Heart Health

Updated 27 September 2016

At risk of heart disease? You can safely eat six eggs a week

New research indicates that the cholesterol in egg yolks does not increase our risk for heart disease nearly as much as we've been led to believe.

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For the last forty years we’ve been taught that eggs were bad news for blood cholesterol and our heart, and many frightened consumers have been limiting themselves to no more than one egg a week.

While eggs are undoubtedly high in cholesterol (about 186 mg per egg), it is no longer taken for granted that the cholesterol in eggs is bad for our health.

Up to 14 eggs a week!

In a 2013 article Health24’s DietDoc (now retired) mentions a South African study into eggs and heart disease that was conducted by leading nutrition researchers at the then University of Potchefstroom in 1992. They investigated the effect of eating three to 14 eggs per week on biochemical risk markers of coronary heart disease in 70 young men who also ate a high-fat diet.

In the study, all the participants first ate three eggs per week for two months in the run-in phase. During the five month experimental phase the control subjects continued to eat three eggs per week, while the two experimental groups of subjects ate either seven or 14 eggs per week.

Read: Egg-static about eggs?

None of the risk markers for heart disease such as lipoprotein in the blood or coagulation factors were different in the control and the two egg-eating experimental groups. The authors of the study recommended that dietary advice to prevent cardiovascular disease, should emphasise reducing total fat intake, rather than to concentrate only on dietary cholesterol intake in general, and eggs in particular.

New Zealand Heart Foundation agrees

In January 2016 the New Zealand Heart Foundation (NZHF) issued a paper Eggs and the Heart which turned out to be very good news for egg consumers and the egg industry.

Read: An egg a day to keep allergies away

In the paper the NZHF recommends that people who are at risk of heart disease can now eat up to six eggs per week instead of the previously recommended three. What’s even more interesting is that they place no restriction on egg consumption on the general population.

Findings

  • The paper concluded that eggs can be part of a heart-healthy diet and are a good source of protein, carotenoids, vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium and choline.
  • Saturated fatty acids have a greater effect on blood cholesterol levels (and subsequent risk of heart disease) than the cholesterol in egg yolks.
  • According to NZHF research, overall evidence for the effect of eggs on blood cholesterol or on those at risk of heart disease is inconsistent and many of the studies reviewed had strong limitations.
  • The weight of evidence suggests eggs have only a very small effect on blood cholesterol levels, especially at normal levels of intake.
  • The evidence of an association between dietary cholesterol and heart disease is not strong enough to warrant current egg intake recommendations of three a week.  
  • Even when taking into account the reaction of hyper-responders to dietary cholesterol (e.g. type 2 diabetics), the increases in blood cholesterol were still small.

Recommendations

The Heart Foundation recommends that people who are at increased risk for heart disease (incl. type 2 diabetics) can safely eat up to six eggs per week.

Read: Eggs may up diabetes risk

Generally healthy members of the population need not restrict their egg intake, but should rather concentrate on healthy eating habits.

Care should be taken to reduce unhealthy foods generally eaten with eggs like bacon and sausages, refined white bread and butter and large amounts of salt. Fruit, vegetables and whole grains are recommended, as well as sources of healthy fats like nuts, seeds and oily fish. 

Read more:

Eggs are not a health risk

10 health benefits of eggs

Free-range eggs no better in nutrition  

References:

New Zealand Heart Foundation: Eggs and the Heart. http://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/uploads/Eggs_position_statement_final.pdf

Health24: Eggs, healthy or not? http://www.health24.com/Diet-and-nutrition/Nutrition-basics/Eggs-healthy-or-not-20130210

Flora Force: The Truth About Eggs and Cholesterol. http://www.floraforce.co.za/eggs-and-cholesterol/