Dear Alice,

I enjoy eating eggs. In fact, as a college student who eats in most of the time and who has financial and time limitations, I find that eggs, when supplemented with the proper servings of carbohydrates and vegetables, are a very cheap and convenient source of protein and general nourishment. But then I hear conflicting reports that eggs raise blood cholesterol levels, that I shouldn't be eating more than one or two a week, or that it's perfectly safe to eat seven eggs a week, etc., etc. What's the real story with eggs, and how many can I safely consume in a week?

Thank You,

— Not yet an Eggspert

Dear Not yet an Eggspert (but hopefully soon-to-be one),

You're right — eggs are a great source of protein and are also full of other key nutrients. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to how many eggs someone can eat in a week without jeopardizing their health. More specifically, dietary cholesterol is absorbed differently in each person, so it’s hard to say what that perfect number is for sure. It also seems that, despite the bad rep they get for impacting cholesterol, eggs only have a small effect on blood cholesterol levels. So, while it’s helpful to stay in the know on the nutritional content of certain foods, recommendations regarding a healthy diet actually focus more on an overall healthy eating pattern. And, if your diet is well-rounded and low in saturated and trans fats (more on that later), it’s unlikely that you’ll experience any negative egg-ffects from your egg intake.

The limit of how many eggs someone can consume per day is hard to nail down because it may be different for people with certain health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes. The way nutrients in eggs are digested and absorbed in the body can differ depending on people’s health status and other foods they eat in the same meal. The reason you hear different recommendations is due to the fact that researchers are still learning about the positive and negative health effects of eating eggs. For more personalized and specific information about your egg intake, it may help to talk with your health care provider or a registered dietician.

Talking specifically about cholesterol, one whole egg contains around 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol, which is found in the yolk along with fat and the majority of the vitamins and minerals. Cholesterol ingested from food, or dietary cholesterol, doesn’t seem to impact blood cholesterol levels in healthy people or those at higher risk of heart disease. In fact, research has shown that saturated fat and trans fat have much stronger effects on blood cholesterol levels. For instance, a typical person who eats a diet low in saturated fat but relatively high in dietary cholesterol would have a lower risk of developing an unhealthy blood cholesterol ratio. On a side note, the saturated fat content of an egg is less than two grams, which is considered low. All in all, if you’re trying to avoid impacting your cholesterol levels, it’s recommended that you have a well-balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.

Since one egg is equivalent to only a fraction of the daily recommended intake of protein, you may consider adding other sources to your diet — not just for a variety of tastes, but also for a variety of nutrients. For more information on other sources of non-animal protein, check out Vegetarian wants to bulk up with protein foods in the Go Ask Alice! archives. You may also want to check out ChooseMyPlate.gov for more ideas on different protein sources and more information on eating healthy on a budget.

Have an egg-cellent day,

Alice!

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