How eggs benefit older people
If you've been limiting your egg intake because of fears it will raise your cholesterol levels – think again.
Far from being bad for you, eating eggs as part of a balanced, healthy diet is considered one of the best things older Kiwis can do, and according to New Zealand Nutrition Foundation dietitian, Sarah Hanrahan, they are "a really good everyday food."
She says a lot of study has gone into eggs since the 1970s: "The weight of opinion now is there is absolutely no harm in an egg a day for most people and as we age we should all really make sure we are including and enjoying eggs as part of our normal daily diet."
A 2014 foundation study, The Role of Eggs in the Diet of New Zealanders, reviewed scientific and medical research across the world and found little evidence to suggest eggs, a food rich in dietary cholesterol, but low in saturated fat, lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Eggs bad reputation can be traced back to a Framington Heart Study in Massachusetts in the 1940s which zeroed in on the link between cholesterol and heart health.
"In the 1970s the advice was to limit eggs in your diet if you had raised blood cholesterol levels as egg yolks contain cholesterol," says Hanrahan. "So it wasn't such a leap to assume dietary cholesterol raised blood cholesterol."
Researchers at that time didn't understand consuming cholesterol in food is not the cause of high blood cholesterol - and today attention has shifted to the influence of saturated and trans fats on heart health.
The New Zealand Heart Foundation states that for people with an increased risk of heart disease it's prudent to limit the number of eggs to six or seven per week.
The foundation says if people do have high cholesterol (which may lead to a build-up of plaque in the blood vessels and increase the chances of having a heart attack or stroke), it isn't from eating too many eggs; genetics, weight, fitness and a poor diet are probably other key factors.
There are many compelling reasons why a healthy senior should pack a carton of eggs into their weekly supermarket trolley.
"Our protein requirements increase with age – and eating eggs is a very easy and simple way to get what we need daily without too much fuss," says Hanrahan.
Eggs also contain choline, a macronutrient that's important for liver function, normal brain development, nerve function, muscle movement, maintaining a healthy metabolism - and play an important part in maintaining muscle-mass as people age.
While muscle loss, or sarcopenia, is a natural part of growing older, it accelerates after 30 – when people begin to lose as much as 3 to 5 per cent each decade; muscle strength also declines by 12 to 15 per cent per decade.
"We know older people have their best chance of maintaining muscle mass if they consume protein distributed throughout the day rather than just at their main meal," says Hanrahan. "This also helps maintain energy levels too."
"Eggs are a good way to include protein in lighter meals like breakfast and lunch, and may also be doing some good for your eyes as they contain nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin which appear to help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
"Poached, boiled, scrambled, fried in a smudge of oil, added to pasta, or in a basic frittata using leftovers they add an easy and nutritious hit. They are an affordable and highly nutritious food – there's no excuse not to eat well if you have eggs in your pantry or fridge."
What is her favourite egg dish? "While I really like poached egg and baked beans on toast, one of my absolute favourites is boiled eggs in the middle of meatloaf," she says. "It looks stunning, tastes fabulous and everyone eats it, so there is no waste."