Eggs were once considered off limits for many adults.
In the 1970s, groups like the American Heart Association discouraged people from eating eggs because it was thought that their cholesterol-rich yolks would increase the risk of heart disease. Now egg-white omelets are the norm for many people, but the advice on egg yolks has changed.
Clinical studies show that dietary cholesterol from eggs, shrimp and other animal foods has only a modest effect on blood cholesterol. In fact, public health authorities place more emphasis nowadays on the influence that dietary fat has on cholesterol levels.
The American Heart Association no longer condemns eggs in its guidelines. But it does recommend that people limit themselves to 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily (a single egg has about 200 milligrams of cholesterol, as well as a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats, including the monounsaturated kind found in olive oil). The federal government, in its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, notes that eating an egg yolk per day “does not result in increased blood cholesterol levels, nor does it increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy people.”
That is in line with what studies have shown. In one large studypublished in JAMA in 1999, researchers found that consuming five to six eggs weekly did not raise the risk of heart disease or stroke in healthy adults. (There was not enough data to assess the impact of eating more eggs weekly.) Another large study published last year in BMJ also found that for most people, an egg a day was not bad for the heart.
Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and an author of both studies, said that large amounts of dietary cholesterol might lead to “small increases” in blood cholesterol. “However, beneficial nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, riboflavin, folate and vitamin D that are contained in egg yolks may counter the effects of cholesterol.”
Dr. Hu said that eggs are a particularly good replacement for less healthful fare, like processed meats and refined carbohydrates. In fact, studies suggest that for most people, starting your day with a breakfast of scrambled eggs will have a better impact on your overall cholesterol profile than a bagel or a bowl of sugary cereal.