Up until the last few years, and for many decades now, eggs were vilified, mainly due to their cholesterol content. Egg whites omelets were often on the menu, and you might get a subtle look of disdain from someone who ‘knew better’ if you cooked up some fried eggs for breakfast. But times have changed, and the humble egg is now back. Is this simply a fad that will soon disappear, just like the fat-free cookie craze? Probably not. Studies are showing that eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, containing a myriad of different vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are key for optimal health. Luckily, they also taste delicious and are incredibly versatile.
Eggs are an excellent source of choline. Choline is a vitamin-like essential nutrient. Eggs are one of the only dietary sources besides liver. Choline decreases levels of homocysteine, which, when elevated, increases risk of cardiovascular disease. Choline is needed for normal brain development. (Note: Eggs are not advised for infants under one year of age due to the risk of allergies.) It is important for nerve impulse transmission. Choline is used to create certain phospholipids, which are in important part of the cell membrane. Choline also helps to protect the liver by keeping fat and cholesterol from accumulating there, thereby preventing NAFLD (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease).
Eggs are a good source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants and plant pigments that are important for eye health. They can help prevent eye conditions such as age related macular degeneration and cataracts. The levels of these antioxidants depend on the feed and whether the chickens are allowed to graze or not, which is true for many of the nutrients in eggs. Chickens that are on pasture have higher levels of these carotenoids as well as Vitamin K2.
K2 is a fairly newly discovered vitamin. It is found in eggs from pastured chickens, as well as in the fats of animals that graze on pasture and dairy from such animals, such as butter, cream, and aged cheese, as well as some fermented foods like natto. Goose liver also has high levels. (Do not confuse K2 with K1, which is found in leafy greens.) K2 is important for heart health as it helps prevent calcium deposition in soft tissues such as arteries, which can lead to plaque buildup, and helps to deposit it where we want it: in our bones and teeth. Chickens obtain K1 from the grass and greens that they eat. They also obtain beta-carotene this way, which imparts a yellow hue to the yolk. Where there is beta-carotene, there is K2. Look for eggs with dark yellow to even orange yolks to maximize their nutritional value.
Vitamins and Minerals
While eggs are not equal to a multivitamin, they do contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, many of which are deficient in people living in Westernized countries. The B vitamins are well-represented, especially biotin, which is important for healthy skin, hair, and nails, as well as fatty acid synthesis and prevention of mood conditions like depression. Eggs contain the minerals zinc, selenium, iron, phosphorous, among others. They are also a source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E, all essential for optimal health and somewhat challenging to obtain on a standard American diet.
Protein and Fat
Eggs are mostly protein and fat, roughly half and half. They are a source of high quality protein, which means they contain all of the nine essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Protein is important for all aspects of health, including building and repairing tissues, a key element in putting on lean body mass and maintaining healthy bones. Protein also helps keep us full for longer, which can help with weight loss. In terms of fat, eggs contain mostly monounsaturated fat, with some saturated and polyunsaturated fats as well. Monounsaturated fats are known to be good for the heart.
In terms of cholesterol, eggs do contain a lot. Studies are now putting the old dietary cholesterol – heart disease connection to rest. It turns out that dietary cholesterol has a limited effect on blood cholesterol in about seventy percent of the population (for those eating up to four eggs per day). While it may raise cholesterol in about thirty percent of the population, it raises both LDL and HDL. Without delving too deeply into the science of this, the ratio of LDL to HDL is thereby kept the same. The few people who may wish to watch egg consumption due to cholesterol are those who have familiar hypercholesterolemia, a genetic disorder characterized by high cholesterol levels.
Lastly, it is important to remember that eggs are one of the eight most common food allergens. It is the second most common food allergy (second to milk) in children and infants. The ovalbumin protein in the whites is the most common cause. Some people may have a sensitivity to eggs, usually due to an intolerance to an enzyme in the whites that irritates the gut and can stimulate the immune system.
In short, eggs truly are a nutritional powerhouse. Whether it be with an omelet for breakfast, an egg salad for lunch, a vegetable frittata for dinner, or baking a quiche for a dinner party, it’s time to embrace this versatile, delicious, and health-promoting food once again.
The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.