Eggs can be considered one of the most important superfoods out there. That is because they are extremely nutritious, full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, they offer several benefits to one’s health and well-being. They are an easy way for pregnant people to get enough choline through their diet, another important nutrient for pregnancy.
Eggs are one of the first foods to ever exist, dating back in history thousands of years. There are many types of eggs, but the most common that is consumed in North America is the chicken egg, which will be the type of egg discussed in this article.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about eggs.
Fun Fact:The average hen lays around 300-325 eggs per year.
Table of Contents
- History & Facts
- Nutrition Facts
- Health Benefits
- Ways to Consume
- Potential Risks
- Frequently Asked Questions
History & Facts
According to food historians, humans have been eating eggs for around 6 million years. Originally they were eaten raw out of bird’s nests. Ancient Egypt and China were the first societies to domesticate hens by 1500 BC.
Eggs of chickens are the most commonly eaten, followed by eggs of other birds like ostrich, duck, and quail. Other types of eggs that are eaten by people include reptiles, amphibians, and fish, also known as caviar.
The breed of the chicken typically determines the color of the eggshell. Typically, white hens with white feathers produce white eggs, and hens with brown feathers lay brown-shelled eggs.
Types of Chicken Eggs
In the U.S., the USDA uses a grading system to classify eggs into different types. The different types of eggs on the market include the following:
- non-cage-free: This refers to the intensive farming method whereby eggs come from hens predominately living in cages.
- cage-free: Hens are free to roam inside barns, but do not have access to outdoor space.
- free-range: must have unlimited access to food and water, freedom to roam within an area, and continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle
- organic: these eggs may carry the USDA Certified Organic label. This means farmers house the hens according to USDA’s organic standards. The hens eat a vegetarian diet that is free from pesticides and antibiotics which is also part of the organic standards. They also have access to the outdoors.
Eggs can also be classified by grade, which is something that farmers pay a fee for to have this done. Eggs can be graded as AA, A, or B depending on the quality of the product and the appearance and condition of the shell (1). The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will have a stamp of sorts on the egg carton, which means that regulators have checked the eggs for quality and weight.
Summary:Eggs from chickens are most commonly eaten, and can be graded by type and quality, which is determined by the USDA.
As mentioned earlier, eggs can be considered a type of superfood due to their abundance of nutrients.
In one large egg, there are the following macronutrients (2):
- Calories: 72 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 6.2 grams (g)
- Total Fat: 5.01 grams (g)
- Saturated Fat: 1.61 grams (g)
- Monounsaturated fat: 1.83 grams (g)
- Polyunsaturated fat: 0.9 grams (g)
- Carbohydrate: 0.5 grams (g)
- Fiber: <0.75 grams (g)
One large egg contains about 5 g of fat, of which 1.6 g are saturated. Most fat in an egg is unsaturated (2.7 grams) (3). This is considered to be the best type of fat for a balanced diet. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help maintain brain function and vision.
Summary:Eggs contain an adequate amount of protein and healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids.
Vitamins and Minerals
In one egg, here are just a few are the highlighted vitamins and minerals (4):
- Calcium: 24.1 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 5.7 milligrams (mg)
- Phosphorus: 92.6 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 66.4 milligrams (mg)
- Sodium: 65 milligrams (mg)
- Iodine: 24.7 micrograms (mcg)
- Selenium: 15.6 micrograms (mcg)
- Folate: 35.7 micrograms (mcg)
- Choline: 169 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin A: 90.5 micrograms (mcg)
- Lutein: 116 micrograms (mcg)
- Zeaxanthin: 115 micrograms (mcg)
- Vitamin D: 49.5 international units (IU)
- Cholesterol: 207 milligrams (mg)
Eggs contain almost every vitamin and mineral our body needs. That includes folate, iron, potassium, vitamin E, B6, K, D, manganese, or calcium (5).
It is important to note that studies have found there may be slight different differences in the nutritional content of eggs depending on the environment they were raised in (6). For example, free-range eggs tend to have a higher content of magnesium and beta carotene, in addition to antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids than caged eggs.
Summary:Eggs contain a ton of different kinds of vitamins and minerals, all playing different roles in the body important to our health.
In addition to the many nutrients that the body gets when eggs are consumed, of course, they come with health benefits, too.
Promotes Brain Health
Choline is an important nutrient in eggs that many are not familiar with. In the body, choline is used to build cell membranes in the brain and assists with cell signaling. It is an important part of the diet during pregnancy, as it promotes brain health and helps to ensure excellent cognitive function in the developing baby (7). A single egg contains more than 150 mg of this very important nutrient, which is mainly stored in the yolk of the egg (8).
Additionally, studies suggest that choline can reduce inflammation and support brain function, improving the communication between brain cells (9). Research has also associated low choline intake with liver diseases, heart diseases, and various neurological disorders (10).
