Chicken eggs are a nutritious and affordable source of protein and vitamins. But eggs also contain cholesterol, which creates confusion as to whether they’re considered healthy. While some cholesterol is good for your body, it’s important to understand how much you should include in your diet.
Cholesterol and Your Body
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring, waxy element in your blood. You need it to build healthy cells, and make vitamin D, hormones, and fat-dissolving acids. Your liver and intestines make about 80% of the cholesterol in your body. The other 20% comes from the food you eat.
Your body moves cholesterol through your bloodstream by packaging it with lipids that mix easily with blood. These particles, called lipoproteins, exist in many forms. Each type has a special job.
- Chylomicrons. These large particles carry triglycerides, which are fatty acids from your food. They’re made in your digestive system and are affected by the foods you eat.
- Very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL). This type of lipoprotein also carries triglycerides to your tissues. But your liver makes these types instead of your digestive system. Once your body takes the fatty acids from VLDLs, the particles turn into intermediate-density lipoproteins. After, they become low-density lipoproteins.
- Intermediate-density lipoproteins (IDL). This form of lipoprotein happens when a VLDL gives up its fatty acids. Your liver removes some of your body’s IDLs, and the others become low-density lipoproteins.
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL). These particles are rich in pure cholesterol since most of the triglycerides they carried before are gone. These lipoproteins bring cholesterol to your tissues and may cause a buildup of unhealthy plaque. LDLs usually get the most attention. Many people know them as “bad” cholesterol since the buildup of plaque may clog your arteries. This could lead to chest pain, a heart attack, or a stroke.
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL). These are known as “good” types of cholesterol. HDLs can stop cholesterol from moving through your body. They’ll return particles to your liver so that it can expel it from your body.
Your diet is one of the many lifestyle changes that can lower your cholesterol or keep you from getting high cholesterol. Doctors suggest that to keep a good cholesterol level, you limit the amount of animal fats and eat healthy fats in moderation.
The average person should get no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day, while those with risk factors shouldn’t have over 200 milligrams a day.
Risk factors include:
- Type 2 diabetes. This condition lowers HDL, which is the “good” cholesterol, and raises triglycerides. These two things can put you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Obesity. You may have higher triglyceride levels, higher LDL cholesterol levels, and lower HDL cholesterol levels. This condition itself can also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). This genetic condition can cause very high LDL cholesterol levels.
- Lifestyle choices. Eating a diet with too much saturated fat and trans fat, not exercising enough, and smoking can all lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Nutrition in Eggs
Eggs supply your body with many beneficial elements. One large egg has only about 72 calories and has 6 grams of protein. A full egg also contains nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote eye health; choline, which is good for your brain and nerves; and vitamins A, B, and D.
But a large egg also has about 186 milligrams of cholesterol, which is all in the yolk.
Since cholesterol is only in animal products, you might wonder how eggs compare to other foods.
How Many Eggs Should You Eat?
Overall, most people can have one full egg a day without causing their risk of heart attack, stroke, or other issues to go up. But if you’re in an “at-risk” group, you should eat no more than three full eggs per week.
If you want to eat more eggs than the suggested amount, you can take the yolk out of your eggs or use egg substitute products (like Egg Beaters, which are just egg whites). Egg whites and other yolk-free products don’t have any cholesterol but still have protein.
Eggs can be healthy if you eat them in moderation and follow serving size guidelines for your specific needs. But since you usually eat eggs alongside other foods, it’s also important to factor in the cholesterol amounts of those products. Butter, cheese, bacon, sausage, muffins, and other common breakfast options can add a lot of cholesterol to your normal serving of eggs.