Eggs are a superfood packed with nutrients, new research finds
Eating an egg or more a day can boost health and support weight loss
The humble egg should be considered a ‘superfood’ thanks to its incredible ability to boost health and even help tackle obesity, scientists have announced following important new research.
The new study, to be published in the June issue of the journal Nutrition & Food Science, reveals that eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods that money can buy and that we should be eating at least one egg a day to get the optimum benefits. In addition, the researchers found that eggs can play an important role in weight management and dieting, and could even help prevent age-related macular degeneration – an eye condition that can lead to blindness – thanks to antioxidants found in eggs.
Nutrition scientists analysed data from 71 previously published research papers and reference documents that examined egg nutritional composition and the role of eggs in the diet. They discovered that, despite being low in calories, eggs are a rich source of protein and are packed with essential nutrients thought vital to good health, particularly vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium and choline. The report also confirms that among protein foods, eggs contain the richest mix of essential amino acids - crucial for children, adolescents and young adults since a balance of amino acids is required for proper growth and repair.
The report identifies specific groups who could particularly benefit from eating more eggs including children, teenagers and older adults as well as heavy meat-eaters and those not consuming milk. It also highlights research showing that for older adults, high-quality protein may prevent the degeneration of skeletal muscle and protect against some of the health risks associated with ageing.
Lead author of the report Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian and registered public health nutritionist, says: “The health benefits of eggs would appear to be so great that it’s perhaps no exaggeration to call them a superfood. Eggs are not only low in calories but are packed with nutrients that are essential to healthy living. They are an ideal food at every stage of life, as well as being easy to cook and enjoyable to eat.”
Vitamin D benefits
The report shows that eggs are an important dietary source of vitamin D and could significantly help to boost daily intake as they provide more than 20% of the vitamin D RDA (recommended daily allowance) per egg – or nearly half the requirements with two eggs a day. According to government surveys, about three quarters of British adults fail to reach even their basic vitamin D requirements while low vitamin D levels have been linked with a host of health conditions including poor bone health, cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, immune disorders and mental health problems.
Another key finding, taken from research in the US, was that people who ate eggs had higher intakes of all nutrients (except vitamin B6 and dietary fibre) compared with non-egg eaters. Cholesterol levels were also lower among frequent egg consumers, supporting the latest scientific advice that saturated fat, not dietary cholesterol, is the strongest dietary influence on blood cholesterol levels for most people.
Weight management and dieting
A medium-sized egg has less than 80 kcals – less than a small bag of crisps and about half the calories of a chocolate snack bar. The researchers behind the latest report found there is emerging evidence that the high protein content of eggs may play a useful role in weight management and dieting. They highlighted a study suggesting that eating two scrambled eggs for breakfast can contribute to greater satiety - a feeling of fullness - while reducing calorie intake throughout the day and over the following 36 hours. In addition, one trial found that eating two eggs instead of bagels for breakfast every day could significantly lower body weight when combined with a low-energy diet over two months. Interestingly, blood cholesterol levels remained unchanged in this study.
Lifting the limit
The latest research updates advice about the role of eggs in the diet following last year’s news of the removal of the previous limits on consumption, which were due to worries over cholesterol content. More than four decades ago, researchers wrongly believed that cholesterol in eggs could increase the risk of coronary heart disease, but this link has now been disproved by new and better research. The latest findings suggest that one or two eggs a day can be eaten with no effect on total cholesterol levels for most people.
One study highlighted in the new report demonstrated that eating two eggs per day for six weeks had no effect on endothelial function, a marker of heart disease risk. In another trial, levels of HDL cholesterol (so-called ‘good’ cholesterol) increased, and markers of metabolic syndrome – a condition that can lead to heart disease and diabetes - decreased when 28 overweight/obese males ate a carbohydrate-restricted diet plus three eggs daily for 13 weeks. Other research found no significant impact on low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol) levels when two eggs were eaten daily for 12 weeks.
On average, people in the UK still eat less than three eggs a week, which is around half the amount they ate in the 1960s before the cholesterol scare. But the new findings indicate that for most healthy people, eating seven eggs a week would have no impact on heart disease risk and could help boost health significantly in a number of key areas.
Dr Ruxton says: “New evidence now suggests that, although eggs provide dietary cholesterol, other lifestyle factors - such as smoking, drinking, exercise levels, obesity and especially the amount of saturated fat in the diet - are far stronger risk factors for heart disease. Consequently, the potential of eggs to increase cholesterol has little clinical importance when considered relative to other dietary and lifestyle factors.”
She adds: “This review has identified that eggs are an inexpensive, low energy, nutrient-dense food that can significantly contribute to diet quality, particularly intakes of selenium and vitamin D. For most people, egg consumption will have little or no influence on cholesterol levels or CHD risk.
“For the general population, there are clear nutritional benefits to eating eggs on a regular basis. Emerging evidence suggests that eggs may be beneficial for satiety, weight control and eye health. With previous limits on egg consumption lifted, most people would benefit from a return to the days of going to work on an egg.”
The study, entitled The Nutritional Properties and Health Benefits of Eggs, was conducted by Dr Carrie Ruxton, independent dietitian, together with Dr Emma Derbyshire, senior lecturer in Human Nutrition, Manchester Metropolitan University and Sigrid Gibson, an independent nutritionist and director of research firm Sig-Nurture Ltd. The review was funded by the British Egg Industry Council whose employees played no role in the research or writing. The content of the review solely reflects the opinions of the authors.