Eggs: the Perfect Protein...or is it?
Is egg protein the right protein for you?
Edited By:Alexandra Vaughn , MD
Eggs are not just a versatile breakfast food, they’re extremely functional. We may eat eggs because it’s easy to scramble, boil, or fry them, but egg chemistry expands beyond great breakfast additions. Not only are they essential in many recipes for color, taste, texture, and leavening, but the composition of an egg is vital for the correct development and protection of a growing organism. Eggs, therefore, have to contain all the essential nutrients required for an organism to thrive upon fertilization. Excluding people with an egg allergy, the consumption of eggs may prove a useful addition to a person’s diet.
A Functional Food
Egg nutrition is unique because eggs are extremely nutrient dense. In particular, eggs are considered a “complete protein” due to their amino acid composition. Why is this important? Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which humans require for virtually all cellular function. This includes healthy skin, nails, and hair. The body can make some of these amino acids, but others have to be obtained from a regular dietary source of protein. These are defined as essential amino acids. Eggs are labeled “complete” because they contain all nine essential amino acids required by adults. Not only that, but eggs have the highest protein scoring compared to other animal and plant proteins. The protein score encompasses the number of amino acids present in a protein, as well as how readily available they are for digestion.
Notwithstanding protein content, eggs also contain 18 vitamins and minerals, plus a multitude of biologically active compounds found in both egg whites and the yolk. These include ovalbumin, ovotransferrin, ovomucoid, lysozyme, and carotenoids. These compounds have been referenced for their anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-hypertensive, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory properties. Furthermore, eggs are also easy to produce, and relatively inexpensive. For countries or even counties in the United States that experience food deserts, an egg can provide affordable high-quality nutrients.
What About Cholesterol and Saturated Fat?
As with many food products, the consumption of eggs continues to be vigorously examined. Studies have gone back and forth on whether the egg should be included in the daily diet, due to concerns with dietary cholesterol intake and the risk of CVD. It may seem simple to name a food group as “good” or “bad” but, with eggs, the story is much more complex. Recent studies have now pointed out that dietary cholesterol intake from eggs does not significantly raise blood cholesterol serum levels. Scientists instead have indicated a myriad of factors that impact blood cholesterol serum levels including “ethnicity, genetic makeup, hormonal factors, and body mass index.” This has lead to recent dietary recommendations including 1 egg per day, for the average healthy adult. The benefit appears to outweigh the risk.
Furthermore, the saturated fat content in eggs appears to not significantly increase the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Eggs contain a relatively small amount of saturated fat and have a higher ratio of poly and monounsaturated fats. In a prospective health study examining whole egg consumption, scientists could not find a “significant association between egg consumption and increased risk of mortality from coronary heart disease or stroke in the US population.” This 2011 analysis confirms numerous studies published from different camps including the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, The British Medical Journal (BMJ), and the Canadian Journal of Diabetes.
A non-controversial concern with eggs is the potential for microbial contamination, such as salmonella. Birds are notorious for being disease vectors, and the consumption of eggs has lead to outbreaks. The treatment of laying hens with potent veterinarian drugs has also lead to chemical exposure concerns. Due to these processing risks, we need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of buying products from producers that we cannot see. This same train of thought applies to organic and free-range products. If you are looking for clean eggs, strive for implementing food safety in your personal kitchen. We can’t all raise chickens in our backyard, but here are some helpful hints regarding the egg industry as well as how the USDA regulates egg practices.
Last but not least, egg allergies are extremely common, being second to cow’s milk. For skin health, this has huge implications. Common skin conditions associated with egg allergies include hives, rash, and eczema. Egg allergies are commonly diagnosed in childhood, with a majority of children growing out of their egg allergy by age sixteen. For those suffering from these conditions, egg elimination may be the best natural treatment. For those who have severe allergies, avoiding egg products present in many processed foods may also be a requirement.
Non-Eggy Options For Vegans/Vegetarians
While whole eggs pack a powerful nutrient punch to any diet, some may choose to avoid eggs. Do not fret because there are plentiful plant-based protein sources to meet your protein needs. Other protein sources include tofu, tempeh, plant-based protein powder, edamame, legumes, nuts, seeds, and more! You can also use egg alternatives in baking with great results, such as banana, flaxseeds, applesauce, Ener-G Egg replacement, or aquafaba.
Barring allergies or any skin sensitivities, eggs can be a perfect addition to a person’s diet, especially as a rich source of protein. Eggs may not be “perfect” but they do provide multiple benefits that can contribute to a healthy daily diet, as well as beautiful hair, skin, and nails.
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