Eggs are loaded with nutrients, but for people concerned about their heart health—and particularly their cholesterol levels—the decision to include them in their diet can seem complicated.
This is because eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years, due to their cholesterol content: One large egg has approximately 186 mg of cholesterol—more than half of the daily 300 mg limit previously recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.12
“Eggs have a high amount of cholesterol and this is a relic from our early understanding of heart disease decades ago,” Gregory Katz, MD, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health. “It’s partly an oversimplification, but there’s some truth to the impact on LDL cholesterol.”
Though there’s no longer a recommended daily amount of cholesterol—now experts urge people to focus on lowering dietary saturated and trans fats—many are still wary of how cholesterol-rich foods like eggs might negatively impact their levels.
Here’s what you need to know about eggs and cholesterol, and how to safely eat these nutritional powerhouses while keeping heart health in mind.
How Nutritious Are Eggs, Really?
Eggs aren’t just versatile, they’re incredibly nutritious. Eggs are a good source of protein and healthy fats, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.
Egg yolks contain notable amounts of vitamin A, vitamin B12, selenium, and choline.1 Pasture-raised eggs are even more nutrient-dense, with higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, and vitamin E.3
While it’s true that eggs are high in cholesterol, it’s important to note that dietary cholesterol—like that in eggs—may not have a negative effect on blood cholesterol or contribute to risk of heart disease.1
In fact, avoiding eggs contributes to a gap in essential nutrients for many individuals.
How Do Eggs Affect Cholesterol Levels?
There’s a difference between the cholesterol found naturally in your body (blood cholesterol) and the cholesterol you take in through food (dietary cholesterol).
Blood cholesterol—HDL (“good”) cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol—is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s made by the liver and is essential for certain bodily functions like making hormones and digesting fatty foods.4
But too much blood cholesterol can build up in your arteries over time, blocking blood flow to and from the heart, which can cause chest pain or a heart attack. High cholesterol can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Meanwhile, dietary cholesterol is found in animal products, like meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy.4
While eggs do have a slight effect on cholesterol levels, the impact varies from person to person. In general, the dietary fat and cholesterol in eggs do seem to cause a mild rise in both LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.
“A small portion of the population absorbs cholesterol from [their] diet very efficiently and this group can have a bigger rise in LDL cholesterol levels,” said Katz. “The fat content we eat impacts how long LDL particles are in our bloodstream, so part of the effect is mediated through fat content of eggs.”
Because your body already makes all the cholesterol it needs, experts have recommended limiting dietary cholesterol—but in recent years, they’ve shifted to recommending less saturated fat and trans fat rather than strictly dietary cholesterol, since you can’t isolate dietary cholesterol from total fat intake.
Instead, experts and organizations urge people to focus on an all-around healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. This diet can also include eggs—but potentially in moderation and independent of other hight-fat foods that often accompany eggs, like sausage, bacon, and butter.
How Many Eggs a Day Can You Eat With High Cholesterol?
Most healthy people can eat 1–2 eggs per day, as long as they’re part of an overall nutritious diet.
“[Rotate] your lean protein sources so you are not over-relying on eggs and consider a heart-healthy, fiber-rich breakfast, such as a vegetable scramble cooked in olive oil with a side of whole wheat toast and fruit,” suggested Jessica Gelman, MS, RD, a dietitian at Englewood Health and Mount Sinai Hospital.
If you have high cholesterol, you don’t need to avoid eggs completely—though they do have higher amounts of cholesterol and fat, they’re also part of an all-around healthy diet.
Those people, however, should consider reducing the sources of saturated and trans fats and dietary cholesterol in their diets—in that case, it may be best to limit egg consumption to 4-5 eggs per week. This also goes for people who have overweight, obesity, or other risk factors for heart disease.
Some individuals are also genetically predisposed to high blood cholesterol levels—like people with the genetic disorder familial hypercholesterolemia or carriers of the gene variant APOE4—and they should work closely with their healthcare provider on their diets and whether they include cholesterol-rich foods like eggs.
Those who are looking to cut back their egg intake may also consider subbing in egg whites for whole eggs—egg yolks are the main source of dietary cholesterol, while egg whites are not.
The overall consensus: Eggs are a nutrient-dense protein to include in your diet as a part of a healthy eating pattern. If you’re concerned about cholesterol levels, speak with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian for individualized recommendations for your goals and nutrition needs.