Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Eggs are one of the most frustrating foods. As a dietitian, I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent telling people that eating eggs is OK, and that it’s really the saturated fat in food that’s the culprit, not the cholesterol. But it seems that once people finally get comfortable with the fact that eggs are highly nutritious and can be part of a heart-healthy diet, researchers give us some bad news.

As David Spero mentioned in his post last week about breakfast (“What’s for Breakfast”), a new study out of Harvard Medical School has given us reason to pause. In this study, which involved looking at data from two large studies, the Physician’s Health Study and the Women’s Health Study, the researchers found that men who ate one egg every day had a 60% increase in risk for Type 2 diabetes, and women who ate one egg a day had a 77% increased risk. Men who ate less than one egg per week had only a 9% increased risk of getting diabetes and women a 6% increased risk. It didn’t matter whether people were following a high-carb or a low-carb diet, or had a high cholesterol level or a high body-mass index (BMI), either.

Of course, with any study, there are certain limitations. For example, in this study, the researchers didn’t do repeat blood glucose and insulin measurements. This was an observational study, and some of the data was self-reported (meaning that the researchers relied on the study subjects to recall and report information). Also, most of the participants were white and most were health-care professionals, so it’s hard to generalize the findings to a wider, more diverse population.

And, as it often goes with research on a particular topic, previous studies with eggs have shown varying results. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999 examined the link between egg intake and risk of heart disease and stroke in men and women (using some of the same data that was used in this new study, by the way). The findings? The intake of one egg per day was unlikely to impact the risk of heart disease and stroke in men and women. And while the subjects who had diabetes had a higher risk of heart disease, the conclusions were that “further research is warranted.”

Yet another study, done by the same researchers who did the newly-published study, found that men with diabetes who ate eggs during the 20-year study period were twice as likely to die as men without diabetes. But, as it turns out, the men with diabetes were older, heavier, more likely to smoke and drink alcohol, and less likely to exercise and eat vegetables than their counterparts without diabetes. So, is it really eggs that are the problem?

It’s possible, despite the other factors. Maybe dietary cholesterol really is more dangerous than we thought. It seems like we don’t know enough, though, to draw any conclusions. Once again, eggs are frustrating!

Egg Facts
Here’s the lowdown on eggs. One large egg contains:

  • 75 calories
  • 213 mg cholesterol, found only in the yolk (the cholesterol intake for people with diabetes shouldn’t exceed 200 mg per day)
  • 5 grams of fat, including 2 grams of saturated fat
  • 6 grams of protein (equal to one ounce of meat, chicken, or fish)
  • 70 mg sodium

Here are some more facts about eggs:

  • Eggs are a great source of B vitamins and some minerals, such as iron, zinc, and iodine.
  • Eggs contain choline, a nutrient needed for brain function and health.
  • Eggs contain lutein, a carotenoid that may help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • People who eat eggs for breakfast seem to lose more weight and lose more inches from their waistlines than people who eat bagels for breakfast.
  • Eggs are an economical source of protein and are part of a budget-conscious healthy eating plan.

But, in spite of all of eggs’ good qualities, it might be wise for people who are at risk for diabetes and those who have diabetes to go easy on the eggs for now (about one per week). Talk with your health-care provider about your risk for heart disease, and make sure you know your “numbers” (total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides). In the meantime, if you’re an egg lover and can’t keep your intake to just one or two per week, consider switching over to egg substitutes or egg whites, which are cholesterol-free.

Eggs can still be part of a healthful diet and, hopefully, we’ll soon learn “eggs-actly” what it is about eggs that may not be so good for us.

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Comments
  1. Dear Amy.

    I took your opening paragraph as gospel until reading David’s last article.

    Looking at the chemical breakdown that you give it looks much better than your average high fat cheese.

    Is it the 200 mg of chicken made and not human made cholesterol that is the culprit? Could chicken egg cholesterol be a different and more toxic isomer? Or is there a yet unidentified substance that causes the problem?

    How about the flax fed chicken eggs do they have any conflicting data to the above study to report?

    There is no doubt in my mine that if i eat 1 1/2 egg veggy omelet fried in canola you will be much less hungry than eating a bagel which is really bad news for diabetics.

    Posted by CalgaryDiabetic |
  2. Here’s the other conundrum… egg whites are a good low-calorie, low-carb source of protein… and if you skip the yolk, fairly low-calorie and low in all fats… I’d be equally interested in seeing what happens in the case of people eating only the whites, or one yolk per 3-4 whites…

    Posted by tmana |
  3. Hi CalgaryDiabetic,

    Thanks for your thought-provoking questions! I actually contacted one of the authors of the “egg study”, Dr. Djousse’, asking him about omega-3 fatty acid-enhanced eggs. His reponse was that, while he wasn’t aware of research done in this area, some studies have shown increased fasting blood glucose and insulin levels with a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids. So, I don’t think he puts too much stock in these kind of eggs (nor does Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group). It’s probably best to limit egg yolk intake and as tmana, above, suggestsed, focus more on using egg whites.

    Posted by acampbell |
  4. I’m not altering my egg consumption until I see a confirmatory study. I’ve seen the pendulum on egg consumption swing too many times.

    I blogged about this a while back. If interested, here’s the link:
    http://advancedmediterraneandiet.com/blog/?p=35

    -Steve

    Posted by Steve Parker, M.D. |
  5. In regards to the statement “diabetes who ate eggs during the 20-year study period were twice as likely to die as men without diabetes”

    That is %100 BS. EVERYONE is going to die, eggs or no eggs.

