Eggs have long been a staple in human diets. Their high protein content, versatility, and affordability make them an attractive food source. However, the nutritional validity of eggs has been the subject of ongoing debate and conflicting research, creating an intriguing history that is as complex as it is fascinating.
Keto Dude says he eats 6 eggs, 4 pieces of bacon and half a pound of cheese for breakfast, and so should you.
The American Heart Association warns that a single egg contains 186 mg of cholesterol, but is super healthy otherwise, so no more than 1 or 2 egg whites per day.
So, should you, or should you not, eat eggs? And if so, which kind, how many, and from what source? Let’s dive in.
Quick Primer on Egg Health Facts
What nobody disputes is that eggs have a heckuvalot going for them.
One egg boasts:
- Just 78 calories
- 6 grams of protein
- Vitamin D
- Great sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which are fantastic for eye health
And the list goes on.
So Eggsactly What’s Going On Here? A Historical Overview
The controversy surrounding eggs began in earnest in the mid-20th century when researchers started investigating the relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease. Because eggs are rich in cholesterol, they became a focal point of these studies. Some early research suggested a link between egg consumption and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). This led to widespread advisories recommending limited egg intake, which cast a shadow on their nutritional value.
Inconsistent data from these early studies, however, suggested that the issue was far from settled. One study, “Egg Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Men and Women,” provided limited and inconsistent data on the contribution of dietary cholesterol from eggs to type 2 diabetes. Another study, “Egg Consumption in Relation to Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality: the Physicians’ Health Study,” noted that while eggs are important sources of cholesterol and other nutrients, limited and inconsistent data were available on the effects of egg consumption on health.
In more recent years, another layer of complexity was added to the egg debate with the emergence of studies suggesting that dietary cholesterol does not significantly impact blood cholesterol levels or heart disease risk for most people. This shift in understanding challenged previous advice to limit egg consumption, causing further confusion among the public.
Conflicting evidence continued to emerge throughout the years. One study, “Egg Consumption and Risk of Incident Type 2 Diabetes in Men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study,” reported conflicting data from prospective population studies on the association between egg consumption and health outcomes. Another study titled, “What Eggsactly Are We Asking Here? Unscrambling the Epidemiology of Eggs, Cholesterol, and Mortality”, highlighted the extent of conflicting conclusions derived from nutritional epidemiology studies involving eggs.
Some studies even suggested potential benefits of egg consumption. For instance, a population-based study asked if early introduction of egg could prevent egg allergy in infants. Another study noted the inconsistencies between regions regarding cholesterol and egg intakes and risk of hypertension.
The Nutritional Value of Eggs
Despite the conflicting evidence, it is important to remember that eggs are a nutrient-dense food. They are an excellent source of high-quality protein and contain essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, and selenium. Additionally, eggs are one of the few natural sources of choline, a nutrient that is essential for brain health.
Recent research suggests that eggs can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no significant link between egg consumption and heart disease risk. Another study reported that moderate egg consumption did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, even among individuals with type 2 diabetes.
And of course there is the one man study by The Arnold, who famously ate 10-15 eggs every day and was the alpha male of his generation, sporting what some people claimed was “the perfect body.” Just saying.
Saith Arnold: “I ate 10-15 eggs a day and had my 250 grams of protein a day because I weighed 250 pounds”.
So… What Now?
It is clear that while eggs do contain cholesterol, it doesn’t mean they raise cholesterol in humans. They also offer many essential nutrients. The latest research suggests that for most people, eggs can be a nutritious, satisfying, and safe part of a healthy diet.
However, the key is to understand your own risk factors. From the American Heart Association: “In general, people at risk for heart disease, who have diabetes or who have had a heart attack should pay close attention to the amount of cholesterol in their diet”.
Now, What Do the Actual Hens Think About All This?
There is another consideration, the ethical treatment of animals. It’s no secret that many factory egg plants stuff millions of chickens into massive buildings, never to see the light of day, often cramped into small cages. Not cool if you ask me. So taking into account both animal welfare, as well as quality of eggs, is another worthy consideration.
What Do All Those Labels Mean, Anyway?
In the United States, the norm is that eggs come from massive factory producers, who keep the hens indoors for their entire life, and feed them very inexpensive feed.
Then, they slap marketing lingo on the packaging to make us feel OK about our purchase. But what do these product claims all mean?
- First, “cage-free” doesn’t mean “cruelty-free”. They are still in a massive building wallowing in unnatural conditions.
- “Vegetarian fed” is one of my favorites. Because, you know, chickens AREN’T vegetarians. In nature, they peck and hunt grubs and bugs. They are omnivores, eating bugs, small animals, and some plants.
- “Free range” is a step in the right direction, these chickens have some access to the outdoors.
- “Organic” is something worth looking for, as the USDA requires the hens be free-range. These hens get regular access to the outdoors and are kept in better conditions than most.
- “No hormones” is meaningless since no egg-laying chickens in the US ever receive hormones.
- “Omega-3” is also over hyped marketing gibberish. Yes, eggs have Omega-3’s, however these eggs may have no more than any other egg.
- “Pasture-raised” is a worthy label, and well worth paying extra for.
And best, if it’s available, are locally raised hens and eggs from a farmer near you. Often times health food stores carry these eggs as well.
What Is A Dozen Eggs Worth?
In my opinion, the true price of eggs is the price they cost from a local farmer raising hens in the outdoors. The cheap-o big box store prices should be considered artificially cheap in comparison, not the true price of the eggs.
So, unless you have it on good authority from your own health care provider that you should avoid eggs, they should probably be an important part of your diet. Try to buy the best, no-cruelty eggs you can, and make them an important part of your weekly meal planning.
Just ask Arnold.