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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

The egg: It’s a healthy food
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Eric Uthus

A number of years ago, the egg was given a bad rap — that cholesterol in eggs (all of the cholesterol in the egg is in the yolk) resulted in artery-clogging cholesterol in blood.

However, a number of studies have shown that this is not true. For example, the Harvard School of Public Health looked at a population of 117,000 nurses who had been followed for eight to 14 years and found no difference in heart disease risk between those who ate one egg a week and those who ate more than one egg a day.

In fact, recent studies have shown that regular consumption of two eggs per day does not affect a person’s lipid profile and actually may improve it. Another study found that regular consumption of eggs may help prevent blood clots, stroke and heart attacks. In one study, women who consumed at least six eggs per week lowered their risk of breast cancer by 44 percent.

Why is the egg so healthy? Because eggs contain a number of important nutrients. While a large egg only represents about 70 calories (less than 4 percent of the daily calorie intake of a person eating 2,000 calories a day) it provides 10 percent of a person’s daily recommended protein, iron, minerals and B vitamins including the folic acid recommended for pregnant women.

One egg contains 6 grams of high-quality protein and all nine essential amino acids. Eggs are an important source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Research also has shown that people who eat eggs every day lower their risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts because of the lutein and zeaxanthin in eggs. Eggs also are an excellent source of choline — a nutrient that more than 90 percent of Americans, especially pregnant and lactating women, do not get enough of. This finding is especially concerning in pregnant women because choline is necessary for brain and memory development in the fetus.

One egg yolk has about 125 milligrams of choline. Eggs also contain the right kind of fat. One egg contains just 5 grams of fat and only 1.5 grams of saturated fat. Eggs are one of the only foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D. Eggs promote healthy hair and nails because of their high sulfur content and wide array of vitamins and minerals.

Is just eating eggs enough?

Of course not. People who eat eggs have been shown to have better diets, perhaps because they tend to eat breakfast, especially one containing eggs. Eggs have both fat and protein — both of which increase a sense of fullness. Because of this, eggs tend to satisfy obese and overweight subjects more than a bagel breakfast, for example, with an equal calorie count.

As stated earlier, eggs are high in cholesterol, and health experts in the past advised people to avoid this food. However, nutrition experts now have determined people who do not consume an excess amount of fat can eat one or two eggs a day without measurable changes in their blood cholesterol levels. What investigators have found is that saturated fat in the diet, not dietary cholesterol, is what influences blood cholesterol levels the most. The best advice is to eat a well-balanced diet — one which can include eggs — and exercise.

Last Modified: 9/14/2009
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