By Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN and Caroline Walder, GoodHousekeeping.com
March 1, 2018 — One of the best sources of protein available, eggs are chock-full of essential nutrients such as vitamins A, D, B12, and choline. They’re also an inexpensive and versatile staple, so don’t let misconceptions about cholesterol or fat stop you from making them for breakfast, brunch, or brinner. Get more specifics — including the real deal on egg whites — below.
Health Benefits of Eggs
Better Brain Health
Eggs provide choline, an essential nutrient involved in memory, mood, and muscle control. During pregnancy, choline intake is critical for fetal brain development and can help prevent birth defects. Two large eggs contain more than 50% of the recommended choline intake for pregnant women!
Vitamin B12 is another essential nutrient required for red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. B12 is almost exclusively found naturally in animal products, so if you’re vegetarian, eggs can help meet your B12 needs.
Easier Weight Management
Research has linked meals higher in protein to keeping you fuller, longer. Plus, lean protein like eggs are lower in calories than higher-fat cuts of meat and poultry.
Decreased Risk of Disease
Two carotenoids found in eggs, lutein and zeaxanthin, play a role in maintaining eye health, and research shows that lutein may impact cognition in both children and adults.
Eggs are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which helps with absorbing calcium, maintaining healthy bones, promoting neuromuscular function, and reducing inflammation.
With those major pluses in mind, here are the top questions nutritionists hear about eggs, answered:
Are eggs a good source of protein?
Eggs are a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids necessary to rebuild the muscles and tissues in our bodies. Depending on size, one egg has anywhere between 5 to 8 grams of protein and nearly everything in our bodies requires protein. That makes a constant supply of the essential amino acids, well, essential!
Do eggs raise your cholesterol?
Current evidence indicates that dietary cholesterol does not automatically become blood cholesterol, meaning eating moderate amounts does not appear to affect disease risks in most healthy people. Research has shown that saturated and trans fats are more likely to raise a person’s blood cholesterol. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the American Diabetes Association have thus removed their previous recommendations to limit dietary cholesterol.
Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs?
Nope! The color of an egg is not an indicator of quality, nutrition, or taste. Rather, the color depends on the breed of the hen. White-feathered hens lay white eggs, while brown-feathered hens lay brown eggs. If you’re wondering why brown eggs often cost more, it’s simply because brown-feathered hens are bigger and more expensive to raise.
Should I only eat egg whites?
Don’t throw those yolks away! The yolks contain most of the essential nutrients, and the fat in them helps your body absorb those. Plus, the yolk holds 40% of the protein.
How many can I eat and what should I eat them with?
Current research shows that eating one to two eggs per day does not have detrimental health effects. They can safely stay in your refrigerator without a loss of quality for three to five weeks after purchase, making eggs a great staple for so many quick and nutritious meals. Use them in:
Help! What do all the labels mean?!
Label claims can be confusing! Here’s what all of those designations actually say.
Cage-Free: According to the USDA, cage-free hens must be housed in a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and water. Cage-free does NOT mean that the hens have access to the outdoors.
Free-Range: Free-range hens must be housed in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food and water. However, these hens must have continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle. This outdoor area may be fenced and/or covered with netting.
Pasture-Raised: This term is not currently regulated by the USDA, but pasture-raised eggs should mean that the hens spend most of their life outdoors, with a fair amount of space to roam in addition to barn access. The hens can eat a diet of worms, insects, and grass, along with their feed, which replicates a chicken’s natural diet and environment. Look for the HFAC’s Certified Humane Label.
Farm-Fresh or All-Natural: These labels have no federal regulation or specific meaning. They’re often used for marketing purposes.
No Hormones Added: Contrary to popular belief, the egg industry does NOT use hormones in the production of shell eggs, no matter if the label says this or not.
Antibiotic-Free: Similarly, all eggs produced in the U.S. are antibiotic-free, even if it’s not specified on the carton. If hens become ill, a veterinarian can administer antibiotics, but these eggs would not be used for human consumption according to FDA regulations.
Vegetarian-Fed: According to the USDA, the egg producer using this claim must maintain documentation that the source hens do not eat any animal byproducts. However, chickens in the wild are omnivores (i.e., not vegetarian) and get most of their protein from worms and insects.
Gluten-Free: All eggs are naturally gluten-free. If the hens producing the eggs are fed a gluten-containing grain, the gluten is broken down during digestion and not passed on to the eggs.
Organic: In order to certify eggs as “organic,” the hen’s feed must be grown without most synthetic chemicals. 100% of the ingredients must be certified organic, the hens must be free-range, and the use of antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited. Management must present supporting documentation from an accredited certifying agent to the USDA to verify that the flock is organic.
Zero Trans Fats: This claim indicates that an egg contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fatty acids, which is true of all eggs.
AA, A, or B: You may have noticed that eggs are graded as AA, A, or B, in descending order of quality. According to the USDA and the American Egg Board, there is no difference in nutritional values. Grading is based on standards of appearance, such as the conditions of the white or yolk and the cleanliness and soundness of the shell.