Eggs have taken a beating for years because they are high in dietary cholesterol, but a new study shows that eggs today contain a lot less cholesterol than they did a decade ago.
A large egg has about 185 milligrams of cholesterol, down from 215 milligrams, according to new research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Researchers collected large eggs from 12 locations around the country and sent them to a laboratory for testing. These latest cholesterol findings, published on the website of the Agricultural Research Service, update numbers from 2002. The agency regularly does nutrient checks on popular foods.
The drop in cholesterol may be because of changes in hens' diets, the way the animals are bred or other factors, said Mitch Kanter, executive director of the Egg Nutrition Center, the research arm of the American Egg Board, which represents egg farmers.
Meanwhile, the government's latest dietary guidelines indicate that eating one egg a day is OK.
"Evidence suggests that one egg (i.e. egg yolk) per day does not result in increased blood cholesterol levels, nor does it increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy people," according to the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The guidelines also recommend that most people eat less than 300 milligrams of total dietary cholesterol a day. Consuming less than 200 milligrams a day can help people at a high risk of cardiovascular disease, the government says.
To stay below 300 milligrams, you could eat an egg a day and other cholesterol-containing foods, such as an ounce of cheese, which has about 30 milligrams, and three ounces of fish, which has 60 milligrams, said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
The USDA research also showed that an egg has 41 international units (IUs) of vitamin D, up from 25 IUs measured several years ago.
There aren't many food sources of vitamin D, which is important for bone health, so it's good that eggs contain some, Blatner says. Even so, one egg still provides only about 7% of the 600 IUs recommended for one day, she says.
Kanter says egg producers are trying to increase the vitamin D in eggs by giving chickens feed enriched with vitamin D.
Some people try to avoid the dietary cholesterol by eating just the egg whites, but Kanter points out that the yolk contains most of an egg's vitamins and minerals and much of the protein.