People have eaten eggs for thousands of years. There are many types of egg, but the most common choice is that of the chicken.
Eggs contain several vitamins and minerals that are essential parts of a healthful diet. In many parts of the world, eggs are a readily available, inexpensive food.
In the past, there was some controversy about whether eggs are healthful or not, especially concerning cholesterol. The current thinking, however, is that, in moderation, eggs are healthful, as they can be a good source of protein and other essential nutrients.
This article describes the nutritional contents of eggs and possible health benefits and risks. It also gives tips on incorporating more eggs into the diet and looks at egg alternatives.
Eggs can provide a number of health benefits.
Strong muscles: The protein in eggs helps maintain and repair body tissues, including muscle.
Brain health: Eggs contain vitamins and minerals that are necessary for the brain and the nervous system to function effectively.
Energy production: Eggs contain all the nutrients that the body needs to produce energy.
A healthy immune system: The vitamin A, vitamin B-12, and selenium in eggs are key to keeping the immune system healthy.
Lower risk of heart disease: The choline in eggs plays an important part in breaking down the amino acid homocysteine, which may contribute to heart disease.
A healthy pregnancy: Eggs contain folic acid, which may help prevent congenital disabilities, such as spina bifida.
Eye health: The lutein and zeaxanthin in eggs help prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of age-related blindness. Other vitamins in eggs also promote good vision.
Weight loss and maintenance: The protein in eggs can help people feel full for longer. This can reduce the urge to snack and lower a person’s overall calorie intake.
Skin health: Some vitamins and minerals in eggs help promote healthy skin and prevent the breakdown of body tissues. A strong immune system also helps a person look and feel well.
To experience the health benefits of eggs, a person should eat them as part of a balanced diet.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one medium boiled or poached egg weighing 44 g can provide the following nutrients:
- Energy: 62.5 calories
- Protein 5.5 grams (g)
- Total fat: 4.2 g, of which 1.4 g are saturated
- Sodium: 189 milligrams (mg)
- Calcium: 24.6 mg
- Iron: 0.8 mg
- Magnesium 5.3 mg
- Phosphorus: 86.7 mg
- Potassium: 60.3 mg
- Zinc: 0.6 mg
- Cholesterol: 162 mg
- Selenium: 13.4 micrograms (mcg)
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: 220 mcg
- Folate: 15.4 mcg
Eggs are also a source of vitamins A, B, E, and K.
Egg white and yolk are both rich sources of protein. Around 12.6% of the edible part of an egg is protein.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults aged 19 and over should consume 46–56 g of protein each day, depending on their age and sex. This should represent 10–35% of their daily calories.
In 2018, one researcher concluded that eggs contain high quality protein and that eating eggs is unlikely to lead to heart disease.
While meat can also be a good source of protein, it may contain high levels of less healthful elements, such as saturated fat.
How many calories are in eggs? Find out here.
One medium egg contains about 4.2 g of fat, of which 1.4 g are saturated. Most fat in an egg is unsaturated. Experts consider this to be the best type of fat for a balanced diet.
Total fat should make up 25–35% of a person’s daily calories, and saturated fat should represent less than 10%.
This means that a person who takes in 2,000 calories a day should consume a maximum of 22 g of saturated fat.
Not all fats are bad for you. Learn more here.
Omega-3 fatty acids
These fatty acids are most common in oily fish. Eggs can provide an alternative source for people who do not eat fish.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient, and low levels can lead to weak or brittle bones. Eggs naturally contain this vitamin, and some are fortified with vitamin D through hens’ feed.
The body synthesizes most of the vitamin D that it needs from sunlight. However, people also need some vitamin D from dietary sources.
A medium egg contains around 0.9 mcg of vitamin D, all of which are in the yolk.
One medium egg typically contains 162 mg of cholesterol. In the past, experts recommended limiting the intake of eggs for this reason.
However, researchers have not found a link between egg consumption and the risk of heart disease.
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). “Good” HDL cholesterol appears to reduce levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Consuming eggs appears to increase levels of HDL cholesterol and reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.
In addition, eggs are low in saturated fat. As a result, their effect on blood cholesterol levels is likely to be clinically insignificant.
What are some natural ways to reduce cholesterol? Find out here.
There are different types of eggs on the market, including:
The USDA grade eggs that meet their standards. In order for them to grade eggs as free-range, for example, the eggs must come from hens with:
- unlimited access to food and water
- freedom to roam within an area
- continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle
One 2017 study found that organic eggs from hens with the freedom to choose their own food had higher levels of certain nutrients than eggs from caged hens. The organic eggs had significantly higher levels of protein, potassium, and copper.
Another study, published in 2014, found that hens that could roam outside in the sunlight produced eggs that contained 3–4 times as much vitamin D-3 as eggs from hens kept indoors. The researchers suggest that allowing hens to roam may be an alternative to fortifying eggs with vitamin D.
Eggs are a versatile food, and many people enjoy them fried, boiled, scrambled, or baked. They are easy to incorporate into a diet.
Boiled or poached eggs, for example, are simple to make and contain no added fat. Sprinkle pepper, chili powder, or sumac on the eggs for added flavor.
Plain boiled eggs can be a good snack or a meal for a person with digestive problems or someone who is recovering from an illness.
Hard-boiled eggs are a convenient picnic food, and they go well in a salad.
Huevos rancheros is a Latin favorite that involves an egg on a base of tomato, with herbs and other flavorings. Try this recipe.
Consuming eggs comes with some health risks:
Bacteria: Raw or undercooked eggs can contain bacteria, which can enter through pores in the shells. In the U.S., all eggs graded by the USDA undergo a sanitizing rinse before sale.
Allergies: Some people have an egg allergy or sensitivity. A person with an allergy may experience a life threatening reaction from coming into contact with eggs or egg products.
It is important for people with allergies to remember that baked goods often contain some egg, possibly as a powder. Check ingredients lists carefully.
A person with an allergy may also need to note whether a product is made in a facility that uses eggs, as trace amounts can trigger severe reactions in some people.
Avoiding the risks
Pasteurization: In the U.S., eggs undergo pasteurization, which involves rapidly heating them and keeping them at a high temperature for a while to kill off any Salmonella bacteria.
Buying and using: Do not purchase eggs that have cracked shells or are past their expiration date.
Storage: Store eggs in the refrigerator. According to the USDA, eggs can sweat at room temperature, making it easier for bacteria to enter the shells and grow.
Cooking: Cook eggs thoroughly until the yolks are firm, and the whites are opaque.
Some people do not eat eggs, such as people following a vegan diet. A wide variety of vegan egg alternatives are available.
These products may contain tofu or protein powder, and they come in a range of forms. A person can enjoy some products on their own — as scrambled eggs, for example — and incorporate others into cooking and baking.
Depending on the product, the nutrients will likely be different from those in hens’ eggs.
A person can purchase vegan egg substitutes in some supermarkets and health stores, as well as online.
Eggs can be a healthful addition to the diet, if a person eats them in moderation.
A person should aim to eat a balanced diet with lots of variety, rather than focusing on any individual food as a key to good health.
I am confused about free-range, organic, and other kinds of egg. Which should I choose?
Choosing a type of egg is a personal decision. Eggs are among the most healthful foods available, and deciding what type to buy is multifaceted.
Decide what factors — cost, health, farming practices, environmental concerns, and so on — are most important to you and your family, and go from there. My personal choice, although I can’t always make it a reality, is a pasture-raised egg from a local farmers market where I can discuss my concerns with the farmer himself.
Katherine Marengo LDN, RD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.