Eggs: The Nutritional Benefits of This Superfood
Out of all the debates in the nutrition world, the debate over the health benefits of eggs might be the longest standing and most heated. After all, one side says that eggs are an unhealthy source of saturated fat and inflammatory albumin while the other says that eggs are one of the greatest superfoods we have at our disposal.
So, what’s the truth about eggs? Are they healthy, or not? As a functional medicine expert, sifting through nutrition research is one of my favorite activities. Keep reading for my take on eggs and their health benefits.
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Nutritional Benefits of Eggs
When it comes to the debate over eggs, I’d be remiss if I didn't start out with the fact that eggs contain a lot of beneficial, healthy nutrients. With 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, and only about 80 calories, an egg is incredibly nutrient-dense. In addition to protein and fat, an egg also contains:
- 6% of the RDA of vitamin A
- 5% of the RDA of folate
- 7% of the RDA of vitamin B5
- 9% of the RDA of vitamin B12
- 15% of the RDA of vitamin B2
- 9% of the RDA of phosphorus
- 22% of the RDA of selenium
- 100 mg of choline
One egg also contains about 100 milligrams of choline, which is an incredibly important nutrient that works to support the membranes of cells. Talk about a bite-sized blast of nutrients!
Eggs Yolks and Cholesterol
Historically much of the criticism of eggs had to do with the saturated fat found in eggs and fears that they would negatively affect cholesterol levels. This caused many of us to stick to egg whites growing up, discarding the orange yolk right into the trash can or down the sink. Unfortunately, more recent research suggests we’d be better off consuming the whole egg and that the cholesterol worries were exaggerated if not totally inaccurate. For example, studies have shown that consuming eggs has been linked to positive changes in LDL and an increase in HDL which is known as “good” cholesterol. (1)
Not only do egg yolks contain nutrients that alter cholesterol levels in healthy ways, they also contain other nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin, two powerful antioxidants that can benefit many aspects of health. Studies have shown that eating 1.3 egg yolks per day for almost 5 week led to significant increases in blood levels of these two antioxidants. (2)
Food Sensitivities and Eggs
After reading the section, it’s hard to argue against the fact that eggs have some pretty impressive health benefits. But the truth is that no one food is healthy for everyone — and eggs are no exception. In fact, eggs are one of the most common food allergies in the world. An egg allergy can range from mild to severe and cause symptoms like skin rashes, hives, nasal congestion, and vomiting or other digestive problems. There have also been reports of how the albumin in eggs can cause reactions for those with autoimmunity, so I often recommend an egg elimination diet for my patients with autoimmune disease.
At my Functional Medicine Clinic, I offer food sensitivity testing that can help you determine whether eggs are a problem for you or not. If they are, I typically recommend completing the food plan that I outline in my book The Inflammation Spectrum. It helps you eliminate common problem foods, including eggs, and heal the gut and chronic inflammation so that you get back to feeling your best.
If you notice that you have a negative reaction to eggs, it’s possible that the culprit isn’t actually the egg itself but the food that the chickens were fed. How is that? Well, factory farmed chickens are often fed grains, grain by-products, and meals made from canola or soybean meal. Ideally, I recommend buying eggs from the farmers market directly from a farmer. That way, you can ask the farmer about what the chickens eat and how they are treated. Another option is looking for eggs at the store that are organic and free-range, which means the chickens roam outside in the sun eating real food instead of being in a factory-farm setting where chickens spend as much as 95 percent of their lives in a small cage. This is beneficial not just for your health and an animal welfare perspective but for the health of the planet since these factory farms release greenhouse gases and can contaminate soil and water in nearby areas.
You can typically distinguish a high-quality egg because the egg yolk will be a vibrant orange color, not a light orange or yellow-ish orange. The more vibrant color means the egg contains high levels of antioxidants and healthy fats.
At the end of the day, the answer to the question “Are eggs healthy, or not?” depends on your individual health and nutritional needs. For most people, eggs are a great, nutrient-dense food that is high in protein and healthy fats. For some, eggs are not recommended. As with most nutrition debates, our time would be better spent asking the question: “Are eggs a good choice for me?”
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- Blesso CN, Andersen CJ, Barona J, Volek JS, Fernandez ML. Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Metabolism. 2013 Mar;62(3):400-10. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2012.08.014. Epub 2012 Sep 27. PMID: 23021013.
- Handelman GJ, Nightingale ZD, Lichtenstein AH, Schaefer EJ, Blumberg JB. Lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in plasma after dietary supplementation with egg yolk. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Aug;70(2):247-51. doi: 10.1093/ajcn.70.2.247. PMID: 10426702.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.