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Ask Tufts Experts January 2009 Issue

Q: Do egg yolks really differ from egg whites in terms of raising “bad” (LDL) cholesterol? What’s a safe weekly limit for both parts of the egg?

Answer :  A Yolks contain the fat and cholesterol in an egg, in addition to protein, vitamins and minerals. The whites contain primarily protein, only a very little fat and no cholesterol. Eggs have gotten a bad rap as a cholesterol culprit, because they are a concentrated source of cholesterol in the diet and there’s confusion between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. While dietary cholesterol can contribute to unhealthy LDL levels in some, the primary dietary cause of LDL problems is saturated fat.How many eggs can you safely eat? Egg proponents cite a 1999 study of 117,000 adults that found little impact on the risk of heart disease or stroke from consuming one egg a day. Current recommendations, however, are that individuals with healthy LDL cholesterol concentrations eat 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol or less per day. With 210 milligrams of dietary cholesterol in the yolk of one large egg, a single egg at breakfast puts you at about two-thirds of your daily maximum. If you are limiting saturated fat in your diet, by minimizing animal fat intake (meat and dairy), staying within the limit should not be a problem. If you are more liberal with your intake of animal fats, it may be wise to be a little more careful about egg intake.

Fortunately, for people who want or need to limit their dietary cholesterol and want their daily eggs as well, there are a couple of good options: Make an omelet with 1 whole egg and two egg whites or use egg substitutes.

It is currently recommended that individuals with high LDL cholesterol concentrations should try to limit their intake to 200 milligrams of cholesterol or less per day. For some of these individuals, sometimes referred to as “cholesterol responsive,” dietary cholesterol such as that in eggs can have a big effect on their LDL cholesterol concentrations.

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