Top 10 health benefits of eggs
Registered nutritionists Jo Williams and Kerry Torrens explain the impressive health credentials of this inexpensive kitchen staple
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What are eggs?
Since the domestication of the chicken, people have been enjoying and nourishing themselves with eggs. Both the egg white and yolk are rich in nutrients. The yolk contains fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D and E as well as fats including essential omega-3 fatty acids, while most of the protein is found in the egg white.
Eggs are an important and versatile ingredient. Their particular make-up is key to many important cooking procedures including binding, coating and glazing as well as creating the structure and texture of bakes and cakes. There are lots of different types of egg, the most common being chicken, while more gourmet choices include duck, goose and quail.
The health benefits of eggs include:
- Nutritionally rich
- Are a complete source of protein
- Are a source of choline
- May support heart health
- May support eye health
- May protect against sarcopenia
- May support weight management
- May support optimal body composition
- May support the immune system
- Have a low planetary impact
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Nutritional profile of eggs
One average sized chicken egg (boiled) contains:
- 72 kcal / 298 KJ
- 7.0g protein
- 4.8g fat
- 1.4g saturated fat
- 1.8g mono-unsaturated fat
- 0.8g poly-unsaturated fat
- 15mcg folate
- 1.6mcg vit D
How much protein is in an egg?
A medium sized egg (53g) contains 7g of complete protein – being a ‘complete protein’ means an egg contains all 9 of the essential amino acids that we need for growth, development and repair.
Most plant-based foods, like wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds are incomplete proteins because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids that we need. This, combined with the fact that eggs are a good source of vitamin B12, iron and the essential omega-3 fatty acids, makes them a valuable addition to a vegetarian diet.
Top 10 health benefits of eggs
1. They're highly nutritious
Whole eggs are nutritionally rich, supplying almost every nutrient you need. They have one of the lowest energy-to-nutrient density ratios of any food and are useful sources of some of the harder-to-get nutrients like vitamins D and B12 as well as the mineral iodine. If you choose brands enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, you’ll benefit from higher omega-3 fatty acids as well as fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and E.
2. A complete source of protein
Being a ‘complete protein’ means eggs contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that we need for growth, development and repair. This is important because our body cannot make these amino acids and must obtain them from our diet. In addition to this, egg protein is recognised as being highly digestible, and contains a quality of protein that is superior to beef steak and similar to dairy.
3. A source of choline
Eggs are one of the best dietary sources of choline. This little talked about nutrient is needed by all of us for the formation of cell membranes and for brain function, including memory. It’s especially important during pregnancy and breast feeding, when an adequate supply of choline is essential for normal brain development.
4. May support heart health
Eggs are rich in several nutrients that promote heart health, including betaine and choline. A study of nearly half a million people in China suggested that eating one egg a day may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, although experts stress that eggs need to be consumed as part of a healthy lifestyle in order to be beneficial.
5. May support eye health
As we age it’s normal for our vision to start to deteriorate but there are some useful nutrients, obtained from a balanced diet, which may help protect and support eye health. Eggs are one example: the yolk contains large amounts of carotenes – of particular note are lutein and zeaxanthin – which are important for preventing macular degeneration and cataracts. Eggs are also a source of vitamin A, which is important for good vision.
6. May prevent sarcopenia
Being highly digestible, egg protein has been shown to support muscle health and protect against muscle loss, a condition known as sarcopenia. Skeletal muscle plays a major role in overall health, maintaining physical function and balance, improving insulin sensitivity and lowering the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
7. May support weight management
Eggs are rich in protein, which is more filling than either fat or carbohydrate. As a food choice, eggs score well, being high on the satiety index, a measure of how filling a food is. In fact, studies show that an egg breakfast is more sustaining than the equivalent calorie-counted carb breakfast and, what’s more, may help reduce your calorie intake later in the day.
8. May support optimal body composition
Including eggs in the diet has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis and lower fat mass, which may support optimal body composition. As any body builder knows, the amino acid leucine is critical for muscle synthesis and eggs make a useful source of this amino acid, supplying approximately 500mg of leucine per an average egg.
9. May support the immune system
Eggs contain many essential nutrients, bioactive compounds and high quality protein. Studies suggest that, when combined with dairy, they may modulate the immune system and contribute anti-inflammatory properties.
10. Have a low planetary impact
Sustainability metrics suggest that eggs have the lowest planetary impact amongst animal proteins.
How many eggs are safe to eat?
Are eggs safe for everyone?
Historically, salmonella poisoning was a concern, especially if eggs were eaten raw or lightly cooked. However, following changes in production protocols, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has changed its guidelines.
Current recommendations confirm that infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly may safely eat raw or lightly cooked eggs as long as they are produced under the British Lion Code of Practice. Visit the FSA website for more information.
Another safety concern regarding eggs is that they are a common food allergen, particularly among young children. Although most children outgrow an egg allergy by the time they go to school, some cases do persist into later childhood and occasionally even adulthood.
See your GP if you have any concerns regarding allergies to eggs.
So overall, are eggs good for you?
Eggs are highly nutritious and are an affordable source of complete and highly digestible protein. They contain vital nutrients, including choline which contributes to heart health and brain development. Their nutritional contribution makes them useful for both maintaining a healthy weight and for optimising body composition.
As long as you do not have an allergy to them, eggs make a valuable contribution to a healthy, balanced diet, whatever your age.
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This article was last reviewed on 8 August 2023 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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