Eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet.
Just imagine… a whole egg contains all the nutrients needed to turn a single cell into an entire baby chicken.
However, eggs have gotten a bad reputation because the yolks are high in cholesterol.
In fact, a single medium sized egg contains 186 mg of cholesterol, which is 62% of the recommended daily intake.
People believed that if you ate cholesterol, that it would raise cholesterol in the blood and contribute to heart disease.
But it turns out that it isn’t that simple. The more you eat of cholesterol, the less your body produces instead.
Let me explain how that works…
How Your Body Regulates Cholesterol Levels
Eggs in a Basket
Cholesterol is often seen as a negative word.
When we hear it, we automatically start thinking of medication, heart attacks and early death.
But the truth is that cholesterol is a very important part of the body. It is a structural molecule that is an essential part of every single cell membrane.
It is also used to make steroid hormones like testosterone, estrogen and cortisol.
Without cholesterol, we wouldn’t even exist.
Given how incredibly important cholesterol is, the body has evolved elaborate ways to ensure that we always have enough of it available.
Because getting cholesterol from the diet isn’t always an option, the liver actually produces cholesterol.
But when we eat a lot of cholesterol rich foods, the liver starts producing less (1, 2).
So the total amount of cholesterol in the body changes only very little (if at all), it is just coming from the diet instead of from the liver (3, 4).
Bottom Line: The liver produces large amounts of cholesterol. When we eat a lot of eggs (high in cholesterol), the liver produces less instead.
What Happens When People Eat Several Whole Eggs Per Day?
Woman Smiling and Holding a Fried Egg
For many decades, people have been advised to limit their consumption of eggs, or at least of egg yolks (the white is mostly protein and is low in cholesterol).
Common recommendations include a maximum of 2-6 yolks per week. However, there really isn’t much scientific support for these limitations (5).
Luckily, we do have a number of excellent studies that can put our minds at ease.
In these studies, people are split into two groups… one group eats several (1-3) whole eggs per day, the other group eats something else (like egg substitutes) instead. Then the researchers follow the people for a number of weeks/months.
These studies show that:
In almost all cases, HDL (the “good”) cholesterol goes up (6, 7, 8).
Total and LDL cholesterol levels usually don’t change, but sometimes they increase slightly (9, 10, 11, 12).
Eating Omega-3 enriched eggs can lower blood triglycerides, another important risk factor (13, 14).
Blood levels of carotenoid antioxidants like Lutein and Zeaxanthin increase significantly (15, 16, 17).
It appears that the response to whole egg consumption depends on the individual.
In 70% of people, it has no effect on Total or LDL cholesterol. However, in 30% of people (termed “hyper responders”), these numbers do go up slightly (18).
That being said, I don’t think this is a problem. The studies show that eggs change the LDL particles from small, dense LDL to Large LDL (19, 20).
People who have predominantly large LDL particles have a lower risk of heart disease. So even if eggs cause mild increases in Total and LDL cholesterol levels, this is not a cause for concern (21, 22, 23).
The science is clear that up to 3 whole eggs per day are perfectly safe for healthy people who are trying to stay healthy.
Bottom Line: Eggs consistently raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. For 70% of people, there is no increase in Total or LDL cholesterol. There may be a mild increase in a benign subtype of LDL in some people.