In 1968 the American Heart Association announced a dietary recommendation that you should eat no more than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day and no more than three whole eggs a week. It took a while to bite in Australia, but consumption of eggs fell dramatically between 1979 and 1985. By the end of the 1990s, Australians’ egg consumption had declined to 137 eggs per capita per year (as compared to around 255 in the late ‘40s). We were also eating less red meat, sugar and fats and more chicken, fish and vegetables.
However, in 2006 the Australian Heart Foundation did what the Australian Women’s Weekly called an “egg flip”. New research had indicated that eating eggs had very little, if any, effect on blood cholesterol. Eggs subsequently gained the Foundation’s tick of approval. They say that it’s your intake of saturated or transfats that mostly raise your cholesterol levels. The Heart Foundation recommends, however, that you skip the butter and the bacon and use wholegrain bread, or eat your eggs with vegetables or mushrooms.
As a result of this change of (ahem) heart, egg consumption began to rise again. It was reported in 2012 that egg consumption had surged, with an increase of 51 per cent since the year 2000. At that point, Australians were eating an average of 213 eggs each per year (although still behind the Mexicans and the Japanese, with 365 and 324 per person per year respectively).
In the year ending June 2018, this climbed even further, with Aussies eating an average of 245 eggs a year each. In December 2017 alone we bought 7.7 million of them a day. Good Food attributed the growth in egg sales partly to their relative affordability in tougher economic times, with high household debt and weak wage growth. One could also speculate that the explosion in café breakfasts, with most offerings including eggs, might be a factor.
However, we can’t relax. The debate still rages about eggs and cholesterol. “Cancel the cheese omelet” wrote Science Daily in March 2019. A new review looking at data from studies following nearly 30,000 American adults for up 31 years concluded that dietary cholesterol was a bad thing after all.
It found that eating 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day was associated with 17 per cent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and that eating three to four eggs per week was associated with a 6 per cent higher risk of these diseases. And both were associated with a higher chance of early death. This flies in the face of previous studies which found little link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. It looks like the answer is, as always, moderation in all things – including eggs.