Eggs are the most versatile of foods.
By themselves, they can be breakfast — fried, scrambled, poached, boiled, as an omelette, and more — those also work as lunch or dinner.
And an egg makes a brilliant addition to almost any meal. Put one on a pizza or a cheeseburger, drop one in a bowl of ramen, or stir one up into a plate of pasta. You can even dye them, hide them, and turn them into a children’s game. How cool.
But eggs are loaded with cholesterol, and high levels of a certain type of blood cholesterol are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
Does this mean you should avoid those delicious yolks? Not exactly.
There’s about 186 milligrams of cholesterol in one egg. The last official dietary guidelines for Americans recommended consuming less than 300mg a day of cholesterol (which is also found in red meat, poultry, and dairy products — anything that comes from animals). When the medical establishment first started to crack down on fat, they told people to try not to have more than two eggs a week.
While many have reacted to cholesterol-avoidance recommendations by avoiding eggs altogether or sticking to tasteless egg white-only travesties of real food, these underwhelming alternatives can now be avoided like the supermarket carton that was clearly dropped (always check): eggs are back.
A big comeback for eggs
Some of the top nutrition experts in the country released a massive report last week that explains the latest in nutrition science. This report will be used to update the national dietary recommendations, and while there are various changes of interest, the relevant one here is this: they recommend removing dietary cholesterol from the list of “nutrients of concern,” since a growing body of research shows that for the vast majority of people, dietary cholesterol (from foods you eat) doesn’t really have much of an effect on blood cholesterol.
In other words, even though eggs have a ton of cholesterol, eating them will most likely not raise your own blood cholesterol levels — we say “most likely” because there is a very small percentage of the population that is more affected by dietary cholesterol, as Walter Willet, a Harvard nutrition scientist, tells New York Magazine.
So why did we have this so wrong for a while? One weird aspect is that some older cholesterol studies tested how rabbits responded to cholesterol — and the answer was very poorly. And despite the fact that many scientists didn’t consider rabbits good models for humans in this case, at least one prominent researcher still extrapolated these results to humans. But rabbits are herbivores who aren’t supposed to consume animals or animal products like eggs, meaning that they weren’t a good model for humans in this case.
Humans aren’t rabbits (just in case you wondered), and being equipped to digest animals and animal products, we can handle cholesterol.
This doesn’t mean that having high levels of “bad,” or LDL cholesterol in the blood isn’t something to worry about — that’s still a sign of increased risk for heart problems. But it means that for most people, it isn’t eating things like eggs that’s responsible for those problems. Instead, our bodies make that cholesterol. Part of this is determined by genetics, but obesity and a diet high in saturated fat can also increase these blood levels, according to the American Heart Association.
A couple of eggs a day, meanwhile, shouldn’t be a problem, according to Willet. Happy almost-Easter.
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