We can eat them every day, says science and nutritionists - but many New Zealanders don't know that.

There's an old saying that you need to break a few eggs to make an omelette, meaning that to achieve something some damage may be sustained in the process.

These days, you need to break a few myths to crack an egg.

That's because in the often bewildering flow of information that comes to us regarding nutrition and health, one of the longest-lived myths has been the link between eggs, bad cholesterol and heart disease.

Sarah Hanrahan, dietitian for the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, says science has since proved that to be false; people can eat eggs every day without fear of affecting their health, she says, yet the decades-old legacy lingers.

Advertisement

The Heart Foundation, the Ministry of Health and the Nutrition Foundation have all given eggs a big tick for nutrition, protein and vitamins – and the cholesterol link has been clarified. Eggs contain some cholesterol but science has proven there is little connection between dietary cholesterol (found in egg yolks) and blood cholesterol (made by the liver), the latter associated with heart disease.

"You can eat eggs every day," says Hanrahan, "but it is really weird how the perception that you can't has stuck around.

"I guess it's quite a powerful thing to be told you have to count and limit what you eat – and people tend to react and remember when things are quite specific like that.

"That's particularly so when food and nutrition throw up so many trends and new diets that come and go. There's paleo, fasting, the blood type diet, juice cleanses and so on. When there is so much like that coming at you all the time, food can seem confusing and people lose sight of the fact you can eat eggs every day."

Not only does the Nutrition Foundation give eggs a clean bill of health and a recommendation to enjoy them regularly, so does the Ministry of Health, the Heart Foundation and a whole raft of overseas research studies.

From the Ministry of Health: "Eggs are a healthy, natural whole food that the New Zealand Ministry of Health Eating and Activity Guidelines state can be enjoyed by most people every day of the week".

From the Heart Foundation, who say those at risk of heart disease can eat 6-7 eggs a week and whose 2016 independent review on eggs remains the latest word on eggs and health: "Eggs are a nutritious whole food that can be part of a heart-healthy dietary pattern. They are an inexpensive source of protein and other nutrients such as carotenoids, vitamin D, B12, selenium and choline.

"While egg yolks are high in cholesterol and are a major source of dietary cholesterol, it is saturated fatty acids that have a greater effect on blood cholesterol levels and, therefore, your risk of heart disease."

A medium egg contains about 4 grams of fat – roughly 1g saturated and 2g unsaturated. To be called "low fat", a food must technically have less than 3g of saturated fat, she says, with pre-cooked sausages containing 8g, edam cheese 16g and a lean sirloin steak 4g.

Protein is another big plus for eggs. Hanrahan says they are a complete natural protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids needed for healthy body functions. For their weight, eggs provide the highest quality protein of all foods, are highly digestible and give a fuller feeling for longer, helping weight management.

"We now know too that, for seniors, it is important to have protein distributed evenly throughout the day – not just one meal. Eggs are perfect for that, easy to prepare, and a great example of whole foods versus processed foods.

"That's the thing – if you were to ask me what one of our biggest nutritional problems are in this country, I'd say it is that people think healthy eating is challenging because of the cost and because we are so often persuaded by heavily processed, cheaper options often high in sugar, salt and many other additives.

"Eggs are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and protein and they contain Omega 3 and antioxidants. They come in their own packaging and they are so affordable – but that is not what many people see or think when they are wheeling their trolley round the supermarket."

That the myth about eggs and heart disease endures is shown by research done last year by Colmar Brunton – which shows that only 41 per cent of adult Kiwis know we can eat eggs every day. That figure falls to 32 per cent for over-60s, the people who most need affordable, healthy protein but also the age group who would have been most exposed to the historic messages.

Hanrahan says the way you eat eggs is important too: "I think it's best nutritionally if you use the whole egg. It's good to have it as an ingredient too but simple things work well. So put an egg on top of leftovers, cook a boiled egg, have baked beans on toast with an egg and omelettes – also good because they help you to have a serving of vegetables you may not otherwise have had."