Understanding Eggs and Cholesterol
Eggs and cholesterol has been the subject of debate for years. New research has emerged showing that eggs can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet with a minimal impact on blood cholesterol levels. We’re here to share the newest research on eggs and cholesterol, and to answer common cholesterol questions. Are you confused about the difference between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol? What does “good” vs “bad” cholesterol mean? Read on to find out.
Eggs and your health
As a protein-rich whole food, eggs fit well into a healthy, balanced diet. They’re naturally packed with nutrients like vitamins A, D, and B12, choline, folate, iron and high-quality protein. For healthy eating inspiration, check out our many nutritious egg-based recipes.
How does dietary cholesterol from eggs impact blood cholesterol levels?
The body does a great job at regulating the amount of cholesterol that circulates in the blood. When you eat more cholesterol from food, your body produces less cholesterol to compensate. On the other hand, when you eat less cholesterol from food, your body produces more cholesterol to compensate. This is why the cholesterol from the foods we eat has a minimal impact on our blood cholesterol levels in most people.
A small percentage of people are genetically more sensitive to dietary cholesterol than others. This means that when they eat foods containing cholesterol, their LDL cholesterol levels increase more than in other people. If you are genetically more sensitive to dietary cholesterol, you should consult a Registered Dietitian for dietary counselling.
How much cholesterol is in an egg?
One large egg contains 200 mg cholesterol.
Does eating eggs impact the risk of heart disease?
No. Recent research confirms that eating eggs as part of a healthy diet does not increase the risk of heart disease.1,2,3,4
In late 2019, the American Heart Association published a scientific advisory on Dietary Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Risk. The advisory concluded:
- Healthy individuals can include up to a whole egg daily in heart-healthy dietary patterns.
- For older healthy individuals, given the nutritional benefits and convenience of eggs, consumption of up to 2 eggs per day is acceptable in a heart-healthy dietary patterns.
- Vegetarians may include more eggs in their diets within the context of moderation.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that comes from two sources: it is produced naturally by our bodies and it is also found in the foods we eat.
Our liver is responsible for producing cholesterol that is essential for creating hormones, bile acids and vitamin D. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources such as meat, dairy, egg yolk and shellfish. The cholesterol in food is referred to as dietary cholesterol.
‘Good’ vs. ‘bad’ blood cholesterol
Cholesterol in the body is carried in the blood by lipoproteins, which is where the term “blood cholesterol” comes from. The two cholesterol-carrying lipoproteins that are most relevant to heart health are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
High LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk in cardiovascular disease. It can contribute to fatty deposits in your arteries, known as plaque. A buildup of plaque can clog your arteries and in time can block the flow of blood to the brain and heart.
On the other hand, HDL cholesterol helps to protect you from heart disease by removing excess cholesterol from your arteries and carrying it back to the liver. The liver then works to remove the excess cholesterol from your body.
What dietary guidelines say about cholesterol
Current dietary guidelines by leading Canadian health organizations like the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Diabetes Canada do not provide a milligram limit on dietary cholesterol for healthy adults.
Take control of your cholesterol
Rather than focusing on single nutrients like dietary cholesterol, experts agree that we should shift our focus to improve our overall eating patterns to promote heart health. Eating a dietary pattern that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lower-fat dairy products, lean proteins, nuts and seeds helps to maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels.
Within the context of eating patterns, research suggests that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels more than reducing dietary cholesterol. To learn more about how to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, check out our Fresh Facts on Fats.
Other healthy lifestyle habits like exercising, managing stress and maintaining a healthy weight can also help to manage blood cholesterol levels.
Dominik D. Alexander, Paula E. Miller, Ashley J. Vargas, Douglas L. Weed & Sarah S. Cohen (2016) Meta-analysis of Egg Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 35:8, 704-716, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2016.1152928
Mahshid Dehghan et al., Association of egg intake with blood lipids, cardiovascular disease, and mortality in 177,000 people in 50 countries, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 111, Issue 4, April 2020, Pages 795–803, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz348
Consumption of Meat, Fish, Dairy Products, Eggs and Risk of Ischemic Heart Disease: A Prospective Study of 7198 Incident Cases Among 409,885; Participants in the Pan-European EPIC Cohort. Circulation 2019; Apr 22 https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.038813
Drouin-Chartier Jean-Phillippe, Chen Siyu, Li Yanping, Schwab Amanda L, Stampfer Meir J, Sacks Frank M et al. Egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: three large prospective US cohort studies, systematic review, and updated meta-analysis BMJ 2020; 368 :m513 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m513