It’s time to answer the most commonly asked question about eggs – and no we don’t mean what came first, the chicken or the egg. The question is, are eggs really a danger to our health? For more than 50 years scientists have been doing research on the connection between egg consumption and heart health. For a long time, eggs were said to raise blood cholesterol levels and contribute to the clogging of our arteries. Several studies falsified this assumption. But egg paranoia still seems to be a big thing. So let’s finally get to the bottom of it. Read on to find out if eggs really are dangerous or not.
What is cholesterol anyway?
Cholesterol is a vital substance, produced by our organism in large amounts. This organic molecule is, among other things, the precursor for the biosynthesis of Vitamin D, steroid hormones like testosterone and bile acid and is also an integral part of our plasma membrane.
Why can cholesterol be harmful?
If your cholesterol level is too high, your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases is increased. To understand this better, we have to differentiate between the two different types of cholesterol: LDL (low density lipoprotein)- and HDL-(high density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol, also known as the “bad cholesterol” can cause so-called “plaques” on the inner wall of the arteries. Plaques are a buildup of different substances like cholesterol, calcium, fat and cellular waste. This process, which is also known as “atherosclerosis”, normally develops over a long period of time and is not possible to notice in most cases. In the worst case, these plaques can suddenly rupture. This rupture leads to a blood clot, which can cause a stroke or a heart attack.
HDL cholesterol on the other hand, also known as the “good cholesterol”, is broken down in the liver and can not sediment in the arteries.
It’s therefore important to keep your total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dl, the “bad” LDL-cholesterol below 160 mg/dl and the “good” HDL-cholesterol above 40 mg/dl – your cholesterol levels can be measured by a blood analysis from your doctor.
What influences our blood cholesterol levels?
There are several factors which cause high cholesterol levels. Some of these can be controlled, like our nutrition and our lifestyle (exercise, smoking etc.), whereas others can not be controlled, like our age, sex or genes.
- Cholesterol & Nutrition:
First of all, our nutrition influences our cholesterol levels. For a long time, people believed high amounts of cholesterol in our diet lead directly to elevated blood cholesterol levels. But studies now show that it is the amount of saturated fat in our diet, rather than the cholesterol itself, that has a greater impact on raising blood cholesterol levels. Foods like fatty meat and sausages, butter, cream, cheese, full-fat milk, as well as cake and pastries are all high in saturated fats. Also trans-fatty acids, which can be found in processed food and fried foods like french fries, are known for raising the LDL-cholesterol level and lowering the proportion of the good HDL-cholesterol level. Although you don’t have to stop eating these foods completely, you should cut back on them as much as possible.
Our tip: Some foods lower cholesterol levels naturally. For example, adding oats, avocados, whole grain, beans and nuts to your diet can improve blood cholesterol levels.
- Cholesterol & Genes:
Some scientists say our genes and lifestyles have a greater influence on our blood cholesterol levels than our nutrition does.
When cholesterol is consumed via nutrition, our body can normally throttle its own synthesis to a certain degree. This means the cholesterin level stays almost constant. Nevertheless, this regulatory mechanism does not work properly for everyone. Our genes are ultimately responsible for the difference from person to person: some people have more or less of the so-called “LDL-receptors” and can therefore regulate the cholesterol level in the blood better or worse.
What about eggs?
Now you know a bit more about cholesterol, let’s get back to answering your question: Yes, eggs contain cholesterol. But as explained above, cholesterol from food has only a minor impact on blood cholesterol levels. Generally, eggs are a nutritional powerhouse: They are relatively low in saturated fat whilst being rich in vitamins, like Vitamin D, B12, folate and riboflavin. Furthermore, they are a great source of protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, some doctors say to be on the safe side, you should try not to eat more than 7-10 eggs per week.
High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and yes, eggs contain cholesterol. BUT, according to leading experts, cholesterol obtained from foods has very little impact on raising blood cholesterol levels. Only a few people absorb the cholesterol from food to a greater extent than others do because of their genetic predisposition. Those people definitely have to be cautious with the consumption of cholesterol. But for most of us the cholesterol we consume via what we eat has virtually no effect on the total cholesterol in our blood. What has a direct effect on blood cholesterol levels is an unhealthy diet with loads of saturated fats and an unhealthy lifestyle (e.g. smoking, no exercise). We therefore recommend you exercise regularly and follow a healthy, balanced nutrition with lots of vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits.
Nevertheless, if you already have a high cholesterol level, ask your doctor for advice if you want to include eggs in your diet.