Eggs: to eat or not to eat them? The wildly different answers to this question have confused people for decades. Yes, eggs contain dietary cholesterol and fat — but it turns out that the breakfast staple has a lot going for it, nutritionally speaking.
One medium chicken egg boasts 60 calories and contains 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of total fat and 165 milligrams of cholesterol in addition to many vitamins and minerals, according to the USDA.
What does that mean for you? In general, the average healthy person can eat eggs in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet. In fact, eating one egg a day doesn't increase your risk of heart disease, per the Dietitians of Canada.
But you'll still want to take stock of your health and eating habits when you're considering how to incorporate eggs into your diet. If you have high blood cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease, the Dietitians of Canada recommend limiting your intake of whole eggs (including the white and the yolk) to two or fewer per week.
Plus, if you're adding omelets, frittatas and scrambled eggs to your breakfast rotation, you'll want to limit other foods with saturated fats. So skip pairing your a.m. eggs with sausage, white bread and hash browns.
Feel like you're good to get cracking? Here's what eggs have to offer.
Get More Vitamin D With Eggs
One egg contains 1 microgram of vitamin D, which clocks in at about 5 percent of most people's daily requirement.
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 via your diet. 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.
Health experts have become increasingly aware of vitamin D's importance for human health, says Valerie Agyeman, RD, founder of Flourish Heights. Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with various chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and mortality, she says.
And despite vitamin D's importance, most people are likely not getting enough. In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicates that vitamin D intakes are low enough to be considered a nutrient of public health concern for all ages. An egg can provide some much-needed vitamin D.
They're Rich in Antioxidants
Eggs are a solid source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Antioxidants help reduce cell damage and are widely considered to be a crucial part of a healthy diet. In particular, these two antioxidants accumulate in the retina of the eye and contribute to eye health, says Jerlyn Jones, MPA, RDN and owner of the Lifestyle Dietitian.
What's more, getting adequate amounts of these nutrients may also reduce the risk of developing cataracts and is linked to slowing down the progression of age-related macular degeneration, two very common eye disorders leading to blindness, a February 2017 analysis in the journal Nutrients suggests. The antioxidants may also help protect against damaging blue light from sunlight, your TV and computer screens, Jones says.
You'll Also Get Omega-3s — If You Buy the Right Carton
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 associated with a number of health benefits, including the reduction in the risk of heart issues and in inflammatory markers.
A June 2018 study looked at 161 adults who ate at least three portions of enriched eggs per week over a 6-month period and found that omega-3 levels in the participant's blood increased, the Circulation study found.
Eggs Are Packed With Protein
If you're used to whipping up egg-white omelets, you may be missing out on precious protein. In fact, while the white contains 3.6 grams of the macro, the yolk contains 2.7 grams.
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. So a 150-pound person needs about 55 grams of protein. "Eggs are an inexpensive source of high-quality protein providing all nine essential amino acids," Marisa Moore, RDN, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
They're Rich in Choline
Choline is a nutrient essential for memory and cognitive function, which is why it's important to get enough via our diet. While the liver produces a small amount of choline, it's not enough to meet our daily requirements.
"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," Moore says. She also notes that choline is important during pregnancy, as it plays a role in early brain development.
They Raise Your Good Cholesterol
Enjoying eggs also appears to raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), aka your "good" cholesterol. HDL helps carry fat to the liver and differs from low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which can lead to clogged arteries in excess. An April 2018 review in the journal Nutrients found that eating eggs appeared to help HDL do its job better.
In addition, elevated levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Need another reason to get crackin'?
Eggs Are Linked to Brain Benefits
Who knew that these ubiquitous orbs were 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 the aforementioned choline. A February 2016 review in Nutrients examined the role of B12, B6 and folate, and concluded that these nutrients are essential for healthy brain function.
What's more, a study investigated the relationship between dietary choline intake and dementia and found promising results. Researchers looked at nearly 2,500 dementia-free men between the ages of 42 and 60 over five years and observed that participants who consumed the highest doses of both choline and phosphatidylcholine (a related nutrient) had a 28 percent lower risk of dementia, according to July 2019 research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 - 2020"
- USDA: "Hard Boiled Eggs"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin D"
- Nutrients: "Lutein and Zeaxanthin—Food Sources, Bioavailability and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection"
- 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?"
- 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
- Dietitians of Canada: "Understanding Eggs and Cholesterol: How Many Eggs Can You Eat?"