Eggs – friend or foe?

Eggs – they are a food that seems to have people confused, especially those at increased risk of heart disease. So, in an ‘eggshell’ are they good for us or not?

Angela Berrill

Angela Berrill

National Nutrition Advisor

As a registered dietitian, I am passionate about educating people about the importance of health and nutrition. I believe in finding ways for people to enjoy food while also nurturing their bodies.

Much of the confusion around eggs has stemmed from the fact that egg yolks contain cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that's a type of lipid. It forms part of cell membranes and is used in the formation of brain and nerve cells, bile acids, preformed Vitamin D and hormones.

There are two types of cholesterol. The first is made by our bodies or recycled by our liver – blood cholesterol. The second is called dietary cholesterol which is found in the foods that we eat. While some cholesterol in our body is essential, the type and amount of cholesterol in our blood correlates with heart disease risk. Yes, egg yolks are high in cholesterol and are a major source of dietary cholesterol. However, we now know it is saturated fatty acids that have a greater effect on blood cholesterol levels and, therefore, heart disease risk.

Previously, the New Zealand Heart Foundation recommended that people at high risk of heart disease limit egg intake to three eggs per week. However, since the Heart Foundation’s original position paper was published in 1999, most organisations* around the world have relaxed their advice on eggs. This has been based on the current available scientific evidence.

In line with this, the Heart Foundation last year commissioned an independent scientific report titled ‘Eggs and the Heart’ (PDF) which was issued in January this year. Based on current evidence, the Heart Foundation is now recommending (PDF) that New Zealanders at increased risk of heart disease can eat up to six eggs per week, as part of a heart-healthy diet. This amount is unlikely to have any substantive influence on their risk of developing heart disease.

The general healthy population can eat eggs as part of a heart healthy dietary pattern. There are more important changes people should be focusing on such as increasing vegetable intake, eating more whole and less-processed foods and further reducing saturated fat intake, rather than restricting egg intake.

Eggs are a nutritious whole food which are an inexpensive source of protein and contain other nutrients such as carotenoids, vitamin D, B12, selenium and choline. When eating eggs, it is also important to pay special attention to the foods you eat alongside them such as, white bread, butter, salt, and/or processed meats like bacon or sausages, which are not so good for our hearts.

A heart-healthy dietary pattern is based largely on minimally processed foods and is high in vegetables and fruit. It also includes some whole grains (in place of refined grains), legumes, nuts, seeds and other sources of healthy fats such as oily fish, and can contain non-processed meats or poultry and/or dairy.

*Other organisations to have relaxed their recommendations on eggs include the Australian Heart Foundation, British Heart Foundation and American Heart Association. Also, the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans have removed dietary cholesterol as a cause of concern for overconsumption. 

Still confused about eggs? Download a copy of our Eggs Q and As

Eggs and cholesterol Q and A