Facts About Eggs & Cholesterol

A basket filled with brown eggs.
A basket filled with brown eggs. (Image: utah778/iStock/Getty Images)

Based on a review of current research, dietary cholesterol is no longer considered unhealthy for most Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While this doesn’t give you the green light to eat unlimited amounts of cholesterol, it removes eggs from the list of foods to avoid and makes it acceptable for many people to enjoy them in moderation. If you are sensitive to cholesterol, however, you'll still need to watch your cholesterol intake.

Cholesterol Basics

Your body produces all the cholesterol it needs to make sex hormones, produce vitamin D and digest fats. Every cell in the body contains some cholesterol because it makes up part of your cell membranes.

Before cholesterol can travel through your bloodstream, it must be enclosed in a layer of lipoproteins. Different types of lipoproteins fill specific jobs, ultimately determining whether that package of cholesterol is good or bad.

High-density lipoprotein -- or HDL, the "good" cholesterol -- transports cholesterol to the liver, where it’s removed from your body. Bad cholesterol refers to low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which carries cholesterol through the body and contributes to cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol and Fat in Eggs

One large chicken egg contains 186 milligrams of cholesterol, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This amount is more cholesterol than you’ll get from most foods, except organ meats such as liver.

Ostrich eggs are the second most commonly consumed egg, reports the University of Florida IFAS Extension. They’re also significantly lower in total cholesterol. One-quarter cup of ostrich egg, which is about equal to one large chicken egg, only has 11 milligrams of cholesterol, according to Epicurious.

Chicken and ostrich eggs both have about the same amount of total fat -- 5 grams in 1/4 cup -- but ostrich eggs don’t have saturated fat, while chicken eggs have nearly 2 grams.

Impact on Blood Cholesterol

Recommendations for cholesterol consumption are being revised due to research showing that the amount of cholesterol you get from food has a small impact on blood levels of cholesterol.

In spite of evolving recommendations, there are still several health warnings about cholesterol:

  • Some people are hyper-responders, which means that their blood levels of cholesterol rise in response to dietary cholesterol.
  • People with diabetes increase their risk for heart disease if they eat too many cholesterol-rich eggs.
  • If you already have high cholesterol, you may need to limit your consumption of egg yolks.

Talk to your health care provider if you have any questions about the amount of cholesterol you can safely consume.

Egg Consumption Recommendations

Eating up to one chicken egg a day does not increase the risk of heart disease in people who are healthy, according to information from the Harvard School of Public Health.

If you have high cholesterol or diabetes, don’t consume more than three egg yolks weekly. But feel free to mix a yolk with extra egg whites because egg whites don’t contain cholesterol.

Because ostrich eggs are so low in cholesterol, you would have to eat a very large amount to equal the cholesterol in three egg yolks.

Cholesterol may no longer be a nutrient of concern for many people, but remember that high blood levels of cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 suggested limiting cholesterol intake to no more than 300 milligrams daily.

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