New study: Eggs increase intake of immune supporting nutrients

Eggs could be a key addition to a plant-based diet for this winter

A new study in the Journal of Nutrition  – has found that adding eggs to a plant-based diet increases intake of key immune-supporting micronutrients selenium and choline. This is of particular importance as these are known nutrients of concern among the UK population, especially women, teens and those following vegetarian or flexitarian diets.

Nutritionist Cat MacDonald says, “In the wake of the worst of the pandemic, especially as we re-enter cold and flu season, maintaining a robust immune system has never been more important. On top of this, with many of us trying to follow plant-based diets with the aim of bettering our own health, this new study on egg consumption offers some important immunity insights.” 

The proof is in the pudding
The study was a randomised, single-blind, controlled, crossover trial involving 35 adults at risk of type 2 diabetes. One group of participants was told to eat a plant-based diet while the other group ate the same plant-based diet with the addition of two eggs (one serving) a day. 

After consuming one of the diets (plant-based with or without eggs) for six weeks, participants had to wait four weeks before consuming the diet they hadn’t yet followed for another six weeks. Both diets had the same number of calories.

The researchers found that including a daily serving of eggs significantly increased intakes of selenium and choline – essential nutrients for immune health which are typically depleted in unhealthy junk-food diets, as well as restrictive plant-based diets. Busting previous myths around egg consumption and heart health, the study also found that eating eggs doesn’t affect blood vessel function, blood cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, or body fat measurements. 

As plant-based diets are often recommended for individuals at risk of type 2 diabetes, the researchers suggested that including eggs could help to enhance the quality of a healthy balanced diet.

Just add eggs
The results from the new study, with their wide-reaching range of positive benefits, mean that eggs can officially be acknowledged as being helpful towards immunity. Unlike some other options, however, they are affordable, accessible and already known and loved by the general public.

Nutritionist Cat MacDonald concludes: “With just one daily 2-egg serving needed to boost those vital immune support nutrients, eggs have the power to enhance any diet”. 

Eggs support immunity – it’s official

In addition to the findings of this study, several official immune health claims are permitted when it comes to the humble egg. According to European Nutrition and Health Claims regulations, eggs are officially ‘rich in’ several vital immune supporting micronutrients: 

●    Selenium: A major nutrient of concern in the UK, with low intakes common.

  • ○    Immune function, normal hair and nails, sperm production, thyroid function
  • ○    Protects cells from oxidative stress (antioxidant)

●    Vitamin D: Another nutrient of concern since (on average) a quarter of us are deficient.

  • ○    Immune function
  • ○    Boosts calcium uptake and supports normal bones and muscle function
  • ○    Helps prevent falls in older people

●    Vitamin B12: Vital for psychological and nervous system function.

  • ○    Immune function
  • ○    Psychological and nervous function
  • ○    Energy release from foods and helps reduce tiredness and fatigue

●    Vitamin A: Key for normal skin and vision.

  • ○    Immune function, normal skin, vision

●    Folate: A nutrient lacked by most young women which is why flour will soon be fortified with folic acid (the synthetic form of this nutrient).

  • ○    Immune function, red blood cell production
  • ○    Supports foetal tissue growth during pregnancy
  • ○    Helps reduce tiredness and fatigue

Nutritionist Cat MacDonald says, “Selenium deficiency is relatively widespread in the UK, as low levels of this important mineral in our soil restrict the amount we get from grains, meat and milk. However, just two eggs provide 44% of the selenium Nutrient Reference Value.” She adds, “With observational studies reporting associations between poor selenium status and an increased risk of cancer and heart disease , it makes sense to include this inexpensive yet highly nutritious food as part of a healthy, balanced diet, keeping our immune systems functioning optimally this winter.”

In relation to Vitamin D, MacDonald says, “Low vitamin D status is common across the UK population (up to 20% insufficiency in summer rising to 40% in winter to spring), so everyone should be doing their best to up their intake of this important immune health micronutrient . After oily fish, eggs are the richest natural food source. They also contain the more bioavailable form, vitamin D3.”