Never before has the simple act of eating become more complicated. You can’t turn on the TV or surf the internet without being confronted with nutrition-related information that is often confusing at best and out-right misleading or incorrect at worst. As with all foods, misinformation about eggs abounds whether its questions about the difference between white and brown eggs, or if omega-3 fortified eggs are somehow unnatural. In this post, I’ll get to the fundamentals of egg nutrition, clear any confusion about the different types of eggs on the market, and make a case for eggs being part of your healthy eating goals.
Back to basics
If you’re looking for ways to add high quality nutrition to your diet, chances are, you don’t have to look much further than your fridge. Eggs have most likely always been part of your everyday fare because they are easy to cook with and they taste great. But what you may have forgotten is that eggs are one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
Eggs pack a decent amount of affordable, high-quality protein; six grams worth per one 53 g large egg. Not only that, egg protein is considered ‘complete’, containing an ideal balance of all of the essential amino acids needed by our bodies. Essential amino acids are those that must come from the diet because our bodies cannot make them on their own. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and protein is used to make nearly every tissue and organ: bones, skin, hair, the digestive tract, enzymes, blood cells, antibodies, other immune cells and more!
Plus, with 14 essential nutrients, including choline, and only 70 calories per large egg, eggs provide a lot of nutritional bang for their buck. They provide the vitamins and minerals needed for normal growth, development and repair and they promote good health. Eggs also contain the carotenoid lutein which has been shown to reduce the risk for macular degeneration, the leading cause of preventable blindness in those 50 and older.
During the anti-fat/low-fat movement of the past few decades, many nutritious foods were unfairly given a bad rap including eggs. Because blood cholesterol is one of many possible risk factors for cardiovascular disease, it was naively thought that foods which naturally contain cholesterol should be avoided as a way to keep levels of blood cholesterol low. However, it’s long been known that the cholesterol in food has no meaningful impact on blood cholesterol because our livers produce all of the cholesterol that our bodies need to stay healthy. Cholesterol is needed to produce vitamin D, several hormones including estrogen and testosterone; it nourishes our brains and is part of our cell membranes. The latest 2016 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that cholesterol in foods is no longer a nutrient of concern. It’s worth noting that Health Canada has long acknowledged the same and it’s now known that more than any one single nutrient, it’s the total diet, and the sum of all of our food choices, that matters most when it comes to both overall and cardiovascular health. Eating a wide variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense, whole foods is the key to long term excellent health and eggs can be part of that strategy.
Types of eggs, what’s in a name?
A lot of the confusion around eggs centers on the different types of eggs in the market place and you may find yourself wondering why there is so much choice. People buy different types of eggs for different reasons that fit with their lifestyle, values and needs. Put simply, consumers today want more choice and eggs farmers have responded using a variety of farming methods to provide that choice. Despite the different types of eggs that are available for purchase, ultimately, all eggs are nutritious and healthy.
It all begins with the hen’s feed
What a hen eats changes the nutritional content of the egg. Changing the feed and feeding conditions will alter the nutritional content of the egg to some degree as hens easily transfer what they eat, omega-3 fats from flax seeds for example, to their eggs. Most commercial egg-laying hens in Canada are fed a balanced diet with similar feed components which primarily consists of corn, wheat, and soybean meal, along with smaller amounts of other grains, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
There will always be some expected minor variation in the nutritional content of eggs, such as the amount of a particular vitamin or mineral, even when hens are given the same feed. This is the case with all foods; apples grown in the same orchid will have varying amounts of vitamin C for example. Differences in the nutrient profile may happen more so with pasture-raised or free-range eggs because hens that produce these eggs are given access to the outdoors, weather and environmental conditions permitting. When outside, they’re free to peck at the grass, bugs, worms, and other natural elements they might scavenge off of the ground. This variation in a hen’s diet will marginally change the nutritional composition of their eggs more so than those hens eating standardized feed.
Do any of these nutritional variations matter?
While there will be some variation with pasture-raised and free-range eggs, these differences are not considered significant from a nutritional point of view. Why? Because focusing on the amount of a single nutrient in a given food misses the mark. Keeping the big picture in mind, it’s the total amount of nutrients that person gets over the long run that’s important and not what they get from one food, or one meal, for that matter. Like adding up items in a ledger, all eggs, regardless of how they’re produced, will help your nutritional bottom line.
In Part 2 of this post, I will cover the different types of eggs on the market and help you to make sense of the different types: organic vs. free range vs. Prestige and more