Eggs have been a longstanding part of the American diet, tracing back to the early colonists who brought over egg-laying chickens from Europe. By the mid-1800s, the breeding of chickens in America began to emphasize egg production, with chickens bred solely for egg-laying becoming more common.1 Eggs are highly nutritious, containing the vitamins, essential amino acids, and minerals necessary for healthy bodily function. However, the way eggs are prepared makes a difference in how healthy they are. It’s a common misconception that eggs are bad for you because of their fat content, so you may be surprised to learn that the cholesterol issues stemming from eating eggs actually come from the ingredients used to cook them and the foods eaten alongside them.
Finding the healthiest approaches to cooking and eating eggs can mean the difference between a nutritious diet and one that can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other health problems. Read on to find out the health benefits of eggs, healthy ways to prepare them, and information on how to handle them safely.
Eggs are a widely available, versatile, and inexpensive source of essential nutrients and protein. Chickens lay the vast majority of the eggs we eat today, but duck and quail eggs are also commonly consumed with little difference in their nutritional makeup. Brown eggs and duck eggs may be higher in calories than white eggs due to their size and may contain higher levels of omega-3s, but those are the only notable differences.
One large hen egg contains about 70 calories, 6g of protein, and 5g of fat. Eggs contribute to regulating many normal processes, including:2
They can also keep your eyesight strong and reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems. Below, we’ll explain how eggs can support your body in many ways.
Eggs contain the essential vitamins A, B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6, B12, D, E, and K.7 These vitamins are known for reducing the risk of certain cancers, contributing to healthy eyesight, turning food into energy, healthy immune function, strong musculature and bones, and healthy brain development, among other things.8 We need to get essential vitamins from our food and environment, so eating eggs can help improve our chances of getting everything we need.
Folate is a B vitamin essential for building DNA and other genetic material; it also contributes to proper cell division. Folate is an integral part of a daily diet, especially for pregnant individuals, as it guards against neural tube defects.12
When ingredients such as fish oil, flaxseeds, and algae are part of a chicken's diet, its eggs will contain higher levels of omega-3, a fatty acid vital to healthy bodily function.4 Omega-3 fatty acids help in energy production and can reduce your levels of triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid) found in the blood. High triglyceride levels can lead to cardiovascular problems and stroke.13
One egg contains about 6g of protein, which comes from both the yolk and the white. Protein is critical for muscle building and maintenance, as well as many other important functions throughout your body, such as weight management and lowering blood pressure. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Some amino acids are made by the body, while others are essential, meaning we must get them from food sources. Eggs are an excellent source of all essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source.15
Eggs are an excellent source of selenium, a trace element essential for healthy thyroid function and metabolism. Research has linked it to a reduced risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases. One egg contains about 15mcg of selenium, making up roughly 27% of the total recommended daily intake.7 16
Medical experts once thought eating eggs would raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) levels and lead to heart disease. Most of these concerns centered around the yolk’s high concentration of fats compared to lean, protein-rich egg whites. Healthcare providers used to caution people with high cholesterol to limit their consumption of eggs altogether. However, recent studies have shown that there is little to fear.
One large egg contains 5g of unsaturated (healthy) fats and only 1.5g of saturated fat. A Harvard study found that most cholesterol-raising features associated with eggs don’t come from the eggs themselves but rather from how they’re prepared and what you eat with them. Frying eggs in butter or copious amounts of oil, serving them with bacon or sausage, and including a buttery pastry or deep-fried donut on the side will raise your LDL cholesterol levels. Eating one egg a day, boiled, poached, or scrambled in a small amount of healthy fat, such as olive oil, is associated with no increase in cardiovascular risk.3
Eating eggs raises HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, also known as “good” cholesterol. High HDL cholesterol lowers the risk of stroke and heart disease, and eating two eggs daily for six weeks can raise HDL levels by 10%.3
It is hard to say no to food with complete protein, low in saturated fat, and many vitamins and minerals. It’s even easier to say yes, knowing that eggs are healthier when prepared without excess butter and oils and are delicious. While it’s okay to indulge in a breakfast of eggs fried in butter and served with pancakes or sausage occasionally, it’s good to remember this increases the fat and cholesterol content considerably — by around 50%. Regular consumption of eggs prepared this way can lead to high cholesterol, raising the risk of heart disease and stroke.5
There are many ways to prepare eggs that mitigate this risk. Instead of frying, try poaching them in water and serving them on top of vegetable hash or avocado toast. A hard-boiled egg or two with a vegetable or fruit-packed salad is a great way to include the health benefits eggs offer. Another way to enjoy eggs is to scramble them with a light amount of olive oil, your favorite vegetables, and a bit of cheese.
If you’re feeling adventurous, consider this recipe for shakshuka. This Northwest African egg dish is made with spicy harissa and rich feta — and it’s easily customizable to your preferences. Another option is this recipe for Turkish Çılbır (pronounced “chil-bir”), which involves poached eggs served atop garlicky yogurt, drizzled with a bit of olive oil.
