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A healthy approach to prevent and manage diabetes: How eggs fit in

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes, you may be wondering if eggs are ok to include in a healthy diet. Two studies recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1,2 aimed to help answer this question. Their findings add to the evidence that eggs can be enjoyed as part of a healthy eating pattern to help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes.

The first research study compared the effects of consuming a diet that was relatively high in eggs to one that was low in eggs.1 Researchers randomly assigned 140 overweight adults with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes to one of the two diet groups. Participants were instructed on the types and amounts of foods to consume as part of a 3-month weight maintenance study.

Those assigned to the “high-egg” diet group were instructed to eat 2 eggs daily, 6 days a week; whereas, those in the “low-egg” diet group were told to eat less than 2 eggs per week. Researchers found no significant differences in blood sugar control or blood lipid levels (including total-, LDL- and HDL- cholesterol and triglyceride levels) between the two groups.

The “high-egg” diet group reported less hunger and greater satiety (the feeling of fullness) after the breakfast meal, even though the total protein content of the two diet groups was matched. Researchers concluded that high egg consumption had no adverse effects in the context of a healthy diet higher in healthy fats. In fact, they note this study suggests a high-egg diet can safely be part of the dietary management of type 2 diabetes, and that eggs may help provide greater satiety.

These results add to other clinical trials, which have also shown that eggs can be a regular part of healthy diets to help people with or at risk of type 2 diabetes lose weight and improve blood sugar and blood lipids.3-6

The second study, which came out of Finland, found that higher egg intake was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in middle-age to older men.2 In this population study, 2,332 Finnish men who were 42-60 years old and free of diabetes at the start of the study were followed for an average of 19 years.

The study found that men with the highest egg intake had a 38% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those with the lowest egg intake.2 It also showed that men who ate more eggs had lower fasting blood glucose (a marker of blood sugar control used to help diagnose pre-diabetes and diabetes) and lower c-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation linked with a lower risk of heart disease).

It is well-recognized that type 2 diabetes increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, and some observational studies7-9 have raised concerns about higher egg consumption and cardiovascular disease risk in people with diabetes. However, the evidence highlighted here1-6 suggests that even people with or at risk of diabetes can enjoy eggs in moderation as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle to manage their risk factors for both diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The Canadian Diabetes Association guidelines emphasize that the most effective strategies for reducing the risk of diabetes include weight loss, physical activity and moderate alcohol intake.10 In overweight individuals, losing just 5 – 10% of initial body weight can help improve some of the factors associated with increased risk of diabetes, including blood sugar control, blood pressure and blood cholesterol. If you have diabetes, the guidelines recommend that you consult a Registered Dietitian to help lower your blood sugar levels.

The Association also recommends balancing your plate by filling half with vegetables and fruit, one quarter with grains and starches and one quarter with meat and alternatives, such as eggs. Eggs are an excellent source of protein that is rich in many essential nutrients and a good choice to balance out your meal to help control blood sugar levels and to help manage your appetite.

¹ Fuller NR et al. The effect of a high-egg diet on cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) study – a 3-month randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr, 2015; 101(4):705-713.
² Virtanen JK et al. Egg consumption and risk of incident type 2 diabetes in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr, 2015; 101(5):1088-1096.
³ Pearce KL et al. Egg consumption as part of an energy-restricted high-protein diet improves blood lipid and blood glucose profiles in individuals with type 2 diabetes.  Br J Nutr 2011; 105: 585-592.
⁴ Jönsson T et al. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovascular Diabetology 2009; 8(35).
⁵ Jönsson T et al. Subjective satiety and other experiences of a Paleolithic diet compared to a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutr J 2013; 12(1):105.
⁶ Lindeberg S et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia 2007; 50(9):1795-1807.
⁷ Hu FB et al. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA 1999; 281: 1387-1394.
⁸ Shin JY et al. Egg consumption in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2013; 98(1):146-159.
⁹ Rong Y et al. Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ 2013; 346:e8539
¹⁰ Canadian Diabetes Association Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee. Canadian Diabetes Association 2013 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada. Can J Diabetes 2013; 37(suppl 1):S1-S212.