    You can’t look at eating eggs as being the actual cause of death. Sausage, bacon and gravy along with other things in their lifestyle and diet probably had more influence than eggs.

    Posted by bharris0 |
  6. I am also not altering my egg consumption. I just read an article at Diabetic Gourmet Magazine that stated:

    Unless you have heart disease or high cholesterol levels, there is no need to limit your intake of eggs. It’s the yolk that contains the cholesterol, but the cholesterol-raising saturated fat content of whole eggs is not particularly high.

    Makes sense to me. The article is here if you are interested: The Egg’s Image Gets A Boost

    Posted by stratplayer |
  7. I have been told by my doc that three or four eggs per week was OK. So what to do now?????

    Posted by lilbit |
  8. Hi bharris0,
    True, everyone is going to die at some point. The researchers in the “egg and mortality” study found that men with diabetes who ate any eggs at all were twice as likely to die during the 20 year study period than men without diabetes who ate up to 6 eggs per week. Was it the eggs? Or other factors? Or a combination of both?

    Posted by acampbell |
  9. I am diabetic II, and I love eggs and that love affair did not begin until I was 60. And that was when I was told I was type II diabetic. Up until then I maybe had one a week. So I know the eggs were not responsible. At 72 I eat as many as this old retired Top Sgt wants……

    Posted by Judge |
  10. I too am tired of all these reports that focus on one item. I just wonder if the problem is the way we modify our diets every time a new report comes out.

    Posted by Airborne mom |
  11. Dear Amy and David.

    Thanks for your efforts. My wife has gone to Costco to buy a container of egg white. We will use one portion of real egg added to 2 portions of egg white only to make our egg dish in the future. This will give us an exposure of only 1/2 egg yolk per meal each at 4 meals per week this should not be too bad.

    Interesting about the omega-3 fatty acids and insulin resistance. It would be nice if you could tell us more about the omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9 fatty acids. I have no idea which are good and which are bad and how to balance your input among the 3 if this is necessary. We eat a lot of canola oil and I am the only one that eats a significant amount of fatty fish: rainbow trout, herring and some salmon, whitefish.

    Posted by CalgaryDiabetic |
  12. I eat 6 eggs a week and exercise at a moderat rate and all my readings, trigli,chlo. etc all come back at or better that the doctor likes. Eairlier in life I ate two eggs almost every day as my brothers and sisters (5 and 4) and I am the only one that is dieabetic, the doctor attributes this to the stress of bei9ng a police officer and a lot of my fellow officer have mbecome diabetic even though no history in the families.

    Posted by timgimeno |
  13. Yes, it’s frustrating when we hear conflicting advice and information. In my opinion, I think that eggs have a lot of nutritional benefits and can be part of a heart-healthy diet. However, it’s a little concerning to read some of the studies that suggest that eggs might not be all that good for people who have type 2 diabetes. What we still don’t know is - is it the cholesterol in the egg yolk? Is there another substance in eggs that might be causing harm? Is is that people with type 2 diabetes have other health issues that might be playing a role? We just don’t know. If you currently eat more than 1 or 2 eggs a week, talk to your dietitian or physician who can hopefully help better guide you.

    Posted by acampbell |
  14. EVERYTHING in moderation!!!

    Posted by Steve |
  15. Well put, Steve!

    Posted by acampbell |
  16. I think eggs are fine - they don’t raise blood sugar. I think it’s what people eat WITH the eggs. How many people just eat 1 egg for breakfast? Add a bagel/biscuit, homefries, orange juice and you have a diabetic catastrophe on your hands. The egg yolk is full of lecithin - which emulsifies fat - good for you. A study was done using prisoners - they gave them 12 eggs a day to eat for a certain time frame. Their cholesterol never went up.

    You want to eat omega 3 fats, it helps with inflammation, which diabetics have more than their share. Vegetable oils are high in omega 6 oils, I won’t use them. I use cold pressed olive olive oil instead.

    Posted by margie |
  17. Dear Amy.

    Well my wife bought the egg white package from Costco. We use 1 part real egg and 2 parts egg white in a veggy (onion and coloured pepper) omelate with some ground flax seed. You cant tell the diference.

    My son who eats 3 eggs without veggies and no what he calls saw dust( ground flax seed) complained about the extra egg white tasting plastic. I told him to add a bit more canola oil to replace the missing fat from the yolk. He seem bedaffled by this idea.

    Posted by CalgaryDiabetic |
  18. Thanks Margie. You’re correct that eggs have little, if any, effect on blood glucose, since they’re mostly protein and fat. The issue, though, is that some studies have found eggs to raise cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. We certainly hear stories about people eating eggs every day and living to a nice old age (which is what we all want!) yet there seems to be a link between eggs and increased risk for heart disease, at least for some people. So, as the saying goes, everything in moderation!

    Posted by acampbell |
  19. It seems to me that it would be important to know what the person was eating with their eggs. For instance, did they have a bagel, white bread, rye bread, wheat bread, fruit, bacon, sausage? I am sure you get the drift of what I sm saying.
    The items the person is eating with their eggs may be making a more impact that the eggs!

    Thanks. JK

    Posted by J. Kozicz |
  20. Hi JK,

    I agree! Certainly, if one eats bacon or sausage with eggs, that’s much less healthy than eating, say, whole grain toast or fruit. So, as with many studies, there are always “confounding variables” that one needs to think about. Thanks for for bringing that up.

    Posted by acampbell |

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