Cholesterol in eggs : can it kill you?

They're an excellent source of protein as well as essential vitamins and Omega-3 oil.  But what about the level of cholesterol in eggs?

Years ago, medical advice was that eggs - in particular yolks - were a dangerous source of cholesterol and should be avoided at all costs. But what does the evidence show today?  Should we be worried about eating the delicious produce our chickens give us?

Three different chicken breeds, three different coloured eggs - all with the same excellent nutritional value.

Three healthy, nutritious, home laid eggs

Please note : This page is written as general information only.  It is not intended as medical advice and should not be taken as such.   If you're worried about your health you should always see your doctor.  However, reliable, evidence based medical sources have been used in compiling these facts.  See the 'Sources' section here for more information.

Cholesterol - the way it used to be : my dad's story.

I have known about cholesterol since I was ten years old.  Why?  Because that's how old I was when my dad was diagnosed with genetic heart disease - 'Familial Hypercholesterolemia', to be exact.  It means that the body creates too much cholesterol, and it's traditionally controlled with drugs.

My lovely dad.

My dad - he was diagnosed with high cholesterol at the age of 36.

He was also advised to completely cut out eggs and any egg related products from his diet.  Not just 'control' - he was told to avoid them altogether, for the rest of his life. 

And he did because, as with many people of his generation, whatever a doctor told him was law.  It had to be followed, to the letter.

In his later life, though, medical opinion and evidence changed and my dad was told to start eating eggs again.  Why?  Because he had problems associated with the lack of various essential vitamins, minerals and oils they provide.  In particular, he developed osteoporosis - a known result of lack of Vitamin 'D'.  And eggs are one of the foods richest in Vitamin 'D'.

The doctors admitted that their advice, sincerely given in the 1960s because it was based on facts as they were known at the time, were no longer right.  Not eating eggs had done far more damage than eating them would have done.

What exactly is cholesterol?

It's a waxy deposit made in the liver and found naturally in our body cells and in some foods. 

Let's be clear about this - cholesterol is essential to a healthy body - we need it to create Vitamin 'D' and some essential hormones, and to help us digest fat.  It's carried round the bloodstream in a kind of capsule called a 'lipid' and the liver, as well as making it, also gets rid of any excess. 

There are two types of lipid : high density (HDL) and low density (LDL).  I have always remembered which is which by calling LDLs 'Little Devil Lipids'!

It's the low density lipids that do the damage because they deposit any excess cholesterol in the blood, where medical opinion still advises that it can build up and cause heart disease.

Ideally, the lipid count should be balanced but in people who have dangerously high cholesterol, LDLs are higher than HDLs and the amount of HDL is very low. 

There's cholesterol even in fresh eggs - but not as much as you may think.

A raw egg from backyard chickens - healthy and nutritious.

Cholesterol in eggs : current thinking.

My dad's story reflects very well the changes in thinking about this subject.   It's absolutely right to say that cholesterol in eggs is quite high.  It always has been - and it was this thinking that caused medics to tell people with raised cholesterol levels to stop eating eggs.

But eggs are also an immensely rich source of protein and, in particular, Vitamin 'D', and cutting them out of our diet means we have to make sure our body is getting enough from other sources.

What's more, in 2011 a United States government research project found that far from being dangerous for our health, eggs these days have 13% less cholesterol and a whopping 64% more Vitamin 'D' than eggs eaten even ten years ago. (See source).

And that study was looking at commercially farmed eggs.  Imagine how much more nutritious are the eggs of chickens allowed to range freely in the sun, eating fresh food and bugs a-plenty!

But this fact is probably the most important recent development in terms of cholesterol in eggs ...

What many sources of information forget to say, partly because this information is the result of very recent studies, is that it's now known that eating eggs causes the body to increase HDL - 'good' cholesterol. That's a positive advantage, because people who are at risk with elevated LDL cholesterol levels often have very low HDL count at the same time. 

It also causes the LDL - 'bad' cholesterol - cells to enlarge.  That's important, because those larger 'capsules' of cholesterol are less likely to enter the artery walls and deposit the cholesterol there.

So in summary : although there is cholesterol in eggs, they're far from being bad for you - eating them gives you many nutritional benefits including the promotion of HDL or 'good' cholesterol.  They're an inexpensive way of eating a healthy food.

Delicious scrambled eggs - one of my favourite ways to start the day.

Further reading.

If you're interested to know more detail about recent studies, this article, published in 'Science News', is an excellent source of information and links to relevant, peer-reviewed medical research papers.

For further information about whether animal fats, including those in eggs, are the real issue in heart disease, "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon is a well researched, thought-provoking book which also has some great egg recipes included. I own the Kindle version and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Want more information about eggs?

For more detailed information about eggs, use the pictures below to click to whichever topic interests you.

Egg whites - are they good for you or is it all a big hype?
Store eggs properly for optimum freshness!
Want to know if your eggs are fresh?  We show you how to tell!


'Egg Consumption and the risk of cardiovascular heart disease in adolescents'.  A. Soriano-Maldonado et al; Nutrici√≥n Hospitalaria, 2013.

'Saturated fat and cardiovascular disease: the discrepancy between the scientific literature and dietary advice'.
R. Hoenselaar;  Pub. National Centre for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine, August 2011.

'Learning About Familial Hypercholesterolemia'.  National Human Genome Research Institute; September 2011.

'The truth about eggs and cholesterol'.  British Heart Foundation, February 2011.

'Egg consumption and the risk of heart failure'.   Djousse and Gaziano; Physicians' Health Study, 2008.

'The impact of egg limitations on coronary heart disease risk - do the numbers add up?'  D.J. McNamara; National Center for Biotechnology Information, October 2000.

'About Cholesterol'.  The American Heart Association.

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