Good Egg, Bad Egg
Eggs are an amazing food, packed with many nutrients, usually inexpensive, and readily available. They are an exceptional source of several B vitamins, the micronutrients iron, iodine, and selenium, as well as potassium and phosphorus, and one of only several natural sources of vitamin D. Egg white (also called albumen) is the most excellent protein thus far identified. The choline in eggs is another strengths. This nutrient is important for nerve and artery health and is necessary for many metabolic processes. Developing fetuses in particular need it. Nine years ago, the Institute of Medicine added choline to their list of recommended nutrients.1 The American Medical Association recommended adding it to prenatal vitamins.2
Because eggs are nutrient-dense, those that are malnourished or at high risk of it stand to benefit the most from eggs. Some over age 65 are at high risk of sarcopenia, a decrease in muscle mass. This disorder increases the chances of a person falling and of developing osteoporosis, so increasing intake of protein, especially one that contains the easily digested protein such as that found in eggs, is a priority. Eggs are a good source of the vital amino acid leucine, adding to their value.3
In research done in Ecuador, babies ages six to nine months were fed one egg a day. This produced a drop in stunting by 47% and a 74% decrease in underweight. Older children that are malnourished can also benefit from eating eggs daily. But USDA data revealed that eggs made up only 1% of food expenses even though they are low cost. In the same survey, soft drinks comprised more than 9% of household food expenses. Access to fresh eggs and a lack of cooking facilities may contribute to that problem. 2
But not all the egg news is good news. Eggs were attacked for their high cholesterol level for many years. The high cholesterol content of eggs has not been found to increase significantly the blood cholesterol level (saturated fat, however, does). Still, some studies found that those with type 2 diabetes, especially men, who ate at least one egg a day were more likely to develop heart disease. Since 10% of Americans have type 2 diabetes and 30% have pre-diabetes, this isn’t a miscellaneous detail. Eating five or more eggs a week may also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Higher egg consumption could also increase the risk for aggressive prostate cancer. The authors of this article recommend that the well-nourished limit their egg consumption to four per week.4
Labels on egg cartons can be misleading. Cage-free is good for the hens but not necessarily for humans eating their eggs. Stating eggs are “hormone free” is also meaningless since all eggs are hormone-free. But the “USDA Organic” label is important. It indicates that the hens are fed an organic, vegetarian diet that is without antibiotics or pesticides.4 Eating raw eggs offers no advantages but does pose risks.1 Try to buy eggs produced locally as time and travel can lead to a decrease in some nutrients. Eggs high in omega-3 fatty acids are also a very good thing.5
Reinhard, Tonia. Super Foods the Healthiest Foods on the Planet. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, Inc., 2014.
Rains, Tia, PhD. “Eggs for the Nutritionally Vulnerable,” in Nutrition Close-up, Summer, 2017.
Smith, A. and Gray, J. “Considering the benefits of egg consumption for older people at risk of Sarcopenia,” in British Journal of Community Nursing, June, 2016, vol. 21, #6.
Liebman, Bonnie, “Unscrambling Eggs Health food or bad yolk,” in Nutrition Action Healthletter, June, 2015.
Guarneri, Mimi, M.D. The Science of Natural Healing. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2012.