Scientists, farmers, and food manufacturers have found ways to change the nutrient composition of eggs. Are these new-fangled eggs better for you than regular eggs?
A quick glance at the egg section of most large supermarkets gives consumers several choices. In addition to the standard white and brown eggs, you can buy eggs that are cage-free or organic. Plus, you can choose ones that have increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids. You can also choose from a variety of egg-substitute products, most of which are refrigerated or frozen and packaged for easy use.
Consumers are buying eggs in record numbers—a far cry from egg consumption during the 1980s when consumers were taught to avoid eggs and, in particular, egg yolks. There are three reasons for this recent surge in popularity. The first is current research indicating that moderate egg consumption can be part of a healthful, low-fat eating plan. The second reason is that we are eating more processed foods that require eggs. And third is the popularity of both high-protein and vegetarian-based diets.
The standard egg is an economical source of nutrition. Eggs contain many essential vitamins and minerals needed by humans, including zinc, iron, folate, vitamins A, E, and B complex—all this for only 70 calories! Egg protein is of such high quality that it is the standard reference for comparing the protein content of other foods. Current nutrient analyses suggest that the cholesterol content of an average egg is about 185 mg, rather than the previously estimated 274 mg. All of this cholesterol is contained in the yolk part of the egg. The American Heart Association (AHA) continues to recommend that people limit their cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day
Nature delivers eggs in two colors—white and brown. Contrary to popular thinking, brown eggs are neither organic nor different in nutrition from white eggs. The breed of the hen determines the shell color. Breeds with white feathers and ear lobes lay white eggs. Hens with red feathers and ear lobes lay brown eggs.
Hens are typically caged in modern facilities with controlled temperatures, humidity, light, and air circulation. American birds are fed hormone-free, high-quality feed with automatic feeders. Fresh water is provided through self-cleaning cups and valves.
Because some consumers are opposed to this type of confinement, options such as cage-free and range-free eggs are available. These types of eggs have the same nutrient composition as the standard egg.
During the past several years, scientists and egg producers have joined together to produce specialty or so-called designer eggs. According to the Egg Nutrition Center, an industry research group, these specialty eggs account for a growing percentage of market sales.
One such egg is the high omega-3 egg. Hens are fed a special oil that accumulates in the egg yolk, increasing the omega 3-fatty acids, while decreasing the saturated fat. Retail omega-3 fatty acid eggs contain 3-4 times the content of the standard egg. As a bonus, these eggs also have higher amounts of vitamin E.
Some scientists and nutritionists see these designer eggs as a realistic way to help Americans eat more omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Egg substitutes are another type of specialty egg. These liquid egg products are cholesterol-free, because they're made from only egg whites. The yolk is typically replaced with other ingredients, such as vegetable oil, emulsifiers, stabilizers, gums, and artificial colors, and then the product is fortified with vitamins and minerals. Egg substitutes have the added advantage of being pasteurized. This means you can use them safely in recipes that traditionally call for raw eggs, such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, eggnog, and pastry filling, without being concerned about bacteria, which can result from eating undercooked eggs. Another option for lower-cholesterol egg is to use two egg whites, or one egg white plus two teaspoons of unsaturated oil, to replace a whole egg in cooking.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf. Accessed May 29, 2015.
Egg facts and fun. American Egg Board website. Available at: http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/eggcyclopedia/p/production. Accessed May 29, 2015.
Egg industry fact sheets. American Egg Board website. Available at: http://www.aeb.org/farmers-and-marketers/industry-overview. Accessed May 29, 2015.
Health-saving ingredient substitutions. Fremont Area Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.famc.org/body.cfm?id=555696. Accessed May 29, 2015.
Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, et al. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA. 1999;281(15):1387-1394.
Omega-3 extra large eggs. Organic Valley website. Available at: http://www.organicvalley.coop/?id=147. Accessed May 29, 2015.
Registered dietitian/nutrition. American Egg Board website. Available at: http://www.aeb.org/retail/registered-dietitian-nutrition. Accessed May 29, 2015.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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