I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of my teenage years and most of my twenties ordering egg white only omelets and dumping out the beautiful yellow yolk every time I made an egg scramble.
But it wasn’t because I knew the real reason why. I was just following the crowd of “healthy” eaters, and what I had heard was “better” for my health.
There are many contradicting factors out there about eggs, and well, everything else in life.
When it comes to food, it can be hard navigating what to eat and what not to eat when you hear different facts being shouted at you from different sources.
In this article, I will lay out of my findings and scientifically backed information about eggs and the functions of cholesterol.
Hopefully, by the end of it, you will have a better understanding of how both can be beneficial to your health, and how to avoid the health risks.
Eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet!
To me, they are pretty much the perfect food. They contain a little bit of almost every nutrient, including various trace minerals, that our bodies need.
A single large egg contains: 78 calories, 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of healthy fats(1)
Eggs are PACKED with:
- Vitamin A: 6% – great for memory & eye sight
- Folate: 5%
- Vitamin B5: 7%
- Vitamin B12: 9% – great for energy
- Vitamin B2: 15% – helps break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Helps maintains the body’s energy supply.
- Phosphorus: 9%
- Selenium: 22%
With good amounts of:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B6
Egg yolks also contain large amounts of both lutein and zeaxanthin, which are powerful antioxidants that accumulate in the retina of the eye.
Studies show that consuming adequate amounts of these nutrients can significantly reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, two very common eye disorders.(2,3)
*Pastured raised eggs have high levels of omega-3 fatty acid (more on this below).
Did you know that egg yolk is great for your brain?
Along with all of the other vitamins and minerals listed above, eggs are also a rich source of choline (found in the yolk), which is particularly important for brain function and health.
Choline is an essential component of many fat-containing structures in cell membranes and a key piece of acetylcholine (one of the brains key neurotransmitters).
When consumed during pregnancy, choline may be a key factor in the development of infants’ memory functions and, later in life, choline may improve memory capacity.(2)
One large egg provides 126-300 micrograms of free choline (all from the yolk)!
The “C” Word : Cholesterol
Did you know that the liver produces large amounts of cholesterol every day?
Contrary to popular belief, we actually need cholesterol. If we aren’t getting enough throughout the day, the liver produces more!
Cholesterol has a number of essential physiological functions:
- Is key in the development and protection of nerve cells, which enable the brain to communicate with the rest of the body.
- An essential component of cell membranes.
- Needed to make several hormones (androgens, estrogens, progestins, testosterone, cortisol..etc).
- Helps with fat digestion.
- Helps organs to function properly.
- Produces Vitamin D.
LDL & HDL
Cholesterol does not mix with water and cannot travel freely in your blood. Because of this, your body pairs cholesterol with proteins, making it a complex called “lipoproteins”.
Lipoproteins transport cholesterol through your bloodstream and deliver fat to cells throughout the body that need it for various functions.
There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
- Sometimes called “bad”.
- Primary carrier of cholesterol; carrying cholesterol throughout the body where ever it is needed.
- High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- LDL cholesterol builds up on the walls of your blood vessels when there is too much of it. This buildup is called “plaque.”
High-density lipoprotein (HDL)
- Referred to as “good”.
- Collects cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body.
- Protects against clogged arteries and other types of heart disease.
- High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- On the contrary, having too low HDL cholesterol levels will do the opposite.
Recent studies have found that dietary cholesterol only has a small impact on the overall cholesterol levels in the body.
This is because the liver adjusts the amount of cholesterol it produces depending on how much you eat. When your body absorbs more cholesterol from your diet, it makes less in the liver.
While dietary cholesterol has little influence on cholesterol levels, there are foods in your diet (like saturated fat and trans fat) that can worsen them.
Other cholesterol level influencers: your family history, smoking, stress, aging, inflammation, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Benefits of Eggs
Eating between one to three eggs per day can have several health benefits and at this level of consumption, you can expect minimal changes in your cholesterol levels.
Summary of their benefits:
- Incredibly nutritious.
- High in antioxidants that reduce your risk of eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataract.
- High in quality animal protein, the benefits of which include increased muscle mass and better bone health.
- Studies show that eggs increase feelings of fullness and help you lose weight.
- Omega-3 found in Pastured Raised eggs lower triglycerides.
- Triglycerides are a well-known risk factor for heart disease.(2)
- Chicken eggs are high in cholesterol, but they raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.
Actually, it has been scientifically shown that when people with high cholesterol start consuming products with good cholesterol in them, like free-range eggs, they will actually LOWER their cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats (the good kind), soluble fiber, plant sterols and stanols (substances that are naturally found in plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds), exercise, and weight loss can increase good HDL and decrease bad LDL.
How To Select
Choose eggs from free-range or organically raised chickens.
Not all eggs are created equal. Their nutrient composition varies depending on how the chickens were fed and raised.
Organically raised chickens may not receive any antibiotics and their feed is organically grown.
Whereas, commercially raised chickens are given processed grains (usually bioengineered corn) sprayed with pesticides and antibiotics to prevent infection and stimulate growth.
The chickens convert much of the starch in these grains into saturated fat, and ingested pesticides are stored in fat. This pesticide-laden fat ends up in the yolk of the eggs.
Widespread antibiotic use in chickens has lead to the development of harmful, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In contrast, free-range and organic eggs are produced by range-free chickens, whose feed is primarily naturally occurring seeds and insects. Since these chickens are free of croweded condition, antibiotic use is essentially unnecessary.
Sometimes free range and organic chickens are fed flaxseed or special meal enriched with DHA, which increases the omega-3 content of their eggs.
These eggs are marketed as “Pasture Raised”. My favorite brand is Vital Farms!
***Chickens are the overall breed of the bird. Hens are the females and roosters are the males.
Reference: Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods (3rd Ed.). New York, NY: Atria Books
According to the USDA, eggs are graded according to freshness, with a grade of AA, A, or B.
AA is the best.
Stored eggs in the fridge. They may remain for up to one month!
Eat eggs that have a higher omega-3 fatty acid content as fresh as possible, to keep their oils fresh!
Poaching, hard-boiling, or soft-boiling an egg is the most healthy method of preparing.
This method heats the egg at lower temps which keeps the fats in the yolks from being oxidized before and during the cooking process.
Combine eggs with a vegetable to make it extra supportive of the brain, adrenal glands, and mucous membranes.
**I have written a separate post dedicated to how to cook a perfect soft boil egg! Seeing as this one is long enough, I will publish the article separately next week!
**These facts are listed with the hope of helping you better understand both cholesterol and eggs. Please consult with your doctor if you are experiencing health issues or have worries about your own cholesterol levels.