According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans now consume an estimate 280 eggs per person, per year. This is a significant increase in egg intake when compared to a decade ago. The appeal for consuming so many eggs rose from the dietary advice received back in 2016 when U.S. Dietary Guidelines dropped a longstanding recommendation limit on dietary cholesterol. This basically gave everyone the green light to consume more eggs on a regular basis.
There is some different news now, however. According to a new study published in JAMA, a medical journal, re-opens the debate about the risks of consuming too much dietary cholesterol. “What we found in this study was that if you consumed two eggs per day, there was a 27 percent increased risk of developing heart disease,” says researcher Norrina Allen, an associate professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University. “It was surprising,” Allen says.
In the JAMA study, researchers tracked the health of about 30,000 adults that were enrolled in long-term studies. On average, participants were followed for about 17 years. There have been prior studies with different conclusions, but overall speaking, there has not been strong evidence that limiting consumption of cholesterol-rich foods lowers the amount of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol that ends up in your blood.
It's worth mentioning that the new study is an observational study, meaning it doesn't prove that cholesterol caused the increased risk of heart disease that researchers have documented. “These new findings provide one piece of evidence,” Allen says. It's also entirely possible that different lifestyles or dietary habits could be responsible for increase in risk.
While the study provides some interesting details, it does fall short in one area that participants were asked only one time about their diets. Essentially, only one snapshot was given and may not have enough accuracy when capturing eating habits over time. “We hope that in future studies we can look at how changes in diet over the long-term may be impacting this risk for heart disease,” Allen says. Dietary cholesterol may vary from person to person, so future studies could explore these risks.
The bottom line is that many experts say there's no justification to drop eggs from your diet, so you don't need to drop everything immediately. “So much data have already been published on this topic, which generally show that low-to-moderate egg consumption (no more than one egg per day) is not associated with increased risk of heart attack or stroke,” Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in an email.
The best diet, healthful eating and best overall strategy is to focus on a well-rounded diet that includes different variety of foods such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Thomas Sherman, a professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, agrees with this. “I tell my students that eating a protein-rich breakfast is one of the best ways of preventing getting hungry,” Sherman says. “So I'd hate for them to come back to me and say, ‘Oh, no! We're not supposed to be eating eggs.'”