Eggs, Nutrition and Health - Nutrition Health Food  Nutrition Health Food

Eggs, Nutrition and Health - Nutrition Health Food Nutrition Health Food

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Many types of eggs can be eaten, however for the sake of simplicity, unless otherwise specified the eggs referred to in this article are hens eggs.

In recent years some people have become wary of eating eggs. There are two main areas that seem to cause people concern: the risk of salmonella and the high level of cholesterol found in eggs.

Salmonella is a serious and sometimes life threatening condition (especially in the elderly and people with weak immune systems). Its most common symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within 8 to 72 hours of eating a contaminated product. In most cases, the illness lasts 4 to 7 days and most people recover without treatment.

Good hygiene can substantially reduce the risk of salmonella infection. For example, in commercial practice, eggs are washed with a sanitizing solution within minutes of being laid. The risk of infection from raw or undercooked eggs partly depends on the sanitary conditions in which the hens are kept.

While salmonella outbreaks caused by eggs have been rare in the UK in recent years, the US has not been so lucky. In August 2010 half a billion eggs were recalled after salmonella was detected in the eggs from two farms in Iowa.

To minimise the risk of salmonella, health experts advise people to refrigerate eggs, use them within two weeks, cook them thoroughly, and never consume raw eggs.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about cholesterol, I’ll come to that later!

Eggs are a Great Source of Nutrition

Eggs are one of nature’s most nutritionally dense foods. They contain high quality protein which includes all 9 essential amino acids and many vitamins and minerals, which makes them a particularly good choice for vegetarians.

Eggs are particularly rich in vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B12 and vitamin D, but they also contain vitamin A and a number of other B vitamins including folate, biotin, pantothenic acid and choline. Eggs also contain essential minerals and trace elements, including phosphorus, iodine and selenium.

The table below shows a breakdown of the nutrients found in eggs:

Why these nutrients, found in eggs, are important:

Vitamin A is needed to form and maintain healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucous membranes, and skin. It is also known as retinol because it produces the pigments in the retina of the eye and it is important for good vision, especially in low light.

Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, both of which are needed for healthy bones and teeth.

Vitamin B12 is needed for the formation of red blood cells and is also important for the function of the immune and nervous systems. It is needed to absorb folic acid and it helps to release energy.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) plays a critical role in the body’s energy production as it helps in the breakdown of protein, fat and carbohydrate. It is important for healthy skin, eyes, nervous system and mucous membranes. It also helps produce steroids and red blood cells and may help the body absorb iron from the food we eat.

Folate (also known as folic acid or vitamin B9) works with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells and it is also essential for the development of other new cells. It is especially important for pregnant women, as it can help to prevent birth defects suchas spina bifida. It also helps to support the immune system and is believed to be important for heart health.

Biotin (vitamin B7) is needed for the release of energy from food, for maintaining normal skin and hair and for the functioning of the nervous system.

Pantothenic acidVitamin B5 is essential for human growth, reproduction and many normal bodily processes. It is needed to metabolise nutrients and for the release of energy from food; it helps to manufacture antibodies, vitaminD and some hormones. It also stimulates the healing of wounds.

Choline is not strictly a vitamin, although it is often grouped with the B-complex vitamins, because it works closely with them (especially B9 and B12). It is however an essential nutrient that is vital for the health of cell membranes and heart and brain functions, among a range of other things.

Researching is being udertaken into the possibility that choline may be beneficial in treating and even preventing diseases that affect the brain and central nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s (people with Alzheimer’s usually have low levels of acetylcholine in their brains).

Studies have also shown that choline is also extremely important during pregnancy, as it has been shown to play an important role in fetal and infant brain development, affecting the areas of the brain responsible for memory and life-long learning ability. It can also help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida.

Low choline intake may cause elevated homocysteine level, which raises the risk for pre-eclampsia, premature birth, and very low birth weight.

Breast feeding women may also need more choline as it is transferred to the child during breastfeeding. Choline is so important for babies that the FDA requires that infant formula not made from cow’s milk be supplemented with choline.

Choline is also needed for gallbladder and liver function, lecithin formation, hormone production, and to regulate the central nervous system. 

Strict vegetarians who avoid all animal products, endurance athletes and people who drink a lot of alcohol may be at risk for choline deficiency. People who do not eat many whole eggs may also have to pay close attention to get enough choline in their diets.

A deficiency of choline may contribute to liver degeneration and hardening of the arteries.

Phosphorus is essential to the structure of bones and teeth. About 85% of phosphorus in the body can be found in bones and teeth, but it is also present in cells and tissues throughout the body.

Phosphorus helps filter out waste in the kidneys and plays an essential role in how the body stores and uses energy. It is needed for the growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues and cells, and for the production of the genetic building blocks, DNA and RNA.

Phosphorus is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc.

Iodine is needed for production of thyroid hormones, so is vital for the normal functioning of the thyroid gland.

It helps to maintain healthy metabolic rate, cell metabolism (the conversion of food to energy) and strong connective tissue. It is also involved in the maintenance of healthy skin, nails and hair.

Selenium plays an important role in our immune system’s function, in thyroid hormone metabolism and in reproduction. It is also part of the body’s antioxidant defence system, preventing damage to cells and tissues.

Carotenoids are another type of nutrient, although neither a vitamin or mineral, which exist in the pigment of the egg yolk. Carotenoids may prevent cell, tissue, and genetic damage. They may also increase immunity to infection, reduce risk of cancer, and protect against heart disease

Eggs are a source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which are important for eye health. These carotenoids are deposited in the eyes and act as antioxidants neutralising free radicals, which can cause cell damage.

There are also indications that one or both of these substances can help to filter out harmful blue light and stopping it from reaching and damaging the back of the retina. At least one study has shown that lutein and zeaxanthin may also play a role in preventing cataracts.

If you also consider that eggs are a source of retinol (important for good vision, especially in low light) then you can understand how eggs offer great nutrition for healthy eyes.

Many people know that eggs are high in cholesterol and it is often recommended that people limit their intake of eggs bacause of this.

However most of the cholesterol in the body does not come from the cholesterol we consume in our diet, but is manufactured by the body. The body is able to regulate the amount of cholesterol it produces, so if more dietary cholesterol is available it can decrease its production.

But there is more. Eating eggs may actually have a positive effect on cholesterol levels. It’s all to do with the essential nutrient, choline (described above) which is something that eggs are a very good source of.

Choline is an essential element of a phospholipid (a fat molecule) called phosphatidylcholine. This is vital for the liver’s ability to break down fat and cholesterol into the “Very Low Density Lipoproteins” (VLDLs) which are carried around the body in the bloodstream.

Any deficiency of choline may result in the liver becoming unable to metabolise dietary fat and cholesterol and the resulting accumulation may lead to the condition known as “fatty liver” and ultimately perhaps to serious liver disease and possibly to an increased risk of liver cancer.

VLDLs are also necessary for the production of the High Density Lipoproteins (HDLs), the so-called “good cholesterol”, which is generally recognised as a significant protector against cardiovascular disease.

There is also some evidence that choline may assist in the breaking down of homocysteine, a naturally occurring protein within the body, which is strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

It may seem paradoxical, but it is probable that eating eggs is probably better for your cholesterol levels than avoiding them.

The British Heart Foundation used to recommend eating no more than 3 eggs a week, but they dropped that recommendation back in 2007 in the light of evidence about eggs’ likely effect on cholesterol levels.

Eggs Really Are Good For You

Eggs are one of nature’s most nutritionally dense foods. As well as being a great source of protein and many essential nutrients, eggs are extremely versatile and cheap!

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