Eggs are one of the most popular breakfast foods around the world, but a new study suggests eating them frequently could be associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes. But before you go and toss out that carton of organic, omega-3 enriched brown eggs, it's important you understand the context of the study.
Here's what you need to know. Researchers looked at the significant increase in egg consumption in China, which also happens to be occurring at the same time as a sharp spike in type 2 diabetes diagnoses. And in results published in the British Journal of Nutrition, they suggested there may be a link between the two.
"Over the past few decades, China has undergone a substantial nutritional transition that's seen many people move away from a traditional diet comprising grains and vegetables, to a more processed diet that includes greater amounts of meat, snacks, and energy-dense food," said epidemiologist and researcher Ming Li, Ph.D., of the University of South Australia in a statement. "At the same time, egg consumption has also been steadily increasing; from 1991 to 2009, the number of people eating eggs in China nearly doubled."
Within that same time period, the diabetes rate has increased steadily as well. When examining dietary reports from about 8,500 participants, they found that those who ate one or more eggs daily increased diabetes risk by 60%. (Related: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)
One important note about this research is that it shows correlation, not causation. What does this mean, exactly? While researchers see an association between egg consumption and a rise in diabetes prevalence occurring at the same time, they can't prove a direct link between the two. That said, this isn't the first time eggs have gotten scrutiny in a nutritional study exploring diabetes.
A study published in 2009 in Diabetes Care that examined data from over 56,000 people in ongoing health research trials also found there was a strong association between high levels of daily egg consumption and increased risk of type 2 diabetes in both men and women.
In that particular study, researchers noted that this might happen because the dietary cholesterol found in eggs could be raising blood glucose (sugar) levels. When those remain elevated, it can increase the risk of insulin resistance and lead to a higher risk of developing prediabetes or diabetes. (Related: What Your Diet Should Look Like If You Have Gestational Diabetes, According to an RD.)
However, both in that study and the most recent one, researchers added that eggs do have nutritional benefits, including protein, vitamin B2, and minerals like zinc and iron. So, perhaps like so many types of foods, the key here is not elimination, but moderation instead.
Consider eating two eggs for breakfast twice a week instead of an egg (or two) every morning, for example. And, for more advice and tips on foods to eat in moderation—or to steer clear of altogether—be sure to read 50 Worst Foods for Diabetes.