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The NZ Heart Foundation announced it is relaxing its recommended limit on eggs for people at increased risk of heart disease. 

Recent evidence suggests the previous restriction of three eggs per week is not necessary. Since the Heart Foundation’s original position paper on eggs was published in 1999, more research has been carried out and most organisations* around the world have relaxed their advice on eggs. In line with this, the Heart Foundation last year commissioned an independent scientific report titled ‘Eggs and the Heart’, which was issued in January this year. 

Based on a thorough review of the existing research, the overall evidence for the effect of eggs on blood cholesterol has been deemed inconsistent. Furthermore, there are strong limitations to many of the studies, including differences in findings between various types of studies, plus a high level of industry-funded research. 

Angela Berrill, National Nutrition Advisor for the Heart Foundation, says although egg yolks are high in dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol in food), the weight of evidence suggests eggs have only a very small effect on our blood cholesterol levels. This is especially true in terms of the amounts Kiwis normally eat.

“While the evidence is not clear enough to say there is no association between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, it is also not strong enough to continue previous recommendations which limited egg intake to three per week.” Angela says eggs are an inexpensive source of protein and offer other nutrients such as carotenoids, vitamin D, B12, selenium and choline.

Based on current evidence, the Heart Foundation is making a prudent recommendation that New Zealanders who are 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 heart disease.

While this is good news for egg lovers, Angela says care should still be taken with the company eggs keep. “It is important to pay special attention to the foods you eat alongside your eggs. Many people like to pair their eggs with refined white bread, butter, salt, or processed meats like bacon or sausages, which are not so good for our hearts.”

For the general healthy population, eggs can be included as part of a heart-healthy eating pattern, Angela says. “There are more important changes people should be focusing on, such as increasing vegetable intake, eating more whole and less- processed foods and reducing saturated fat intake, rather than restricting egg intake.”

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. 

For a copy of The Heart Foundations latest Position Paper click here.

*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.