Nazima Qureshi, RD, MPH
Whether they are being eaten on their own for breakfast, or as an ingredient in a recipe, eggs are a staple in the kitchen for many households. Eggs play a major role in people’s diet as a versatile source of protein.
Eggs provide a variety of vitamins and minerals and are a nutrition powerhouse at an affordable price. They are a source of protein, Vitamins A, D, E, and B12, as well as iron, riboflavin, selenium, and folate. The egg yolk contains fat and dietary cholesterol, while the egg white does not contain fat but still includes a source of protein.
Here is the nutrition profile of one whole large egg:
Vitamin A: 96mcg
Vitamin D: 29 IU
Vitamin E: 1.22mg
Vitamin B12: 0.8mcg
Common sources of protein include animal protein such as chicken or fish, but eggs are a more affordable option that can be included in a balanced diet. Since eggs provide approximately 6g of protein per one large egg, they are a great addition to a meal or snack. Protein not only provides satiety but also helps build and maintain muscle.
Over the past few years, eggs have been scrutinized as a food source that may raise blood cholesterol levels. However, research has shown that blood cholesterol levels are not directly impacted by dietary cholesterol. Rather they are affected by other factors such as consumption of saturated fats, trans fats, and lifestyle factors.
Regardless of this information, many people may choose to consume only egg whites as a perceived healthier option. However, whole eggs can be a part of a healthy and balanced diet that includes adequate amounts of vegetables, protein, and whole grains. An average healthy person can consume one whole egg per day or seven whole eggs per week. If someone is currently living with high blood cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes, they should limit their consumption to two whole eggs per week.
Amanda Saab, past contestant on Masterchef and founder of Butter Bear Shop says there are many ways to prepare eggs such as scrambled, sunny side up, over easy, boiled, and poached. When making eggs in a pan, use a small amount of oil to limit extra fat and calories. Boiled and poached eggs are a good way to prepare eggs without adding extra calories since they are prepared in water.
While eggs can be a nutritious option, they aren’t a mandatory aspect of a healthy diet, especially for those that are vegan or have an egg allergy. The allergy is a reaction to the protein found in eggs (mostly egg whites) and results in symptoms such as rashes, digestive issues, or skin irritation.
Saab recommends making a flax egg as a replacement for egg in baking. This is made by mixing 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of hot water.
Another egg replacement is chickpea water in canned chickpeas, also known as aquafaba. Three tablespoons are equivalent to 1 whole egg and two tablespoons are equivalent to 1 egg white. Aquafaba can be whipped and act as egg whites in baking, something that the flax egg is unable to do.
If you are following an egg-free diet, you want to be mindful of eggs in packaged products by reading ingredient lists. Eggs also play an important role in baked goods as well as sauces. Saab uses eggs when baking soufflés, cakes, cookies, macaroons, and breads like brioche. Eggs act as a stabilizer to form an emulsion in sauces such as mayonnaise, aiole, and hollandaise sauce. When purchasing ready-made items or eating out at restaurants, it is important to check labels and ask which items may have eggs. With vegan diets becoming mainstream, egg-free options are becoming an easy option to find at local supermarkets.
Saab explains that eggs come in a wide variety, which may make it overwhelming to know which type of eggs to purchase. Here is a breakdown of how eggs are classified:
Size: Eggs come in different sizes including small, medium, large, and extra large. Most recipes call for large eggs and selecting a smaller size would not only impact the recipe but also how much protein you are consuming per serving.
Color: Eggs can be either white or brown. The color is primarily influenced by the color of the hen. The color of the egg does not impact the nutritional value.
Free-Range/Free-Run: Hens are allowed to roam. Freerun hens are allowed to roam in an enclosed space while free-range hens are allowed to roam outdoors. While this may not significantly impact the nutritional value of the eggs, for those that want to eat ethically raised food, free-range hens have access to outdoors while conventional hens are caged with limited space to move.
Organic: These hens are given feed that is certified organic, without any pesticides or hormones. The hens are also raised in a free-range environment. Since the hens’ feed impacts the nutrition of the eggs, the eggs produced are also organic in addition to being sourced from ethically raised hens.
Omega-3: These hens have flaxseed added to their feed, which is a source of omega-3 fatty acids. This makes the eggs a source of omega-3 fatty acids. The hens’ feed largely impacts the nutrition of the egg. Hen feed includes a variety of grains and water and the addition of flaxseed improves the nutrient profile of the eggs. Since omega-3 fatty acid is a required form of fat in a healthy diet, omega-3 eggs may be a good dietary option.
When at the supermarket, eggs may fall into multiple categories listed above. For instance, you may find brown large omega-3 eggs. Spending some time reading the labels will help you make an informed choice regarding which type of eggs you should buy. Factors that influence what type of eggs you want to buy include how the hens were raised and treated, nutrition profile of eggs, and price. Free-range organic eggs often come from hens that are ethically raised and treated but are also the most expensive option.
While the most common type of egg in the grocery store are hen eggs, there are other varieties of eggs from other birds such as duck eggs and quail eggs. Saab prefers quail eggs for mini toasts. These types of eggs are often available at local farmers’ markets. Since they are not widely available, you can speak to the farmer directly at the market to get more information on how the birds were treated and raised, the bird feed, as well as storage recommendations to maintain freshness.
Eggs are a versatile and affordable source of protein that can be enjoyed on their own or as an ingredient. Next time you are at the supermarket, see how many different types of eggs you can find.
Nazima Qureshi is a Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, and founder of Nutrition by Nazima, which aims to help Muslim women live healthier and happier lives. She provides evidence-based nutrition information through individual e-counseling, workshops, partnership opportunities, written communication, and recipe development.