Nutrition and diabetes go hand in hand, which means the foods you once gobbled up without a second thought may now require closer inspection.
At breakfast time (and sometimes lunch and dinner), the egg is king. We love eggs fried, scrambled, poached, on burgers, in ramen, and (for the fearless) with a side of ketchup.
But with conflicting research about the nutritional impact of eggs — especially for people with diabetes — it’s hard to know if this yolk-y delight deserves a leading spot on your menu.
The short answer: Yes, you can eat eggs! But you need to do it the right way. Here’s what we know about eating eggs when you have diabetes.
First things first: The American Diabetes Association gives eggs a big ol’ thumbs-up since they’re high in protein, healthy fats, and nutrients while being low in carbohydrates.
One large egg has roughly half a gram of carbs, 6.3 grams of protein, and a mix of vitamins, as well as omega-3s.
“Eggs are a whole food in the sense that they have many nutrients and are low in calories for the amount of nutrients they offer,” says Sandra Arevalo Valencia, MPH, RDN, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
“Eggs are rich in protein; vitamin A, E, B-6, B-12; and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron and copper,” she says.
Here’s the nutritional breakdown of one large egg:
- 72 calories
- 4.75 g fat
- 1.56 g saturated fat
- 186 mg cholesterol
- 71 mg sodium
- 0.36 g carbohydrate
- 0 g fiber
- 0.16 g sugar
- 6.28 g protein
The verdict? “Eggs don’t need to be taken off your shopping list when you have diabetes,” says Arevalo Valencia. Just enjoy in moderation.
“The protein and fat in eggs helps to control blood sugars,” says Arevalo Valencia.
And we’ve got the science to prove it. According to a 2019 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating eggs for breakfast can help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels throughout the day.
The study found that eating a low-carbohydrate, higher-fat breakfast (study participants ate omelets) prevented blood sugar spikes after breakfast and lowered overall glucose exposure while improving the stability of glucose readings for 24 hours. Impressive, no?
Also, on the prevention side of things, one study found little to no correlation between egg consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes.
As previously mentioned, eggs are high in cholesterol.
“Eggs can provide about 60 percent of the daily needs for cholesterol,” says Arevalo Valencia. “When you have high cholesterol, it is best to watch the amount of eggs you eat.”
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Unfortunately, a breakfast of two large eggs already tops that limit.
We’re not fans of excess dietary cholesterol because it’s linked to a greater risk of heart disease. However (because science loves to confuse us), recent research has found that the nutrients in eggs can offset all that cholesterol.
One study even suggests that eggs may be beneficial because they raise levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, which is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Arevalo Valencia says balance is key. “The research is still young, so I prefer to be cautious. I recommend my patients eat no more than two whole eggs every other day or no more than five per week.”
So there you have it: No need to scrap your Sunday brunch just yet!
And let’s not forget a favorite egg substitute: egg whites. You should consider them a tool for satisfying an egg craving when you’ve already topped your five-per-week limit.
“If you like to eat just the egg whites, that is great because you are taking away all the cholesterol, which is in the yolk,” says Arevalo Valencia.
“However, by taking the yolk out you are also reducing a significant amount of vitamins. What I prefer to do is to eat one whole egg and then add the egg white of another egg for extra protein.”
It’s all about compromise, which is why we also found some deliciously healthy egg recipes to get you through the week.
When that egg craving hits, Arevalo Valencia makes a classic Spanish omelet.
Scramble one egg and one egg white with sautéed diced vegetables, such as onion, tomato, bell pepper, spinach, mushrooms, and asparagus. Serve with whole-wheat toast for a delicious diabetes-friendly meal.
We’re also fans of:
- egg muffins with spinach
- creative omelets
- hard-boiled eggs (but way different than you’ve ever had ’em!)
- eggs for dinner
The short version
- If you have diabetes, eggs can be a great addition to your diet to help manage your blood sugar.
- When eating carbohydrates, pair them with protein and healthy fat to help slow down the absorption of sugars in your blood.
- Stick to eating one or two eggs per day, but try not to exceed five per week. If you’ve got a daily hankering for eggs, try scrambling one whole egg with one egg white to limit cholesterol intake.
- Keep a healthcare provider in the loop and monitor your daily numbers (blood sugar, carb intake, etc.). A registered dietitian can help you learn which foods (and how much of them) to eat based on your health profile.