If you prefer something low in calories, consider skipping the yolk entirely and using only the high-protein white. (All of the fat in an egg resides in the yolk, so you’ll miss some of the nutrients when you cut calories.) If an egg white scramble or omelet sounds a bit boring for your taste, consider this recipe for easy, customizable, and freezer-friendly egg white muffins.
There are many ways to prepare eggs in a healthy and delicious way. All it takes is a little creativity and know-how. To get started, here are some other ideas and recipes for healthy ways to eat eggs:
When it comes to your health, it’s just as important to know how to safely handle eggs as it is to prepare them. A raw or undercooked egg — particularly if it’s unpasteurized — can cause food poisoning due to a bacteria called Salmonella. For more information about Salmonella, its symptoms, and who’s at risk, please see the section below.
For healthy people who are not part of particularly at-risk populations, eating raw U.K. hen eggs should pose little or no safety risk.23
For at-risk populations (infants, children, pregnant individuals, and older adults) in the U.K., it’s recommended that you only consume raw or undercooked hen eggs when they are produced and approved under one of the following food safety schemes:
If you are immunocompromised, talk to your doctor. Any other type of egg, including duck, goose, or quail, should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.
Even though some may swear by the potential benefits of consuming raw eggs, the FDA, CDC, USDA, and an overwhelming majority of experts agree that the risks far outweigh any perceived benefits. This is especially true when you consider the fact that eating a cooked egg provides you with the same nutritional benefits as eating it raw, with the added bonus of killing any potential Salmonella bacteria.18 While the chance of contracting food poisoning via Salmonella from a raw egg is slim — about a 1 in 20,000 chance — the CDC estimates the bacteria causes about 1.35 million illnesses, over 26,000 hospitalizations, and more than 400 deaths in the U.S. each year.18 19 Ultimately, the risk of adverse health effects isn’t worth the gamble.
Signs of a Salmonella infection usually start within six hours to six days after exposure and can last from 4-7 days. Common symptoms include:20
Sometimes Salmonella can cause severe disease through infections in your urine, blood, bones, joints, spinal fluid, and brain.19
Certain groups of people are at higher risk of infection from Salmonella. These people, and those who might care for them, should take extra precautions to avoid raw eggs, even in foods containing them as an ingredient. Those at higher risk include:19 21
Eggs are an excellent choice for a healthy diet; packed with essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, they are a delicious, filling, and nutritious option for any meal. In general, the health dangers associated with eggs come from their preparation and handling. Be sure to cook your eggs with a moderate amount of healthy fats, such as olive oil instead of butter, and pair it with your favorite vegetables and whole grains. Strive to exercise caution while handling, cooking, and storing eggs, including washing your hands, surfaces, and any equipment that has come into contact with raw eggs. And, as with all foods, moderation and balance are key.
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NMAH. (2015). Chickens, eggs, and the changing American diet. National Museum of American History. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
Lutter, C. K., Iannotti, L. L., & Stewart, C. P. (2018). The potential of a simple egg to improve maternal and child nutrition. Maternal & child nutrition, 14 Suppl 3(Suppl 3), e12678. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
Zahed, R. (2022, April 14). 9 Health Benefits of Eating Eggs for Breakfast. Keck Medicine of USC. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Staub, D. (2017). Organic? Omega 3? Free-Range? All You Need to Know About Eggs. Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Harvard Medical School. (2021, December 14). Ask the Doctor: Are eggs risky for heart health?. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
United States Food and Drug Administration. (2022, May 10). What You Need to Know About Egg Safety. FDA. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2019). FoodData Central - Egg, whole, raw, fresh. USDA. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Vitamins. MedlinePlus. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Réhault-Godbert, S., Guyot, N., & Nys, Y. (2019). The Golden Egg: Nutritional Value, Bioactivities, and Emerging Benefits for Human Health. Nutrients, 11(3), 684. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
National Institutes of Health. (2022). Calcium: Fact Sheet for Consumers. NIH. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
National Institutes of Health. (2022). Choline: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
National Institutes of Health. (2022). Folate: Fact Sheet for Consumers. NIH. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
National Institutes of Health. (2023). Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
National Institutes of Health. (2021). Phosphorus: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Puglisi, M. J., & Fernandez, M. L. (2022, July 15). The Health Benefits of Egg Protein. Nutrients, 14(14), 2904. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
National Institutes of Health. (2021). Selenium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
National Institutes of Health. (2022). Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Cleveland Clinic, & Czerwony, B. (2022, April 6). Is Eating Raw Eggs Bad?. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Questions and Answers - Salmonella. CDC. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Symptoms - Salmonella. CDC. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2019). Shell Eggs from Farm to Table. USDA. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Government of South Australia. (2022, April 3). Raw egg products. SA Health. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
Scottish Government. Eggs - Information about storing, handling, and preparing eggs safely.. Food Standards Scotland. Retrieved April 7, 2023.