Scientists, farmers, and food manufacturers have found ways to change the nutrient composition of eggs. But you may be wondering whether these eggs are really healthier than regular eggs.
A quick glance at the egg section of most large supermarkets gives consumers several choices. In addition to the standard white and brown eggs, you can buy eggs that are cage-free or organic. Plus, you can choose ones that have increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids. You can also choose from a variety of egg-substitute products, most of which are refrigerated or frozen and packaged for easy use.
The standard egg is an economical source of nutrition. Eggs contain many essential vitamins and minerals needed by humans, including zinc, iron, folate, vitamins A, E, and B complex—all this for only 78 calories! Egg protein is of such high quality that it is the standard reference for comparing the protein content of other foods. Current nutrient analyses suggest that the cholesterol content of an average egg is about 187 mg, rather than the previously estimated 274 mg. All of this cholesterol is contained in the yolk part of the egg. The American Heart Association (AHA) continues to recommend that people limit their cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day
Nature delivers eggs in 2 colors—white and brown. Contrary to popular thinking, brown eggs are neither organic nor different in nutrition from white eggs. The breed of the hen determines the shell color. Breeds with white feathers and ear lobes lay white eggs. Hens with red feathers and ear lobes lay brown eggs.
Hens are typically caged in modern facilities with controlled temperatures, humidity, light, and air circulation. American birds are fed hormone-free, high-quality feed with automatic feeders. Fresh water is provided through self-cleaning cups and valves.
Because some consumers are opposed to this type of confinement, options such as cage-free and range-free eggs are available. These types of eggs have the same nutrient composition as the standard egg, however:
During the past several years, scientists and egg producers have joined together to produce specialty or so-called designer eggs. According to the Egg Nutrition Center, an industry research group, these specialty eggs account for a growing percentage of market sales.
One such egg is the high omega-3 egg. Hens are fed a special oil that builds up in the egg yolk, increasing the omega 3-fatty acids, while decreasing the saturated fat. Retail omega-3 fatty acid eggs contain 3-4 times the content of the standard egg. As a bonus, these eggs also have higher amounts of vitamin E.
Some scientists and nutritionists see these designer eggs as a realistic way to help Americans eat more omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Egg substitutes are another type of specialty egg. These liquid egg products are cholesterol-free, because they're made from only egg whites. The yolk is typically replaced with other ingredients, such as vegetable oil, emulsifiers, stabilizers, gums, and artificial colors, and then the product is fortified with vitamins and minerals. Egg substitutes have the added advantage of being pasteurized. This means you can use them safely in recipes that traditionally call for raw eggs, such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, eggnog, and pastry filling, without being concerned about bacteria, which can result from eating undercooked eggs. Another option for lower-cholesterol egg is to use 2 egg whites, or 1 egg white plus 2 teaspoons of unsaturated oil, to replace a whole egg in cooking.
About the US egg industry. American Egg Board website. Available at: http://www.aeb.org/farmers-and-marketers/industry-overview. Accessed May 2, 2017.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf. Accessed May 2, 2017.
Eggcyclopedia. American Egg Board website. Available at: http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/eggcyclopedia/p/production. Accessed May 2, 2017.
Health-saving ingredient substitutions. Fremont Area Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.famc.org/body.cfm?id=555696. Accessed May 2, 2017.
Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, et al. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA. 1999;281(15):1387-1394.
Omega-3 extra large eggs. Organic Valley website. Available at: https://www.organicvalley.coop/products/eggs/omega-3-extra-large-eggs/extra-large-omega-3-eggs-one-dozen/. Accessed May 2, 2017.
Registered dietitian/nutrition. American Egg Board website. Available at: http://www.aeb.org/retail/registered-dietitian-nutrition. Accessed May 2, 2017.
Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 5/29/2015