Eggs are a nutritious food that contain protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, eggs also contain cholesterol, which has raised concerns about whether they are suitable for people with heart disease. This article examines the research on egg consumption for heart patients and provides guidance on how many eggs they can safely eat as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Do eggs raise cholesterol levels?
Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, with one large egg containing around 186 mg of cholesterol. For many years, there were concerns that eating cholesterol-rich foods like eggs would raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
However, research has shown that dietary cholesterol has a smaller impact on blood cholesterol levels than once believed. The liver produces large amounts of cholesterol, and when you eat foods high in cholesterol, your liver compensates by producing less cholesterol.
Numerous studies have found that eating an additional 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day — the amount in 1.5 eggs — increases total and LDL “bad” cholesterol modestly or not at all in most people.
What’s more important for blood cholesterol levels is the type of fats you eat. Saturated and trans fats have a much bigger impact on cholesterol levels than dietary sources of cholesterol.
So eggs can be part of a heart-healthy diet, as long as you don’t eat them with other high-cholesterol foods like red meat and processed meat on a regular basis.
Do eggs increase heart disease risk?
Several large observational studies have examined egg consumption and the risk of heart disease. Overall, they have found no association between egg intake and heart disease risk in the general population.
In a study of over 117,000 adults, those who ate 1 egg per day were no more likely to develop heart disease than those who ate less than 1 egg per week. Other studies found similar results.
However, some studies suggest that eating more than 1 egg per day could increase heart disease risk in people with diabetes. Diabetics may see a greater rise in cholesterol from eating eggs compared to non-diabetics. But more research is needed on eggs and heart disease risk in diabetics.
Two studies looked at egg consumption and heart disease risk specifically in people with pre-existing heart disease. They found that daily egg intake was not associated with an increased risk of heart attacks or stroke.
Overall, research does not show a clear link between egg consumption and increased heart disease risk. Eggs can be part of a healthy diet, even for people with pre-existing heart conditions.
Are some eggs healthier than others?
You may have seen eggs labeled as cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, or organic. Do these types of eggs have cardiovascular benefits over conventional eggs?
Several studies have compared the nutritional profile of different types of eggs:
– Pasture-raised eggs have higher levels of omega-3s and vitamin E. Omega-3s and vitamin E may reduce inflammation, triglycerides, and oxidative stress.
– Organic eggs contain more vitamin A and omega-3s than conventional eggs.
– Cage-free and free-range eggs do not appear to have significant nutritional differences from conventional eggs.
While pasture-raised and organic eggs may have some cardiovascular benefits due to their higher omega-3 content, studies have not found that they lower cholesterol levels compared to conventional eggs.
So while pasture-raised or organic eggs may be the healthiest option, eggs in general can be part of a heart-healthy diet, regardless of how the chickens were raised. The differences in nutritional profile between types of eggs are small.
Are egg whites or whole eggs better?
Egg whites provide protein without any cholesterol, leading some to believe they are healthier, especially for heart health. However, experts no longer limit dietary cholesterol for heart disease prevention – what matters most is the type of fat in the diet.
Some research finds that eating egg whites instead of whole eggs has little effect on cholesterol levels. In one study, eating 3 whole eggs per day for 12 weeks did not raise total or LDL cholesterol compared to eating just egg whites.
Other studies show that egg whites may raise HDL “good” cholesterol more than whole eggs. HDL helps remove cholesterol from the blood.
So egg whites may help increase good cholesterol. However, eating whole eggs provides more total nutrition, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, and choline.
The bottom line is that both egg whites and whole eggs can be part of heart healthy diet. If you have high cholesterol, eating more egg whites than whole eggs may help increase good HDL cholesterol while avoiding dietary cholesterol.
How many eggs can someone with heart disease eat?
Based on the research, the amount of eggs that can be safely eaten depends partially on the type of heart disease:
– **For the general population and those with high cholesterol:** Most people can safely eat up to 6-7 whole eggs per week as part of a diet low in saturated fat. Eating this amount has not been shown to negatively impact cholesterol levels.
