Eggs: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and More
Eggs are packed full of beneficial nutrients. They are a great source of high-quality protein, healthy fats, and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D, choline, and iodine, some of which are hard to get from other food sources.
The protein in eggs is considered high quality because it supplies all nine essential amino acids. Essential nutrients are something our bodies cannot produce and we must obtain from food. Amino acids are building blocks used by our bodies to create proteins and perform other important functions.
Here are all the reasons why nutritious eggs should be included in a healthy diet.
- Energy: 74 calories
- Protein: 6.3 grams (g)
- Total Fat: 4.4 g of which 1.6 g (35%) is saturated fat
- Choline: 169 mg or 35% of the daily value (DV)
- Vitamin B12: 0.55 mcg or 23% of the DV
- Vitamin D: 44 IU or 7% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 260 IU or 8% of the DV
- Iodine: 27 mcg or 18% of the DV
- Cholesterol: 165 mg or 55% of the DV
The protein in eggs is found in both the egg white and in the yolk. The majority of the vitamins, minerals, fat, and cholesterol are concentrated in the yolk.
For many years we were told to avoid egg yolks because of their high cholesterol content. However, we were missing out on many valuable nutrients by eating only the egg white.
Recent research has proven that the cholesterol in eggs does not adversely affect our health. Here is why.
Cholesterol Content Controversy
Two whole eggs provide more than 100% of the total RDI of cholesterol. It was thought that a diet high in cholesterol translated into high levels of blood cholesterol which is linked with heart disease and risk of heart attack and stroke.
We now understand that our body is able to produce cholesterol on its own. Much of the cholesterol we eat does not get absorbed.
Research has shown that in 75% of healthy people eggs have no effect on blood cholesterol levels. The other 25%, called hyper-responders, may see their LDL levels go up by a small amount, but HDL levels also increase.
In healthy populations, the evidence shows that cholesterol from eggs does not increase the risk of heart disease (1). Experts suggest eating an average of one egg per day or breaking this up to eat two or three eggs a couple of times per week.
National guidelines in the United States have recently been changed to reflect this new way of thinking about cholesterol. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) officially removed the recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day (2).
The DGA continues to emphasize limiting the intake of cholesterol-containing foods. This is because many foods that are high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fat and added sugar, nutrients that are generally over consumed have a proven history of causing chronic health problems.
What Are the Benefits of Eating Eggs?
Now that we know they are not a risk to our long term health, let’s focus on the health benefits associated with regular consumption of eggs. Eggs have been linked with improved brain health, weight loss, improved blood cholesterol levels, and the prevention and reversal of age-related eye diseases.
Here are eight reasons why you should consider making eggs a part of your regular diet.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3’s have been shown to help prevent heart disease and play a role in improving brain health. Eggs naturally contain a small amount of omega 3s. However, when flax seeds or fish oil are added to a hen’s feed the omega 3 fatty acid content increases significantly.
A study compared the omega 3 content of conventional, organic, and omega 3 eggs. They found that conventional and organic eggs had about the same omega 3 levels. Omega 3 eggs had five times more omega 3 fats including twice as much DHA when compared to the conventional or organic eggs (3).
Omega 3 eggs can help boost your intake of these valuable healthy fats.
Support a Healthy Brain
Eggs are an excellent source of choline, an under-consumed nutrient that is essential for brain health, metabolism, muscle control, and other nervous system functions. Recent research has found that people who eat foods rich in choline are at a lower risk of dementia and long term cognitive decline (4). One egg contains 35% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of choline.
Eggs are a good source of the mineral iodine. Iodine is essential for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland which plays a role in growth, development, and metabolism in our body. One egg provides 18% of the RDI of iodine. Other major sources of iodine in our diet include seafood and dairy products.
Food Source of Vitamin D
Eggs are one of the few food sources of vitamin D in our diets. One whole egg contains about 7% of the RDI of vitamin D. Like most other egg nutrients all of the vitamin D in eggs is found in the yolk.
Many nutrients found in eggs have been shown to be healthy for your eyes. These include vitamin A, zinc, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
Carotenoids are compounds that naturally provide color to foods and have been shown to have biological activity in our bodies. Common carotenoids in our diet include beta carotene in carrots and lycopene in tomatoes.
Lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown to help prevent or treat age-related macular degeneration when consumed on a regular basis. A diet full of carotenoids containing fruits, vegetables, and eggs has also been linked with other favorable health benefits including improved cognitive performance (5).
May Play a Role in Weight Loss
The high-quality protein found in eggs may help promote lower levels of belly fat (6). Increasing protein intake can also play a role in weight loss.
Replacing carbohydrates with protein, for example replacing toast with scrambled eggs at breakfast boosts the production of appetite-suppressing hormones. This can help you eat less and feel full longer, boosting your chances of weight loss success (7).
Improve Blood Cholesterol Levels
Egg consumption has been linked with positive effects on blood cholesterol. They have been shown to raise levels of good HDL cholesterol, especially when consumed as part of a weight-loss diet.
In addition, while eggs may raise levels of LDL cholesterol in a small number of people, they also change the composition of LDL lipoprotein particles to larger, less harmful type that is not associated with cardiovascular disease. Even better, when consumed as part of a weight-loss diet eggs do not appear to raise LDL levels.
The message is clear. When consumed as part of a healthy diet, especially with a reduced-calorie intake in an attempt to lose weight, eggs have a beneficial effect on blood levels of cholesterol (8).
