several B vitamins, including vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folate, are essential for healthy brain function, according to a February 2016 review in Nutrients. A diet rich in choline is also associated with a reduced risk of dementia, according to a July 2019 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In children, eating eggs may help support cognitive performance. Egg yolks were linked to higher short-term learning, memory and attention, according to a June 2019 study in Current Developments in Nutrition.
4. They Contain Choline
The nutrient choline is essential for memory and cognitive function. While the liver produces a small amount of choline, it's not enough to meet our daily requirements. Therefore, it's important to get enough of this nutrient through food sources. Animal products, especially beef and eggs, are among the main sources of choline, according to the NIH.
"Eggs are one of the few foods high in choline, with one large egg providing 27 percent of the recommended daily amount for the nutrient," says Marissa Moore, RDN, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in Atlanta. Choline is especially important during pregnancy as it plays a role in early brain development, she says.
Not only are eggs one of the richest dietary sources of choline, the natural choline content in egg yolks may be more efficiently absorbed. Egg yolks may improve choline uptake, according to a November 2019 trial in Nutrients.
5. Eggs Are Rich in Antioxidants
While not generally recognized as a source of antioxidants, eggs contain natural compounds with antioxidant properties, according to an October 2015 review in Nutrients.
Antioxidants help reduce cell damage from free radicals and are widely considered to be a crucial part of a nutritious diet. Eggs are a source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which accumulate in the retina of the eye and contribute to eye health, says Jerlyn Jones, MPA, RDN, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in Atlanta.
Getting enough of these antioxidants is also linked to a reduced risk of developing cataracts and slowing down the progression of age-related macular degeneration, two common eye disorders that can lead to blindness, a February 2017 analysis in Nutrients suggests. The antioxidants may also help protect against damaging blue light from sunlight, your TV and computer screens, Jones says.
6. Eggs Contain Omega-3s
You may have seen supermarket eggs that advertise they're from hens that are fed flax seeds or algae. The hens' diet is intended to increase their eggs' omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid content. Commonly associated with fatty fish, omega-3s are also found naturally in eggs and have been tied to a number of health benefits, including the reduction in heart disease risk and inflammatory markers.
Eating eggs that have been enriched with omega-3 polyunsaturated fats can lead to an increase in omega-3 levels in the blood, according to a June 2018 study in Circulation. To get the most omega-3 fatty acids out of your eggs, be sure to select cartons that have been enriched with these nutrients.
7. Eggs Can Raise Your Good Cholesterol
The cholesterol content in eggs is arguably the most controversial. It's important to remember that there are two types of cholesterol — high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which are usually referred to as "good" and "bad" cholesterol, respectively.
Enjoying eggs can raise your levels of good HDL cholesterol, which helps carry fat to the liver. Eating eggs frequently is associated with increased HDL cholesterol levels and improved functionality, according to an April 2018 review in Nutrients. High levels of HDL cholesterol are beneficial for reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additional reporting by Lacey Muinos.
- USDA: “Eggs, Grade A, Large, egg whole”
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Eggs”
- USDA: “Eggs, Grade A, Large, egg white”
- Mayo Clinic: “Are you getting too much protein?”
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Energy Intake and Satiety Responses of Eggs for Breakfast in Overweight and Obese Adults—A Crossover Study”
- MyFoodData: “Eggs (Raw)”
- National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”
- Cleveland Clinic: “42% of Americans Are Vitamin D Deficient. Are You Among Them?”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "2020 - 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: “Vitamin D fortification of eggs for human health”
- Nutrients: “B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review”
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Associations of dietary choline intake with risk of incident dementia and with cognitive performance: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study”
- Current Developments in Nutrition: “Effects of Eggs and Egg Components on Cognitive Performance, Glycemic Response, and Subjective Appetite in Children Aged 9–14 Years (P14-017-19)”
- Nutrients: “Lutein and Zeaxanthin—Food Sources, Bioavailability and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection”
- Nutrients: “Hen Egg as an Antioxidant Food Commodity: A Review”
- National Institutes of Health: “Choline Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”
- Nutrients: “Natural Choline from Egg Yolk Phospholipids Is More Efficiently Absorbed Compared with Choline Bitartrate; Outcomes of A Randomized Trial in Healthy Adults”
- Circulation: “Eating Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Enriched Chicken-Meat and Eggs Results in Increased Plasma Docosahexaenoic and Eicosapentaenoic Acid Levels and an Improved Omega-3-Index”
- Nutrients: “Dietary Cholesterol, Serum Lipids, and Heart Disease: Are Eggs Working for or Against You?”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: "Bad" and "Good" Cholesterol”
- Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin
- Vitamin D
- Lipoprotein Changes Following Consumption of Lutein-enriched Eggs are Associated with Enhanced Lutein Bioavailability