– **For those with coronary heart disease or who have had a stroke:** These individuals often need to limit dietary cholesterol. Up to 1 whole egg per day appears to be safe for most heart patients – this level is not linked to increased risk of heart attacks or stroke.
– **For those with diabetes:** People with diabetes may need to eat fewer eggs, like less than 1 whole egg per day, because of greater increases in cholesterol compared to non-diabetics. Monitor cholesterol with your doctor.
In general, eating around 4 whole eggs per week is a conservative, safe amount for most people with heart disease. Check with your doctor for specific guidance based on your cholesterol and overall diet.
Instead of eliminating eggs, focus on reducing saturated fats from butter, red meat, processed meats, cheese and full fat dairy. Replace these with healthy fats from fatty fish, avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fruits and vegetables.
Should egg yolks be limited?
The egg yolk does contain a high amount of cholesterol – around 184 mg in one large yolk. For this reason, some doctors recommend limiting egg yolks and eating more egg whites.
However, cholesterol from eggs has a relatively neutral impact on blood cholesterol for most people. And egg yolks provide important nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and choline.
Choline in eggs helps regulate cholesterol levels. Several studies found eating whole eggs increased HDL good cholesterol, even though whole eggs contain cholesterol.
Overall, most healthy people and heart patients don’t need to limit egg yolks as long as eggs are eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Those with high cholesterol or diabetes may still need to limit yolks to 1-2 per week, especially if they have trouble controlling cholesterol levels.
As long as you are consuming eggs in amounts recommended for your health status, both the yolk and white can be part of your diet.
Should I avoid eggs if I’m taking statins?
Statins like atorvastatin (Lipitor) lower LDL cholesterol. Some people on statins limit dietary cholesterol, including from eggs.
However, studies show eating eggs while on statins is safe for most people. The effects of statins are so strong that moderate egg consumption up to 6-7 eggs per week makes little difference in cholesterol levels for people on statins.
Talk to your doctor, but chances are you can safely eat eggs in moderation while taking statins, as long as the rest of your diet is healthy. Don’t eat eggs alongside high cholesterol foods like sausage or bacon regularly.
Can eggs be part of a heart-healthy diet?
Yes, eggs can absolutely be part of an overall heart-healthy diet. Here are some tips for including eggs in your diet while keeping your heart healthy:
– Choose healthier cooking methods like poaching, hard boiling, or scrambling instead of frying or cooking with lots of butter.
– Eat eggs with vegetables as an omelet or hard boil them and add to salads. Avoid pairing with high cholesterol meats like sausage.
– Limit your intake to 1 whole egg per day if you have diabetes and less than 6-7 eggs per week if you have high cholesterol.
– Select pasture-raised or omega-3 enriched eggs when possible for more nutrients. But any egg can be part of a healthy diet.
– Keep total dietary cholesterol under 300 mg by limiting intake of meat, shellfish and high fat dairy if you need to watch your cholesterol.
– Minimize saturated fats like butter and red meat and get plenty of veggies, fruits, fish and healthy oils like olive oil.
As long as eggs are prepared healthfully and eaten in moderation as part of an overall heart-healthy diet, most heart patients don’t need to eliminate eggs completely. Speak to your doctor about how many eggs per week fit into your individualized diet recommendations.
The bottom line
For most heart patients, dietary cholesterol has a negligible effect on blood cholesterol levels. Eating up to 6-7 whole eggs per week has not been linked with increased risks of heart disease in major studies.
However, people with diabetes, very high cholesterol or who are actively trying to lower cholesterol may need to limit egg intake to less than 1 whole egg daily.
Overall, the diet quality appears more important than strict limits on dietary cholesterol from eggs. Focus on reducing saturated and trans fats, exercising, losing weight and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and fiber.
Speak to your doctor or dietitian about the specific egg and cholesterol limits that are right for your health status and goals. But for most people, eggs can be enjoyed as part of an overall balanced diet.