Over the years, eggs and cholesterol have become intertwined. For this reason, many people think that eggs and health can't mix. Actually, eggs are so much more than just a shell full of cholesterol and should be incorporated into a healthy diet.
In the past, research has shown inconsistent data in relation to the effects of eggs on blood cholesterol levels. The research has shown genetics to be a possible significant factor in elevated cholesterol. However, this is not to say that what we eat does not affect our health. New research theories indicate that perhaps the egg is not the culprit in high cholesterol, but instead it is the high amounts of saturated and Trans fat present in the American diet. Due to this, the 2006 American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for healthy Americans still recommends 300 mg or less of dietary cholesterol per day but have dropped any mention of limiting egg intake. On the other hand, the AHA lowered the recommended intake of saturated fat from 10% to 7% of total daily calories and recommends less than 1% of total cholesterol from Trans fats.
As a whole, eggs are packed with all the nutrients to help maintain a healthy body. The most significant benefit of eggs is that they contain 7 grams of complete protein per egg that is easily digested. Part of the protein is contained in the egg white, but don't throw that egg yolk out yet. The yolk is the most nutrient dense part of the egg packed with many essential vitamin and minerals such as vitamins A, B, D, E, and calcium. It has been suggested that the nutritional benefits of eggs outweighs the 213 mg of cholesterol found in the yolk of each egg. The dietary cholesterol guidelines recommend consuming one egg per day while limiting cholesterol in other areas of the diet.
As savvy consumers know, locally raised eggs can be found at many vendors' stands around the farmers' markets. One of the benefits of purchasing your eggs locally is the ensured the freshest tasting product. Research has discovered the average time from chicken to shelf is around 20 days. One can determine how old store bought eggs are by looking at the code on the side of the carton. The code is a 0-365 number and correlates with the day of the year to tell you when the eggs were packaged. While this amount of time can seem reasonable when looking at this code, egg packaging companies have varying policies on the amount of time the eggs are held after being laid to when they are packaged. While a couple of manufacturers have 24-48 hour policies, often eggs will be refrigerated for up to 1-2 weeks before being packaged and shipped to the grocery store. While this delay can deter people from purchasing their eggs in the grocery store, some people prefer to purchase their eggs locally simply to know how the chickens are being fed and raised.
Now you can make the decision about your own egg consumption. The cholesterol content of egg yolks is something to consider, but don't let that outweigh the nutritional benefits that you could be missing. There are plenty of ways to lower cholesterol in other areas of your diet while taking advantage of the egg-cellent nutrition provided by eggs.
This article was written by Vanderbilt University Medical Center 2010-2011 Dietetic Interns Lindsay Smith and Sarah Lewis. Lindsay is a Nashville native who received her BA from the University of Wisconsin and completed her dietetics requirements at Middle Tennessee State University. Sarah is from Kingsport, TN and received her BS in Nutrition from the University of Tennessee.