Are Eggs as Healthy As You Think? Here’s What the Experts Say
Americans love their eggs. The average individual eats an estimated 279 eggs a year, according to The Washington Post, but are eggs healthy? Eggs are high in protein, choline, zinc, but also high in cholesterol.
There are conflicting studies on eggs, so you may be wondering, are eggs good for you? Scientific evidence points to limiting or avoiding eggs to be healthier and live longer. Research links egg consumption to increased risk of mortality from all major diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Below, experts dish on seven science-backed reasons to take eggs off your plate.
7 science-based reasons to take eggs out of your diet, from experts
1. The egg industry funds studies
It’s easy to find studies showing that eggs are beneficial, but there’s a dirty secret behind most of them. “Most are heavily funded by the National Egg Board,” says Jami Dulaney, M.D., plant-based cardiologist in Port Charlotte, Fla.
A 2013 meta-analysis on dietary cholesterol revealed that 92 percent of studies designed to analyze the effect of dietary cholesterol were paid for at least in part by the egg industry, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Although over 85 percent of the studies on eggs published between 1950 and March 2019 showed that eggs had a negative impact on cholesterol levels, the studies funded by the egg industry often concluded that eggs didn’t have any effect. The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine concluded that the egg industry routinely downplays negative results.
2. Eggs raise your cholesterol
Contrary to what the National Egg Board wants you to believe, eggs do raise your cholesterol; one egg contains almost 200 milligrams of cholesterol. Consider this: According to a PLoS Medicine study, which involved 500,000 individuals, the risk of death increased 24 percent for every 300 mg of dietary cholesterol consumed every day, the authors noting that the higher cholesterol leads to increased risk of heart disease and death, according to a study published in JAMA. Eating even half an egg a day raises your heart disease risk more, and is associated with a higher risk of all causes of mortality.
3. Egg whites linked to ill effects of a high-protein diet
Think you’re off the cholesterol hook by eating egg whites? Not necessarily. “While you won’t get the cholesterol so egg whites are a less bad choice, that doesn’t make it a good choice,” says Lee Crosby, R.D., nutrition education program manager with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
A large egg contains six grams of protein, split almost equally between the yolk and white. “The only nutrient in the white is the protein, which means you’re not getting any other protective nutrients, but you also don’t need such a high concentration of protein.” That’s especially true if you’re eating the standard American diet, which contains excessively high amounts of protein, mainly from animal products. One issue with high-protein diets is that they accelerate kidney disease, Dulaney says. When she’s shifted patients with stage 4 kidney disease to a plant-only diet (where protein intake is about 10 percent of total calories), some have moved back to stage 1, indicating that the source of protein matters. A new study shows the healthiest protein comes from plants
4. Eating eggs is linked to a higher risk of death
Numerous evidence-based studies show that eggs are linked to a higher risk of dying from all causes. “That should end the conversation about eating eggs there,” Crosby says. The most recent from the European Journal of Nutrition found that eating just two to four eggs a week was linked to a higher risk of dying not only from cancer and heart disease but all causes combined.
Eliminating eggs from your diet can help you live longer. Substituting plant-based protein for eggs was associated with a 24 percent lower risk of death for men, and 21 percent lower risk of death for women, according to the study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
5. Eggs raise your risk of heart disease
Heart woes, including heart attacks and strokes, are the biggest concerns with eating eggs. But that’s not all. “You also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes,” Crosby says. Blame the saturated fat, cholesterol, and even things like metabolites, which a recent study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found are linked to these diseases.
Study authors note that egg yolks contain something called phosphatidylcholine, which is eventually turned into trimethylamine N-oxide or TMAO in the body. “TMAO is a toxic substance associated with inflammation of the vasculature and general inflammation overall,” Dulaney says. “Plus, eggs come from chickens fed antibiotics and GMO foods, which also harm the microbiome.”
6. You rarely eat just one egg
Every wonder why eggs are sold by the dozen? While there is data to suggest eating less than one egg a week doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, or early death, nobody eats only one egg a week. “If you don’t say no to all eggs, even if you say you’re just eating egg whites, you’re saying yes to eggs,” Dulaney says. “You might try to tell yourself that if you can’t see the egg, it’s not in the food you’re eating, but if you’re truly cutting out eggs, you’re cutting out the pastries, cakes, and all of the other baked goods that contain eggs.”
7. Eggs come from birds in unsafe conditions
Egg-laying hens are valued for their eggs, not their meat, and if you can’t lay eggs, you hold zero value for the industry. So where do all the male chicks go? They’re asphyxiated, electrocuted, or ground up–often alive. Every year, roughly 300 million male chicks – or 34,000 every hour, according to Animal Equality–are killed in the United States. Mass egg producers, which account for 95 percent of the eggs in this country, cull male chicks.
“Egg-laying hens are typically housed in cruel battery cages where each hen spends her entire life in the same cage with six to seven other hens,” says David Coman-Hidy, president of The Humane League. Hens are bred by the industry to lay more than 300 eggs each year when in the wild, they’d only lay 12 eggs on average per year. “Packed together into a space no larger than filing cabinet drawer, these hens spend their lives unable to even extend their wings and standing on wire mesh that is a constant source of pain and discomfort for their feet.” They not only endure physical but also psychological distress as a result.
Bottom Line: Eating eggs regularly is linked to heart disease and premature death
Eating two to four eggs a week has been linked to a higher risk of dying, not only from cancer and heart disease but all causes combined. There are egg substitutes that make it easy to enjoy baking, and you can make eggs with egg alternatives that are healthier for you.
Here are The 9 Best Egg Substitutes to Use in Baking.