September 1, 2010
A nation-wide salmonella outbreak contaminating up to a half billion eggs put the controversial food once again at the forefront of public consideration. It used to be that eggs were well known for their potential health harms given their high cholesterol content (there’s 213mg of cholesterol in one egg yolk – that’s 70 percent of the total daily amount of 300mg recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines). Then eggs were applauded for their high protein content and, more recently, for the notable amount of heart-healthy DHA omega-3 fatty acid in egg yolk (about 50 mg – and eight times that in DHA-enriched eggs). At just about 15 cents each, eggs contain a load of nutrients at a very cheap price. But is it safe and healthy to eat them?
Let’s weigh the benefits and risks. A single egg has 70 calories; 6 grams of protein including all of the essential amino acids (the proteins the body must get from the diet); 13 vitamins and minerals; and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Few other foods could boast such a high nutritional density.
That’s about equivalent to a single egg yolk; thus suggesting that people with heart disease probably should eat eggs only a couple of times per week, or forgo the yolk and just eat the whites. But, notably, the AHA has amended its guidelines and no longer makes a specific recommendation on the number of egg yolks a person should eat per week.
Other than their cholesterol amounts, eggs also are a susceptible source of food-borne illness which poses a potential health risk, especially for the elderly and immune-suppressed people. However, salmonella infection may be prevented most of the time with good food handling techniques, including special care to fully cook eggs.
Ultimately, whether or not you choose to include eggs in your daily diet will depend on taste preferences and your conclusions regarding the risks versus the benefits, but there’s no doubt that eggs are an inexpensive source of a variety of nutrients.
Natalie Digate MuthContributor
Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, FAAP is the Senior Advisor for Healthcare Solutions for the American Council on Exercise, a board-certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Diplomat of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, and ACE Certified Health Coach. She is the author of "Eat Your Vegetables and Other Mistakes Parents Make: Redefining How to Raise Healthy Eaters" and the textbook "Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals." She has been ACE certified since 1998.