When trying to eat a low-fat diet, it can sometimes be confusing to know which foods (outside of the obvious) are OK. Eggs have gotten a bad rap in the past—mainly for their cholesterol content—but they can be part of a healthy, low-fat diet when eaten in moderation.
Eggs have been denounced because of their high cholesterol content. A single egg contains around 210 mg of dietary cholesterol (one brand, Eggland's Best, contains only 180 mg per egg), which is still more than two-thirds of the 300 mg daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association.
However, with research casting doubt on there being a direct link between dietary cholesterol, which is found in the foods we eat, and blood cholesterol, which is manufactured by the body, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee recommends removing the current 300 mg per day limit. Many factors affect our blood cholesterol levels, including family history, diet, age and whether we smoke and exercise. In terms of diet, there is evidence to suggest that our intake of saturated fats and trans fats have a greater impact on blood cholesterol levels than our intake of dietary cholesterol.
True, many high cholesterol foods are also high in saturated fat or trans fats. But the egg is not one of them. One egg has 5 grams of fat (about 8 percent of daily value), of which only 1.5 grams is saturated. Because eggs are often enjoyed with high-fat foods such as cheese (in scrambled or omelets) or fried with bacon and sausage, they are seen as a high-fat food — but that's simply by association. If the other ingredients eaten along with the eggs are healthy, including eggs in a low-fat diet is a wise idea.
Besides being low in fat, eggs are packed with nutrients. Eggs are a good source of protein and contain more than a dozen vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, folate, phosphorous, riboflavin and vitamins A, D, E, and B-12. They pack quite a nutritional punch for around 70 calories each.
For a premium, you can also buy eggs that contain omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, which cannot be produced by the body, are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. These enriched eggs provide the same amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as a 3-ounce serving of oily fish like salmon.
Yolks vs. Whites
All the fat and cholesterol of an egg are contained in the yolk, and most of the protein is in the white. To get the most out of your egg allowance, you can cut out some of the yolks in our recipes. The general rule of thumb is to use two egg whites for every whole egg required. If you don’t like the idea of an egg-white omelet or scrambled egg whites, trim the fat and cholesterol by using one whole egg and two egg whites per person instead.
Keep in mind that increasing the amount of egg white may affect some recipes, especially baked goods. If your cakes are too dense when you use egg whites only, use a blend of whole eggs and egg whites instead (again using two whites per whole egg formula).
Eggs the Low-Fat Way
Although eggs themselves may be low in fat, that doesn't mean the egg dish will remain low in fat if it's cooked in loads of butter or with tons of cheese. So the cooking method is important. Poach them, scramble them, and make veggie-filled omelets. If you use nonstick pans and skillets, you don’t need to use butter. Add cheese sparingly, using reduced-fat cheeses or small amounts of strong, flavorful cheese.
If you would still rather avoid using whole eggs, you can use one of the many egg substitutes available, which work well in most dishes. Egg substitutes use egg whites as their base and contain coloring, flavorings and sometimes vegetable oil. Some varieties lack many of the important nutrients found in "real" eggs (others have vitamins and minerals added to compensate), but they are undoubtedly lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol.
US Department of Health and Human Services. Scientific report of the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committee. February 2015.
American Heart Association. The skinny on fats. Updated April 30, 2017.
Réhault-Godbert S, Guyot N, Nys Y. The Golden Egg: Nutritional Value, Bioactivities, and Emerging Benefits for Human Health. Nutrients. 2019;11(3). doi:10.3390/nu11030684