Summary:Eggs contain a significant amount of choline, which is an important nutrient for brain health and during pregnancy.
It Is a Great Source of Protein
Proteins are the main building blocks of our bodies (11). They are large, complex molecules that also play critical roles in many of our body’s processes and keep us functioning at an adequate level. Additionally, they support tissues, repair tissues, and maintain tissues throughout the body.
Getting an adequate amount of protein in the diet is necessary for the body’s structures and functions to continue working. The good news is that eggs are an excellent source of protein, coming in with a whopping 6-7 grams of protein per egg (12). This is equivalent to about one ounce of other animal proteins like meats.
Proteins consist of amino acids bonded together like beads on a string. Our body uses about 21 amino acids to produce protein. Unfortunately, we cannot produce all 21 amino acids, so we must get them from our food. So, the 9 essential amino acids are what we need to get from external sources (13). Not only do eggs contain protein, but they also contain all of the essential amino acids that we must get through our food.
Summary:Eggs are a great source of protein and all of the essential amino acids our bodies need.
Promotes Eye Health
Egg yolks are rich in vitamin A, lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc (14). Lutein is a carotenoid with remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that lutein has several benefits for eye health, such as preventing age-related macular degeneration or cataracts (15). These are the leading cause of age-related blindness. Eating 1 egg daily for 5 weeks increased blood levels of lutein by 26% and zeaxanthin by 38% in older adults in one study.
Vitamin A is also essential for the health of your cornea, while zinc contributes to the health of your retina. Vitamin A deficiency is the most common cause of blindness in the world.
The zeaxanthin protects your eyes from the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays when exposed to direct sunlight. Studies have associated high levels of zeaxanthin with better vision, especially in dim light (16).
Furthermore, eggs will protect your eyes from retinal damage due to their high Omega-3 fatty acids.
Summary:The different nutrients in eggs including lutein, vitamin A, zeaxanthin, and zinc, are all important for keeping the eyes healthy and preventing vision loss in older adults.
Ways to Consume
While bacon and eggs are one of the biggest staples and how eggs are most commonly eaten, there are other ways they can be enjoyed, too.
Here are some other ways to consume them in meals and snacks:
- Boil them and eat them as a snack on the go or chopped up into an egg salad
- Poach them and add some seasoning on top for a little extra flavor
- Add on top to your favorite sandwich or burger
- Fry them
- Scramble them and add on top of toast, bagel, or English muffin or make them into an omelet
- Add into ramen or other popular Asian cuisines
- Try a recipe that calls for baking the eggs
- Add into a stir fry or fried rice
- Poach in Shakshuka
- Add into a burrito
- Mix with a veggie hash
Fun Fact:To tell if an egg is still fresh, try putting it in a glass of water. If it sinks, that means it’s fresh and safe to eat.
Consuming eggs does come with some potential health risks.
- Bacteria: Consuming eggs that are raw or undercooked can contain bacteria (17). This is because the bacteria can enter through pores in the shells. However, all eggs in the U.S. that are graded by the USDA undergo a sanitizing rinse before being sold (18). In the U.S., eggs undergo pasteurization, which involves rapidly heating them and keeping them at a high temperature for a while to kill off any Salmonella bacteria. Cook eggs thoroughly until the yolks are firm, and the whites are opaque.
- Allergies: Egg allergy is fairly common and is part of the top 9 food allergens (19). Someone with an egg allergy may experience a minimal to life-threatening reaction from coming into contact with eggs or egg products. Egg is present in many ingredients and processed foods so the ingredients in foods must be checked thoroughly for eggs for those who do have an allergy (20).
Summary:There are some potential risks to eating eggs, which include different strains of bacteria that can get through the shell and the potential for an allergic reaction in some people.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kinds of eggs are best to choose?
Choosing a type of egg is a personal decision. There can be a lot that goes into the deciding factor such as cost, health, farming practices, and/or environmental concerns. Choose what is most important to you and your household.
What are some things to keep in mind when obtaining and storing eggs?
Do not purchase eggs that have cracked shells or are past their expiration date. Store eggs in the refrigerator. According to the USDA, eggs can sweat at room temperature, making it easier for bacteria to enter the shells and grow.
Did You Know?:Americans eat around 95 million dozen eggs per year, which is around 279 eggs per person per year.
Eggs can be an extremely healthful addition to a balanced diet. It is important in addition to eggs, to eat a variety of other foods and food groups as well. Eating up to 3 eggs per day is a safe recommendation.
Eggs are full of nutrients, are a complete protein, and contain antioxidants. Furthermore, it has excellent benefits to health like promoting eye health and keeping bones strong.
They are easy to add to the diet and can be found in almost every market or place where foods are sold. Start getting more eggs in your diet today!