Eggs – establishing the nutritional benefits, based on the proceedings of a Food and Health Forum of the Royal Society of Medicine and due to be published in the December 2013 issue of the Nutrition Bulletin, reports on a tumultuous quarter of a decade which has seen British eggs move from risky to redeemed. Previous concerns about salmonella and heart disease have now been overcome, and eggs are now recognized as having significantly increased levels of essential nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, as well as satiating qualities.
One of the authors of the conference report, Dr Juliet Gray, revisits 1988 when Edwina Currie then Junior Health Minister, claimed most of the egg production in the UK was infected with salmonella. The British Lion scheme was introduced ten years later in 1998 and made vaccination against salmonella compulsory for Lion scheme hens as well as ensuring eggs were produced to the highest standards of food safety, effectively eliminating salmonella and leading to Edwina Currie herself recently commenting that now “you can have your soft-boiled egg today in Britain, provided it’s got a little Lion on it, it’s safe”.
The report provides details of the first full nutritional analysis of eggs since the 1980s which has shown that as a result of changing hen feeding practices, eggs now contain 20 per cent less fat, more than 20 per cent less saturated fat and around 13 per cent fewer calories. Eggs also now contain more than 70 per cent more vitamin D as well as double the amount of selenium than when last analysed and are recognised as a significant source of omega-3 fatty acids and choline.
The nutritional changes have widespread implications for various groups that are discussed in the paper:
- Experts suggest that eggs are a good weaning food for babies as they contain vitamins A and D, phosphorus and omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for healthy growth and development.
- Eggs could help in the fight against the obesity epidemic as emerging evidence suggests they can help you feel fuller for longer, which could be a natural way to aid people in weight control.
- An ageing population raises specific dietary challenges such as malnutrition and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass and strength) and the associated health risks. As a nutrient-dense and easily consumed food, eggs could help older people achieve a healthy diet. The leucine (an amino acid) and vitamin D in eggs may also help in the prevention of sarcopenia.
In the past, eggs were wrongly linked to increased heart disease risk due to the dietary cholesterol they contain. Despite an increasing body of evidence showing that dietary cholesterol, in foods such as eggs and prawns, produces no clinically significant effect on blood cholesterol level or risk of cardiovascular disease, the unhealthy associations still linger in consumer consciousness. Health experts are now eager that the public are made aware that instead of restricting them they should be proactively including eggs as a regular part of their diet.
Dr Juliet Gray, a Registered Nutritionist, said: “Nutritionists and dietitians now agree that eggs have an important role in a healthy diet and their consumption should be encouraged – they contain almost all of the recognised vitamins and many minerals and are one of the few food sources rich in vitamin D, as well as being a good source of selenium and vitamin B12.
“They are an important source of high-quality protein and may also aid weight management by helping people to feel fuller for longer. As a completely natural food, their nutrition credentials are pretty much unparalleled.”