Eggs in a Plant-Based Diet: Do They Have a Place?

eggs sunny side up

There are many foods that are rich in cholesterol, but none have received as much scrutiny in the public eye as the humble egg.

Cholesterol has been a villain in the world of nutrition and medicine for a long time. However, new understandings have shown that things are not what they once seemed. The Dr. Praeger’s Food and Wellness blog is dedicated to being a credible and helpful basic resource to the things we value the most— evidence-based nutrition and wellness for you, for your children, or for our community.

Eggs: Potent Superfood or Heart Attack Helper?

Eggs are a phenomenal source of complete protein and an array of vitamins and minerals that are important for hormonal function and overall good health. A simple breakfast that includes two eggs can quickly go from nutritionally lackluster to everything you need to start your day. Just as a reference, one eggs contains:

  • Nearly 50% of your day’s requirement for Vitamin D (something many people are sorely deficient in)
  • 6-8 grams of protein per egg (depending on the size)
  • Selenium
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin B12 (a vitamin that vegetarians and vegans may struggle to obtain enough of)
  • A range of antioxidants that can protect your cells

Fitting all of that in an approximately 70 calorie package warrants the title of “superfood.”

The only problem? Eggs are very high in cholesterol—roughly 150-190 mg of cholesterol can be found in a single egg. An AHA journal published in 2019 reiterates the often stated 300 mg daily limit for cholesterol—albeit with a focus on studying its pairing with saturated fats in the Western diet, reflecting a modern understanding of nutrition.

Two eggs would easily put you over this number, which would seem to make them a food that is ill-suited to those who must watch their heart health carefully. This was the common refrain of medical professionals and the general public in the past decades, but no longer.

Cholesterol Produces Negligible Effects on Cardiovascular Health (for Most)

Many studies show, including this one, that an increase in cholesterol consumption did not necessarily increase the prevalence of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the blood. LDL is considered bad cholesterol because it contributes to fatty buildups in the arteries, thus increasing the risk for heart attacks and other negative cardiovascular conditions.

Conversely, HDL (“good”) cholesterol is considered as such because of its ability to help carry LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back towards the liver, where we produce all of the cholesterol our body needs in the first place.

This brings us to the fact that all cholesterol consumed through eating is technically unnecessary. The liver produces all of the cholesterol we need. Because of this, it was once thought that eating dietary cholesterol, such as that found in eggs, was considered to be a major con to an otherwise healthy food.

However, as the above cited study mentions, dietary cholesterol, for the vast majority of people, has little effect on endothelial function (the inner cellular lining of the blood vessels). It’s widely accepted that the liver will produce less cholesterol in response to an increase in dietary cholesterol.

Dietary cholesterol and saturated fat are not one in the same. Dietary cholesterol alone is not directly linked to increase risk of heart disease but saturated fat is. Saturated fats are mostly found in red meats, butter, lard, whole fat cheeses, fried and processed foods. On average, an egg contains only 1.6 grams of saturated fat compared to 5 grams of saturated fat in a three ounce lean cut beef steak.

It should be noted with great caution that there are some people who appear to be “hyper responders” to cholesterol. Everyone should speak with their primary care provider and examine their cardiovascular health if they are eating a diet high in dietary cholesterol. Getting regular checkups is sound advice for everyone.

The Question Remains, Do Eggs Belong in a Plant Based Diet?

At Dr. Praeger’s, we stress the importance of having a robust and varied diet to acquire the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals needed for vitality. We strongly believe that a plant-based diet is a healthy one and many of our products, such as our plant-based veggie burgers reflect that.

We’ve discussed in the past how a plant-based diet need not require someone to permanently give up all animal products, but rather a healthy reduction in consumption may benefit many individuals as well as our planet. Plant-based diets offer more flexibility so that people can gradually make changes towards a healthier future.

Only you and your primary care provider can decide what is best for your unique dietary and health needs, but overall, if you were worried about eating eggs due to cholesterol, those fears are largely unfounded.

Dr. Praeger’s Egg Whites & Kale Breakfast Bowl uses egg whites, which do not contain cholesterol, so that everyone can join in on the fun!