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Cholesterol in eggs

Egg containing cholesterol

Are eggs high in cholesterol?

Eggs contain dietary cholesterol, but it is now known that that this does not have a significant effect on blood cholesterol, and previous limits on egg consumption have been lifted.

A high level of blood cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. It was originally thought that eating cholesterol-rich foods was an important cause of high blood cholesterol levels and therefore increased heart disease risk. However, only around a third of the cholesterol in the body comes from the diet (our bodies make the rest). It is now accepted that the amount of saturated fat that we eat has a greater effect on our blood cholesterol levels than cholesterol in the diet.

This means that most people can eat eggs without adversely affecting their blood cholesterol levels, provided that they are eaten as part of a healthy diet that is relatively low in saturated fat.

All major UK heart and health advisory bodies have removed the previous limits on egg consumption due to their cholesterol content.

How much cholesterol is there in an egg?

An average medium size egg contains 177mg cholesterol, although it is now acknowledged that cholesterol in foods such as eggs does not have a significant effect on blood cholesterol in most people.

The amount of cholesterol in UK eggs has reduced in recent years – an official Government analysis published in 2012 calculated that the amount of cholesterol in eggs was about 12% less than eggs contained twenty years previously.

The changes are believed to be largely as a result of an increase in the ratio of white:yolk in an average egg since the previous analyses in the 1980s.

How much cholesterol is in egg yolk?

An average medium egg contains 177mg cholesterol and all of the cholesterol in an egg is in the yolk. The egg yolk also the most nutrient-dense part of the egg, containing a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

How much cholesterol is in egg white?

There is no cholesterol in egg white. However if you only eat egg white rather than the whole egg, you miss out on the benefits of the range of vitamins and minerals contained in eggs, as they are mostly found in the egg yolk.

What health organisations say

The quotes below show what the experts say on eggs and their role as a food source.

NHS

"There is no recommended limit on how many eggs people should eat.

Eggs can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced diet, but it's best to cook them without adding salt or fat. For example:

• boiled or poached, without added salt

• scrambled without butter and using low-fat milk instead of cream

Having high cholesterol levels in our blood increases our risk of heart disease.

Although eggs contain some cholesterol, the amount of saturated fat we eat has more of an effect on the amount of cholesterol in our blood than the cholesterol we get from eating eggs.

If your GP or health professional has told you to watch your cholesterol levels, your priority should be to cut down on saturated fat across your diet. If you are eating a balanced diet, you only need to cut down on eggs if you have been told to do so by your GP or dietitian."

British Heart Foundation

"Eggs are a source of cholesterol, and so many people think they should be avoided to reduce risk of heart disease.

The advice on eggs has changed over time, so it is not surprising that this is a source of confusion. Eggs can be included as part of a balanced diet.

Early studies made the assumption that cholesterol in egg yolks was the reason behind study participants’ increased blood cholesterol levels. However, further investigation showed that it was not eggs but saturated fats that had more of an effect on blood cholesterol levels.

For most people, the way you cook eggs or the foods you serve alongside are more important than the eggs themselves. Poaching or boiling is healthier than frying in bacon fat or scrambling with butter."

Quotes taken from organisations' websites, May 2020

Eggs and cholesterol myths and misconceptions

Over 30 years of prospective epidemiological surveys of CHD risk have consistently found no independent relationship between dietary cholesterol or egg consumption and CHD risk [1, 2]. In addition, there is strong evidence showing that the effects of cholesterol-rich foods on blood cholesterol are small and clinically insignificant in comparison with the effects of dietary saturated fatty acids (SFA). The amount of SFA that we consume influences the level of circulating low density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol to a much greater extent than dietary cholesterol in foods such as eggs [3].

This evidence has led to major world and UK health organisations revising their guidance [4], including the British Heart Foundation which has dispensed with its recommendation to limit eggs to 3-4 a week, although people with familial hypercholesterolaemia (1 in 500 in the UK) would still be advised to restrict dietary cholesterol intake. The Department of Health also advises that there is no recommended limit on how many eggs people should eat, as long as you eat a varied diet.

The American Heart Association has also removed specific reference to eggs in their dietary recommendations for heart health (although continues to recommend a restriction of cholesterol intake to < 300mg per day) [5]. Furthermore, the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that consumers should follow a healthy eating pattern that focuses on nutrient-dense foods, including eggs [6] and there is a developing awareness of the important contribution that eggs can make to a healthy diet, suggesting that the US recommendations relating to dietary cholesterol should be revised [7].

Egg misconceptions research

The misconceptions around eggs and cholesterol largely stem from incorrect conclusions drawn from early research [1,3,4,6].

• Research in the early twentieth century, on animals fed foods that were high in cholesterol and saturated fat, led researchers to an oversimplified conclusion that dietary cholesterol was the key component in coronary heart disease (CHD) risk in both animals and humans.

• Later studies provided evidence for a definite link between raised LDL-cholesterol and increased risk of CHD, but small changes in LDL-cholesterol do not translate into clinically significant changes in CHD risk.

• Early studies on the effects of dietary cholesterol on serum cholesterol levels produced misleading results because the diets contained high levels of saturated fat and/or extremely high amounts of cholesterol (>1000mg per day). Later studies have been able to separate the cholesterol-raising effects of dietary cholesterol from saturated fat, which often exist together in the same foods. Eggs are not high in saturated fat.

• Studies in the 1990s began to look in more depth at the separate effects of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, which tend to exist together in the same foods. A review of these studies in 2006 [3] concluded that although dietary cholesterol can increase serum cholesterol, both the LDL- and HDL- components are increased. The review noted that the effect was apparent at cholesterol intakes of less than 400mg per day, but was small relative to the effect of saturated fat. In addition, any impact of dietary cholesterol on LDL or CHD risk was potentially offset by a favourable increase in HDL.

The lack of an effect of eggs on CHD risk has been confirmed most recently by a large study of more than 177,000 people from 50 countries that found no significant association between egg intake and cardiovascular risk, including no significant relationship with increased blood fats, blood pressure or deaths from cardiovascular disease [8].

Healthy egg recipe ideas

One pan healthy breakfastGreen eggy breakfast on rye

Healthy mid week Chinese-style egg rice stir-fry

Vegetarian pizza omelette

Low calorie huevos rancheros in a hurry

One pan healthy breakfast

References

1. McNamara DJ (2000) Dietary cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1529: 310-20.

2. Rong Y, Chen L, Zhu T et al (2013) Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. British Medical Journal 346: e8539

3. Lee A and Griffin B (2006) Dietary cholesterol, eggs and coronary heart disease risk in perspective. Nutrition Bulletin 31: 21–27.

4. Gray J and Griffin B (2009) Eggs and dietary cholesterol - dispelling the myth. Nutrition Bulletin 34: 66-70

5. Eckel RH et al (2014) 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk. Circulation. 2015;131:e326. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000155

6. Government Dietary Guidelines

7. Kanter MM, Kris-Atherton P, Fernandez ML et al (2012) Exploring the factors that affect blood cholesterol and heart disease risk: is dietary cholesterol as bad for you as history leads us to believe? Advances in Nutrition 3: 711-717

8. Dehghan M, Mente A, Rangarajan S et al. (2020) Association of egg intake with blood lipids, cardiovascular disease, and mortality in 177,000 people in 50 countries. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 111: 795-803

Why you can trust this page

All information checked by an independent Registered Nutritionist/Dietitian.

The egginfo.co.uk website is provided by the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC). BEIC is recognised by Government and Parliament as the representative voice of the UK egg industry.