How many eggs can you eat?

It’s Easter so that got me thinking about eggs. Not chocolate ones but chicken ones. The fashion for eggs comes and goes and right now they seem popular again, with the exceptions of the lovely vegans and people who are allergic to them, of course. I remember “go to work on an egg”, and then Edwina Currie and the salmonella comment and then we got scared of eggs because they contained too much fat.

So people started just eating egg white and avoiding the yolk. So much information!

They seem popular again now but some my patients still ask me about eating eggs and I still think there is some confusion out there because of all the mixed messages. If you ask your GP they may not even be up to date. Sadly, as we know, GPs are not taught much about nutrition, but GPs are often on the front line for questions about food and health.

So what is the evidence now behind eggs? They can be an excellent source of protein. Starting breakfast with an egg can set you up with a protein fix to sustain you for the day ahead, which keeps your appetite in check.

How much protein?

Well, obviously that depends upon the size of the egg. It can range from 5g to 13g. Average about 7g. People think the protein is only found in the white. No, the yolk has most of the fat and other nutrients and can contain up to half the amount of protein in an egg. Egg protein is good and contains all the nine essential amino acids, or building blocks of protein, that our bodies need. Cooking the egg makes the protein more absorbable and usable by the body. Raw eggs may be ok but can certainly carry a risk of bacteria. That is something to avoid when you are pregnant, have a condition or take medication that makes you more liable to infection.

What about the fat?

Fat is not just fat- there are many different types. There is about 5g of fat in an egg. About 3g of this is unsaturated fat, which is good for your heart. You might see omega 3 eggs. This is also a good fat and chickens that are fed a diet with more flaxseed produce eggs higher in omega 3, which is also good for you. Eggs also contain about 1-2g of saturated fat, which is ok for you as part of a balanced diet and not to be scared of unless your doctor has told you to limit saturated fat for medical reasons. The good thing is that eggs do NOT contain transfats, which is the bad stuff and best avoided.

BUT, eggs do contain a significant amount of cholesterol. Now don’t get worried. We associate cholesterol with heart disease, but our bodies need cholesterol to function. We need it to maintain healthy cell walls, nervous system function and many other things. Cholesterol is not such a bad thing UNLESS you have familial hypercholesterolaemia.Only 1 in 500 people will have this, which is a genetic condition. It should be identified and managed early. People with this condition may be asked to limit cholesterol consumption in the diet and told, for example, to eat a maximum of three or four eggs a week. So most of the general population, 499 out of 500 people, do not need to worry so much about this but relax a little more.

British NICE guidelines ask doctors to aim for total blood cholesterol of 5mmol/L or less in their patients. I believe this has helped to confuse people. Over half the UK population have total cholesterol over 5. That is most people! This total figure on its own does not give you a breakdown of the different types of cholesterol. My view is that we should not be treating the number anyway; we should be treating the individual patient sitting in front of us, that is why we need doctors to be humans and not computers. The total is just one thing to take into an account. The total needs to be broken down into different types of cholesterol for more helpful information.

The bottom line for me is eggs are good for most people. Find out what your own cholesterol breakdown is and what it means for you. Limit eggs to three a week if you have the 1:500 familial hypercholesterolemia, and don’t choose to eat them if you don’t like them, are allergic or choose to be vegan.

The bottom line is- don’t worry. Food should not make us anxious. Use eggs as part of a balanced diet, relax and Eggjoy!

Laura Quinton