In the past, whole eggs got a bad rap for their cholesterol and fat content. But thanks to new studies and a fresh perspective in the medical community, this budget-friendly protein source has reemerged as a dietitian favorite — even for people with diabetes.
“We’re getting away from limiting eggs in the diet of people with diabetes, as their benefits are quite extensive,” says Elizabeth Ebner, a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator with Hackensack Meridian Health in Fair Haven, New Jersey. “They’re considered a high biological value protein, which means they provide all the amino acids required in the body.” When a protein source contains the essential amino acids in the right proportion required by humans, it is considered to have a high biological value.
But before an egg could be seen as a protein-and-healthy-fat powerhouse, it had to shed its negative reputation.
The New Reputation of the Egg
Today, many nutritionists recommend eating eggs because they’re satiating and can help with weight loss and management; healthy weight is beneficial for people with diabetes because it reduces insulin resistance.
Now the message has shifted to focus on protein. Each egg contains 6 g, which is why Ebner considers eggs a good, inexpensive source of the nutrient. Protein is satiating, meaning eggs may help curb unhealthy cravings and promote a healthy weight in people with diabetes — further aiding diabetes management. Plus, eating protein and carbohydrates together may delay the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar, Ebner says.
“I always use the analogy that the protein is like the seat belt to the carbohydrate — it kind of holds it back and slows it down a bit from spiking the sugar.” That said, it’s still important to monitor your carbohydrate intake and observe how what you eat impacts your blood sugar reading. No matter what nutrients you combine them with, carbs are digested as glucose, which raises blood sugar levels.
How Eating Eggs May Affect Diabetes Risk
According to a study published in April 2015 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, middle-aged and older men who ate about four eggs each week had a 37 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than their peers who ate one egg per week. That study is an outlier, though. Most research has found eating eggs in moderation isn’t linked to diabetes one way or the other, but you still have to be careful not to overdo it.
A study published in January 2016 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests there’s no link between occasionally eating eggs and developing type 2 diabetes, but people who eat three or more eggs per week are at a slightly higher risk of developing the disease. An earlier study, published in 2009 in Diabetes Care, found that eating seven or more eggs each week increased the risk of type 2 diabetes among men by 58 percent and among women by 77 percent.
However, these studies were observational, meaning they didn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Experts agree you don’t need to ban eggs from your diet, but you should eat them in moderation. “I usually incorporate an egg every other day when I’m writing a meal plan [for someone with diabetes],” Ebner says, adding that there’s no need to limit the amount of egg whites you eat, since they’re predominantly made up of protein and are low in fat. Ebner recommends sticking to egg whites and avoiding yolks altogether if you take large doses of statins or have a strong family history of heart disease, which she estimates affects about 1 in 10 people with diabetes. According to the AHA, about 68 percent of people age 65 or older with diabetes die from heart disease.
The Best Ways to Prepare or Order Eggs
How you prepare your eggs can affect how diabetes-friendly they are, too. When you’re cooking at home, stick to an olive oil spray instead of butter and make them in whatever style you like — scrambled, over easy, or sunny-side up.
When you’re out for breakfast, Ebner recommends ordering a poached egg “because it’s cooked in water and no additional fat,” she says, or ordering egg whites. “At diners, eggs are often mixed with pancake batter to make them fluffy,” Ebner says. “I tell patients to ask for egg whites when they’re at a diner so they aren’t adding carbohydrates.”
Feel free to load up your eggs with vegetables — leafy greens, onions, and mushrooms are all good choices, Ebner says. And when it comes to adding cheese, the sharper, the better. “I recommend you get the strongest cheese you can tolerate — a really hard sharp cheddar or maybe a parmesan — and fine-grate it to add to the egg,” Ebner says. “It’s so strong you don’t need much of it, so a tablespoon would probably be plenty.”
It’s okay to add a pinch of salt if it makes the eggs taste better to you. Just don’t load up on both cheese and salt, since cheese is already salty enough, Ebner says.
The bottom line? Eggs are an excellent source of protein. You can certainly add eggs to your meal plan, but be careful not to eat too many egg yolks. Ebner recommends limiting them to no more than four yolks per week.