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
For decades people were worried that a diet high in cholesterol was a risk factor for heart disease. More recent studies have looked into this relationship and most have found no increased risk of heart disease associated with regular consumption of eggs. A large recently published analysis found no increased risk of cardiovascular disease with the consumption of up to one egg per day (9).
Risks of Egg Consumption
Raw eggs can be a source of harmful bacteria known as salmonella. You cannot tell if an egg is contaminated with salmonella just by looking at it. Completely cooking eggs to a temperature of 160 degrees is the only way to be fully safe as hot temperatures kill unwanted bacteria.
An egg white will harden around 145 degrees but it takes a higher temperature to cook the yolk. While runny, poached or over-easy eggs are delicious there is some risk associated with eating a raw egg yolk because they have not been cooked to the proper temperature.
Be sure to store eggs in the refrigerator as keeping eggs at room temperature can cause them to spoil. Warmer temperatures also help bacteria multiply quickly and can increase the risk that you do get sick if bacteria are present on the shell.
How to Pick Quality Eggs
At the store, you will find many different claims and statements on egg cartons. There are also a variety of liquid egg products that you may want to include in a healthy diet.
It’s important to know that all eggs are hormone-free whether it is stated the egg carton or not. The USDA banned the use of hormones in egg production over 50 years ago.
Shell color is determined by the breed of a chicken laying the eggs. At the grocery store, you will generally see white eggs or brown eggs. The nutritional content is the same regardless of the color of the eggshells.
Here are some terms that can help you learn more about how the eggs were produced.
These are the cheapest eggs at supermarkets. Conventionally raised hens are fed a grain-based diet and generally given no access to the outdoors. They often spend their lives confined in tiny battery cages that are no larger than a sheet of paper.
The term cage-free refers to conventionally raised hens that do not live in small cages. They often live in crowded indoor barns.
The term free-range is regulated by the USDA. A free-range hen does not live in a cage and may be provided outdoor access.
Organically raised hens do not live in cages. They are provided organic feed that has not been treated with pesticides or chemicals. Outdoor access must be provided as part of the organic certification program. Organic certification does not address animal welfare standards.
This term is also unregulated. It implies that the hens are given ample outdoor access, allowed to forage and engage in their natural behaviors and eat a natural diet including insects and small plants.
Liquid Egg Whites
Liquid egg whites are a source of high-quality protein. Liquid egg products are normally treated with heat in a process called pasteurization. This makes them a safe and healthy addition to a variety of foods, even if they are going to be consumed raw. Liquid egg whites provide 25 calories per three-tablespoon serving.
Eggbeaters are a liquid product made from the egg white. They are a processed food with added ingredients including color to make them yellow, thickeners for better consistency and vitamins and minerals to replace what is naturally found in the egg yolks.
They can be used to make lower-calorie scrambled eggs or as a replacement for eggs in recipes as they also provide only 25 calories per three-tablespoon serving.
Healthiest Cooking Methods for Eggs
- Boil in hot water to make hard-boiled eggs
- Fry eggs on a frying pan to make them sunny side up
- Make an omelet with garlic, spinach, and Parmesan cheese on a skillet
- Add whole eggs or whites to baked items like muffins and zucchini bread
- Make meringues with fresh egg whites
- Eggs Benedict with bacon
- Scrambled eggs with a small amount of butter or olive oil and a handful of chopped peppers and onions
- Egg salad with mayonnaise
When eggs are a part of a poor quality diet such as when they are used as ingredients in baked goods they can be linked with negative health outcomes. However, as part of a healthy diet pattern full of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, the nutrients from egg consumption make an important contribution to our health.
To increase your egg intake, try having a hard-boiled egg for a snack, or make scrambled eggs for breakfast. Stick to an average of one egg per day, or aim to consume eggs once or twice per week as part of a healthy diet pattern.
- Fernandez, Maria Luz. “Effects of Eggs on Plasma Lipoproteins in Healthy Populations.” Food & Function, vol. 1, no. 2, 2010, p. 156. Crossref, doi:10.1039/c0fo00088d.
- “A Closer Look Inside Healthy Eating Patterns – 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines | Health.Gov.” Dietary Guidelines for Americans, health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/#dietary-cholesterol. Accessed 7 July 2020.
- Samman, Samir, et al. “Fatty Acid Composition of Certified Organic, Conventional and Omega-3 Eggs.” Food Chemistry, vol. 116, no. 4, 2009, pp. 911–14. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2009.03.046.
- Ylilauri, Maija P. T., et al. “Associations of Dietary Choline Intake with Risk of Incident Dementia and with Cognitive Performance: The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 110, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1416–23. Crossref, doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz148.
- Buscemi, Silvio, et al. “The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 9, 2018, p. 1321. Crossref, doi:10.3390/nu10091321.
- Loenneke, Jeremy P., et al. “Quality Protein Intake Is Inversely Related with Abdominal Fat.” Nutrition & metabolism, vol. 9, no. 1, 2012, p. 5. Crossref, doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-5.
- Leidy, Heather, et al. “Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance.” OUP Academic, Oxford Academic, 29 Apr. 2015, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/101/6/1320S/4564492.
- “Dietary Cholesterol, Serum Lipids, and Heart Disease: Are Eggs Working for or Against You?” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 4, 2018, p. 426. Crossref, doi:10.3390/nu10040426.
- Drouin-Chartier, Jean-Philippe, et al. “Egg Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Three Large Prospective US Cohort Studies, Systematic Review, and Updated Meta-Analysis.” BMJ, 2020, p. m513. Crossref, doi:10.1136/bmj.m513.