Americans love their eggs.
The average American eats 279 eggs a year, according to the Washington Post. While once believed to be little bombs of cholesterol, eggs are now prized for their protein-packed and nutrient-rich profile.
The inexpensive sources of protein offer tremendous nutrition and can play a role in a healthy diet. Eggs are wonderfully versatile, and can be eaten on their own or used in baked goods, sauces, puddings, ice cream and casseroles.
Despite a rising affinity for them, there are still many misconceptions about the humble chicken egg.
To clear up some egg myths, we'll examine the calories and nutrients in eggs, the advantages and disadvantages of eating eggs and whether certain colors of eggs are healthier than others.
Chicken Egg Nutrition Info
One large chicken egg, per the USDA, contains:
- 72 calories.
- 4.75 g fat
- 1.55 g saturated fat
- 0.4 g carbohydrates
- 6.3 g protein
The calories in free-range eggs are similar to that of cage-free and organic eggs. In general, the nutrition info for any chicken egg will be very similar; the numbers will slightly vary depending on the size of the egg.
Eggs provide small amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium.
Eggs also a source of B vitamins, as well as vitamins E, K and A.
Eggs are also rich in choline, a nutrient essential for memory and cognitive function. One large egg provides 27 percent of the daily value (DV) of choline, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Egg yolks are also a source of lutein, an antioxidant that helps with vision.
Egg Nutrition and Preparation
How an egg is prepared will impact its calorie and fat content.
Hard-boiled, soft-boiled and poached eggs do not contain added calories or fats. A fried egg, however, is higher in calories and fat, as are scrambled eggs.
Using nonstick cooking spray rather than butter, margarine, bacon grease or cooking oil can help minimize these additional calories and fats. Eggs should be cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of salmonella, a type of food poisoning.
The Pros and Cons of Eggs
While eggs are considered a protein-rich, healthy food that boast plenty of good-for-you nutrients, there are some potential disadvantages of the breakfast staple that are important to be mindful of.
While eggs have been maligned in the past for their saturated fat and cholesterol content, research suggests that not everyone needs to steer clear of the protein-packed food.
One whole, large egg contains 186 mg of cholesterol.
The 2020 - 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting dietary cholesterol consumption, without skimping on important nutrients.
The American Heart Association previously recommended limiting cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day, but the guidelines changed as research shows that dietary cholesterol is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease, per June 2015 research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Eggs are a significant source of dietary cholesterol, but several studies have shown that eating them is not associated with an elevated risk of heart disease, as July 2013 research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrates.
In fact, research suggests that eating eggs could actually help lower the risk for heart disease in some people.
In a March 2013 study in Metabolism, researchers compared the effects whole eggs and a yolk-free egg substitute had on cholesterol levels. People who ate three whole eggs per day experienced a greater increase in HDL particles (the "good" type of cholesterol) and a greater decrease in LDL particles (the "bad" type of cholesterol) than those who consumed an equivalent amount of egg substitute.
These findings do not extend to people with diabetes, however; some research has found that people with diabetes who eat eggs have an increased risk fo heart disease, per the July 2013 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
For this reason, people with diabetes, heart disease or high cholesterol are recommended to limit their egg consumption, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Saturated Fat and Eggs
One egg contains about 1.5 grams of saturated fat. While we're often told to steer clear of this kind of fat, eating an egg a day has been shown to be safe for most people, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
While the saturated fat in eggs may not pose much of a health risk, other sources may.
For this reason, it's important to be thoughtful about how you take your eggs in the morning: The saturated fat in butter, cheese, bacon, sausage and pastries raises your blood cholesterol much more than the cholesterol in your egg, Harvard Health publishing notes.
Food-Borne Illnesses and Eggs
Eggs can contain a type of bacterium called salmonella known to cause illness in people, per the FDA.
Symptoms of salmonella infection include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Most cases do not require treatment with antibiotics.
To reduce your risk of a salmonella infection, store eggs in the refrigerator to prevent salmonella bacteria from growing. Cook eggs thoroughly so that both the whites and yolks are firm, and consume them promptly.
Can You Eat Too Many Eggs?
Wondering how many eggs you can eat per day? Eating a single egg a day is likely safe for most people, per Harvard Health Publishing. As for the maximum number of eggs you can eat, there's not enough research to say. Most studies on eggs and health have participants eating anywhere from one to three eggs per day.
One early January 2006 review in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care showed that the majority of people, eating a couple of eggs per day had no effect on their LDL cholesterol. For 30 percent of people, however, their LDL markers slightly increased.
The bottom line: Eggs are rich in protein and healthy fat, as well as key nutrients, such as choline and zinc. Eating one egg a day is safe for most people, but you may want to stick to no more than three eggs a week if you have high cholesterol, diabetes or other heart disease risk factors — or opt for egg whites from time to time.
Brown Eggs vs. White Eggs
The options are abundant in the egg aisle — you can choose everything from how the hen laying your egg was raised to the size and the color of your eggs. Brown and white are the most common colors of the eggs you'll find in the supermarket.
You may have an aesthetic preference for one color over the other, and that's perfectly fine. When it comes down to nutrition, however, there is no significant difference between brown and white eggs.
An egg shell's color is determined by the breed of hen that lays it, with variances of color within a breed, per Michigan State University Extension. The color of the shell is simply the color of the shell, so base your choice on other factors when you purchase eggs.
Some people prefer brown eggs because they equate shell color with healthy eggs, but a healthy hen will lay a healthy egg, so don't assume that brown eggs are better for you.
Whether you buy from the supermarket or straight from a farmer, you'll find brown eggs range from very dark-shelled to light tan, sometimes with speckles. Brown-egg breeds are often selected for organic and sustainable farms because their hardiness suits them to free-range environments, so look for these certifications on the carton if these issues are important to you.
Finally, know that the taste of an egg is influenced by the hen's diet.
Some people think they can taste a difference between white- and brown-shelled eggs, but the shell color does not influence flavors. Some cooks prefer brown eggs simply because brown shell bits are easier to see to remove from a cracked egg in a bowl or from a hard-boiled egg.
- "International Journal of Obesity"; Egg Breakfast Enhances Weight Loss; J.S. Vander Wal, A. Gupta, P. Khosla and N.V. Dhurandhar; Aug. 5, 2008
- FDA: "Large Egg"
- NIH: "Choline"
- 2020 - 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Egg consumption in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis"
- Metabolism: "Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Are eggs risky for heart health?"
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: "Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Eggs"
- FDA: "What You Need to Know About Egg Safety"
- MSU Extension: "Why are chicken eggs different colors?"
- Washington Post: "Why Americans are on track to eat the most eggs in nearly a half-century"