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Ask Tufts Experts March 2013 Issue

Q: I’m a healthy 71-year-old man with no heart or cholesterol problems. I eat two eggs and hot whole-grain cereal every day for breakfast, but my wife says 14 eggs a week is too much and wants me to cut down. Am I eating too many eggs?

Answer : Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, says the answer isn’t as simple as how many eggs are too many eggs. "There are a number of things to consider. What are your LDL and HDL cholesterol concentrations? Has your doctor been concerned about other heart-disease risk factors? Do you eat a lot of meat, cheese and other sources of saturated fat during the day?"

The pendulum has swung back and forth about the health effects of dietary cholesterol, and since the food with the highest amount of cholesterol in our diets is eggs, sometimes the two terms—dietary cholesterol and eggs—are used interchangeably, says Lichtenstein. Though eggs were once considered a no-no, we now know that other dietary factors, primarily saturated fat and trans fat, have a greater effect on heart-disease risk factors. Eggs are increasingly recognized as an inexpensive source of protein and other nutrients.

That being said, the American Heart Asso-ciation still recommends limiting daily dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams even for people with normal LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. One egg contains about 185 milligrams of dietary cholesterol. So eating two eggs every day does put you over the recommended limit—even before counting other sources of dietary cholesterol. Remember, too, that many other foods, especially baked goods, are prepared with eggs—and those eggs count toward your daily cholesterol limit. The Heart Association advises people with high LDL blood cholesterol levels or who are taking a blood cholesterol-lowering medication (such as a statin drug) to eat less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day.

Says Lichtenstein, "It’s best to have a discussion with your doctor about whether it is necessary to change your eating habits. Individual differences make customizing general guidelines appropriate at any age."

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