The health benefits of eggs

The humble egg has impressive health credentials. Nutritionist Jo Lewin shares recipes, nutritional highlights and tips on choosing a good egg.

Soft boiled eggs with marmite toast soldiers

An introduction to eggs...

Both the white and yolk of an egg are rich in nutrients - proteins, vitamins and minerals with the yolk also containing cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. Eggs are an important and versatile ingredient for cooking, as their particular chemical make up is literally the glue of many important baking reactions.

Since the domestication of the chicken, people have been enjoying and nourishing themselves with eggs. As a long time symbol of fertility and rebirth, the egg has taken its place in religious as well as culinary history. In Christianity, the symbol of the decorated egg has become synonymous with Easter. There are lots of different types of egg available, the most commonly raised are chicken eggs while more gourmet choices include duck, goose and quail eggs.

Nutritional highlights

Eggs are a very good source of inexpensive, high quality protein. More than half the protein of an egg is found in the egg white along with vitamin B2 and lower amounts of fat and cholesterol than the yolk. The whites are rich sources of selenium, vitamin D, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper. Egg yolks contain more calories and fat. They are the source of cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and lecithin - the compound that enables emulsification in recipes such as hollandaise or mayonnaise.

Some brands of egg now contain omega-3 fatty acids, depending on what the chickens have been fed (always check the box). Eggs are regarded a 'complete' source of protein as they contain all nine essential amino acids; the ones we cannot synthesise in our bodies and must obtain from our diet.
 

One medium egg contains:
 
76 calories7.5g protein5.1g fat1.4g sat fat 

Did you know...

A study published in Paediatrics magazine has suggested that giving young children just one egg a day for six months, alongside a diet with reduced sugar-sweetened foods, may help them achieve a healthy height and prevent stunting.

A poached egg on a piece of toast topped with avocado with tomatoes on the side

The cholesterol question

For years eggs have been considered more of a health risk than a healthy food. This is because they were considered a high cholesterol food, so those with high cholesterol levels were advised to avoid them. We now know that the cholesterol found in food has much less of an effect on our blood cholesterol than the amount of saturated fat we eat. If you’ve been advised by your GP to change your diet in an attempt to reduce your blood cholesterol levels, the best thing to do is to keep to daily guideline intakes for saturated fat (20g for the average woman and 30g for the average man) opting instead for mono-unsaturated fats found in olive and rapeseed oils. It's also a good idea to increase your intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre whilst minimising sugars and refined carbs.
If you are concerned about your cholesterol or are unsure whether it is safe for you to consume eggs please consult your GP.


Eggs for health

Eggs are rich in several nutrients that promote heart health such as betaine and choline. During pregnancy and breast feeding, an adequate supply of choline is particularly important, since choline is essential for normal brain development. In traditional Chinese medicine, eggs are recommended to strengthen the blood and increase energy by enhancing digestive and kidney function.

Eggs are a useful source of Vitamin D which helps to protect bones, preventing osteoporosis and rickets. Shop wisely because the method of production – free range, organic or indoor raised can make a difference to vitamin D content. Eggs should be included as part of a varied and balanced diet. They are filling and when enjoyed for breakfast may help with weight management, as they high protein content helps us to feel fuller for longer.


Quail eggs...

Quail eggs have a similar flavour to chicken eggs, but their petite size (five quail eggs are usually equal to one large chicken egg) and pretty, speckled shell have made them popular in gourmet cooking. The shells range in colour from dark brown to blue or white. Quail eggs are often hard-boiled and served with sea salt.
 

Duck eggs...

Duck eggs look like chicken eggs but are larger. As with chicken eggs, they are sold in sizes ranging from small to large. Duck eggs have more protein and are richer than chicken eggs, but they also have a higher fat content and more cholesterol. When boiled, the white turns bluish and the yolk turns red-orange.

A basil omelette in a pan topped with mushrooms

How to select and store

Choose eggs from free-range or organically raised chickens. Eggs should always be visually inspected before buying. It is best to check for cracks or liquid in the box to ensure there are no broken ones. Eggs are best stored in the refrigerator where they may remain for up to one month (check the best-before-date on the box). Eggs with higher omega-3 fatty acid content are best eaten as early as possible to keep these oils fresh.

Safety

The main safety concern used to be salmonella food poisoning, but the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have recently changed their guidelines on eating runny eggs. They now say that infants, children, pregnant women and elderly people can safely eat raw or lightly cooked eggs that 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. See your GP if you have any concerns regarding allergies to eggs.

Enjoyed this? Now read...

Our favourite healthy egg recipes
All our health benefits guides
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How to eat a balanced diet


This article was last reviewed on 18th July 2017 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at www.nutrijo.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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krshma
22nd May, 2015
No doubt eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet. A single large boiled egg contains: Vitamin A: 6% of the RDA. Folate: 5% of the RDA. Vitamin B5: 7% of the RDA. Vitamin B12: 9% of the RDA. Vitamin B2: 15% of the RDA. Phosphorus: 9% of the RDA. Selenium: 22% of the RDA. Also, It is true that eggs are high in cholesterol. Thanks, Krhsma http://www.apollomunichinsurance.com/
missco
27th Feb, 2015
Thanks for the read. I try and have 2 eggs daily and I love them! Get a bit bored eating the same thing over again but when u know its so good for you it helps. Found a few tips of ways to cook them up which helped, this list is my fav, might be handy for anyone else who loves eating eggs daily but gets a bit over it http://www.berkleys.com.au/2014/07/04/different-ways-to-cook-eggs/
ms_sag
20th Aug, 2013
Good article. I keep a few chickens and they produce by far the best eggs of any shop bought ones. Eggs are so versatile, and as a vegetarian, they provide a great source of protein, vitamins etc. Love them!
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