Eating Eggs: A Near Dozen Reasons For and Against
One of the most basic foods in the Western diet is also one of the most controversial: eggs. Is eating eggs healthy or not?
Although you may think you have heard all the reasons for and against eating eggs, here are nearly a dozen for you to ponder. Keep in mind that there are experts who can argue or present evidence on both sides of the issue, so it’s up to you what you want to believe or what is important to you when making your decision about eating eggs.
Reasons for eating eggs
Here are some reasons experts give to support the argument that eggs are healthy.
Protein: The average egg contains 6.3 grams of protein and contains about 70 calories. Adults need about 40 to 60 grams of protein daily.
Low cost nutrition: A dozen eggs cost about $2 to $4 dollars, depending on whether you get regular, organic, and/or free-range eggs. When compared with meat, fish, or fowl, eggs are a nutritional bargain—and there’s no waste (except the egg shells).
It’s not the eggs, it’s the bacon: David Katz, MD, Director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, noted in a recent article on the egg controversy that although he is not a fan of eggs and does not consume them himself, studies that claim eating eggs contributes to an accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries and heart disease are scrambled.
One point he makes concerns a recent study in which researchers claimed that eating eggs is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes when it comes to heart disease risk. Katz notes that the study did not allow for other dietary factors, including the foods people commonly consume along with eggs, such as bacon, ham, and sausage—processed meats that are high in saturated fat, which has been shown to contribute to heart disease.
Choline: More than 90 percent of Americans are deficient in choline, a nutrient that is essential for brain health, nerve and muscle function, and for maintaining adequate levels of folic acid. The average egg contains about 113 milligrams of choline, and the National Academy of Sciences has established that the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for choline is 425 to 550 mg daily (for women and men, respectively). The body can produce choline, but not enough to make up for an inadequate amount consumed in the diet.
Lutein: This potent carotenoid is found in many vegetables, but several studies have shown that eggs are an even better source, and that lutein absorbed from egg yolk is more beneficial than lutein supplements or lutein from spinach (another great source of this nutrient). Lutein is an important substance for eye health, including macular degeneration.
Zeaxanthin: This is another carotenoid found in eggs, and studies indicate it can help protect against macular degeneration. Among the studies of eggs and zeaxanthin is one in which researchers found that eating one egg daily significant raised people’s blood levels of zeaxanthin and lutein (38% and 26%, respectively) but did not cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
Reasons to avoid eating eggs
Cholesterol: Although many studies claim eating eggs does not raise cholesterol levels nor the risk of heart disease, others say that it does. Case in point is the recent study in Atherosclerosis, in which the authors reported that “regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Animal cruelty: The vast majority of eggs (about 95%) produced in the United States are obtained from hens that exist in horrific living conditions. In fact, the egg producing industry is cruel from the get-go, as male chicks are sorted out and destroyed because they are not egg layers. Hens are crammed into tiny cages in which they can’t even stand up. Those that are released in coops are also excessively crowded and don’t go outside. Although US consumers can buy eggs that are labeled “cage free,” “free range,” “organic,” and “certified organic,” the validity of these claims is suspect since there is little to no auditing of living conditions for these birds, and forced molting through starvation is allowed.
Allergies: Eggs are one of the most common allergy foods. Individuals who have an egg allergy typically must avoid not only whole eggs but products that contain eggs, which include thousands of processed foods and even some vaccines.
Salmonella: Both the inside and outside of eggs can be contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella and can cause food poisoning. In fact, numerous egg recalls have been done over the years, with more than 228 million eggs recalled in 2010. Eggs need to be handled carefully and properly prepared to help prevent Salmonella poisoning.
The bottom line
Recent research has indicated that eating eggs can be a healthy choice for many people, but individuals should assess their personal state of health and examine the rest of their diet to determine whether eating eggs is a wise choice for them.
In addition, it’s important for people to consider the source of their food. Every food has its price in the form of currency, health effects, environmental impact, and the animals involved, and eggs are no exception.
Chung HY, Rasmussen HM, Johnson EJ. Lutein bioavailability is higher from lutein-enriched eggs than from supplements and spinach in men. Journal of Nutrition 2004
Goodrow EF et al. Consumption of one egg per day increases serum lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in older adults without altering serum lipid and lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations. Journal of Nutrition 2006 Oct; 136(10): 2519-24
Katz, David. Huffington Post
Spence JD et al. Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque. Atherosclerosis 2012 Oct; 224(2): 469-73
Zeisel SH. Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. Annual Review of Nutrition 2006; 26:229-50