High cholesterol means a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.
Eggs have lots of cholesterol -- between 141 to 234 milligrams per egg. It's likely why many people who want to maintain a healthy diet try to avoid eggs -- to lower their risk of high cholesterol.
Researchers from the University of Sydney decided to take a crack at this notion to see the real impact eggs have on a person's health.
The researchers put 128 people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes -- a major risk factor for heart disease -- onto a couple of different diets to see if it would affect their cholesterol. One group ate 12 or more eggs per week, while the other ate fewer than two eggs per week. It was all part of a three-month weight loss attempt, as weight loss is one of the first treatments for pre-diabetics or those with type 2 diabetes.
After the weight loss period, which worked as well in each group -- people lost about 9 pounds -- they were encouraged to maintain their high egg or low egg diet for a year. Patients came back for a medical assessment at three, six and 12 months.
But here's the part that may be most surprising: Patients in both groups had no significant difference in their cholesterol, sugar or blood pressure from the beginning of the study to the end of the study -- no matter how many eggs they ate.
Does it matter how I cook my eggs?
Yes. In general, eggs have a lot going for them nutritionally. Eggs contain 6 grams of protein, 72 calories, contain nutrients that are good for your eyes, brain, and nerves, and they have 270 international units of vitamin A and 41 IU of vitamin D. But in this study, the researchers recommended eggs be boiled or poached. If fried, a polyunsaturated cooking oil, such as olive oil, was recommended.
Does this mean I can eat as many eggs as I want?
Push "replay" on the old adage: Everything in moderation.
It matters a lot what you eat with your eggs. Butter, bacon, sausage, cheese and muffins all contain saturated fats, and those can raise your blood cholesterol.
Research over the past 25 years has shown that most of the cholesterol in our body is made inside us by our liver. It gets the signal to make cholesterol when we each too much trans and saturated fats -- not dietary cholesterol. One large egg has a low saturated fat content -- 1.6 grams -- with 5 grams of fat in all, and additionally, it still has protein vitamins, iron, minerals and carotenoids.
What if I already have high cholesterol?
There's no "number of eggs you can eat" from an authority like the American Heart Association. However, the AHA does have recommendations for prevention and treatment of high cholesterol.
The AHA recommends the following: Limit saturated fat to 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories and minimizing the amount of trans fat you eat. This includes limiting your intake of red meat and dairy products with whole milks (since they have more of the unhealthy fats), choosing skim milk, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, limiting fried foods and cooking with healthy oils such as vegetable oil.
So, does eating eggs really increase your risk of a heart attack?
No. From over 25 years of research, the bottom line is that for most people, including eggs in your diet does not increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke, or any other type of cardiovascular disease.
Sunny Intwala, MD, is a third-year Cardiology fellow at Boston University School of Medicine and Certified Exercise Physiologist working with the ABC medical unit.