The Truth About Eggs – 6 Facts About Egg Nutrition and Labeling

December 9, 2016

Nutrition myths abound, especially when it comes to eggs. Learn the truth about eggs including six facts regarding their nutrition and labeling.

Nutrition myths abound, especially when it comes to eggs. Learn the truth about eggs including six facts regarding their nutrition and labeling @jlevinsonrd.

This post was written as part of my ongoing sponsored partnership with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. All opinions expressed are my own.

I feel bad for eggs. There’s so much about them to love, yet many people fear them. For years, thinking eggs were a major cause of high cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease, health experts have recommended that egg consumption be limited.

In fact, for years I was one of those people who stigmatized eggs and limited my consumption to hard-boiled egg whites or an egg-white-only omelet —figuring the protein-rich egg white was all that was worth eating anyway. Boy was I wrong, and so were the experts who made these recommendations.

Some people are also apprehensive about buying and eating eggs because of what they have heard, read, or seen about how hens are raised. If you do choose to buy eggs, you may be confused by all the labels on the carton — “natural,” “cage-free,” “free-range,” and “vegetarian fed” are just some of them.

To help you cut through the clutter of misinformation and get to the truth about eggs, here are six facts about egg nutrition and labeling.

The Truth About Eggs

FACT #1: Eggs Are Nutritional Powerhouses

One large egg has 13 essential vitamins and minerals, 6 grams of protein, and all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) – all for only 70 calories! Here are some of the standout nutrients found in eggs — especially the yolks — and what they can do for you:

  • Choline: Found in the yolk, this nutrient plays an essential role in fetal and infant brain development and may be important for brain function in adults. Adequate choline during pregnancy also may prevent neural tube defects.
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Also found in the yolk, these two phytochemicals play a role in eye health — particularly in the prevention of cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Vitamin D: Known as the sunshine vitamin, this nutrient is found in only a few natural sources, one of which is the egg yolk. Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium, making it essential for the health of your bones and teeth.
  • Protein: Eggs are a good source of high-quality protein, with about 60% coming from the whites and about 40% from the yolks. Protein is satiating, which helps with appetite and blood sugar control, both of which are important for weight maintenance and diabetes prevention.

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FACT #2: Eggs Can Be Part of a Heart-Healthy Diet

Most people are familiar with the old recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol to 300 mg/day, however, this limit was removed in the most recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Believe it or not, cholesterol is essential to our body and plays a special role in the formation of brain cells and certain hormones. What most people don’t realize is there’s a difference between dietary cholesterol — cholesterol found in food — and blood cholesterol — cholesterol in your bloodstream, most of which is made in the liver. The primary dietary culprit of increased blood cholesterol is saturated fat and trans fats, both of which should be limited.

The truth about eggs and cholesterol is proven in research that shows eggs, which are a source of dietary cholesterol, have little impact on blood cholesterol levels. For example, a study found in the American Heart Journal found daily consumption of eggs or egg substitutes show no adverse effects on any cardiac risk factors. Even more so, the authors of the study said that excluding eggs could potentially lead to alternate choices high in starch and sugar, potentially associated with increased cardiovascular risk.

Fact #3: There Is No Nutritional Difference Between Cage-Free, Free-Range, and Conventional Eggs

There is no scientific data showing nutritional differences between these types of eggs. The differences are solely the environment in which the laying hens are raised.

  • Conventional Eggs: Laid by hens living in cages with access to feed, water, and security. The cages serve as nesting space and protect the birds from the elements, disease, and predators.
  • Free-Range Eggs: Laid by hens housed in a building, room or area that allows for unlimited access to food, water, and the outdoors. The outdoor area may be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. These hens may forage for wild plants and insects in addition to consuming their diet of grains.
  • Cage-Free Eggs: Also known as free-roaming eggs, these are laid by hens housed in a building, room, or enclosed area in a barn or poultry house, which allows for unlimited access to food, water, and provides the freedom to roam within the area.

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Fact #4: There Is No Nutritional Difference Between Brown and White Eggs

Brown bread (ie. whole grain) is healthier than white bread, so brown eggs should be better than white, right? Wrong! The color of the shell is based on the type of hen that laid the egg and does not affect the quality or nutrition of the eggs. Brown eggs tend to be larger in size than white eggs and cost more to produce, hence the higher price tag. 

Fact #5: All Eggs are Antibiotic-Free, Hormone-Free, Natural, and Non-GMO

As I mentioned in my post Chicken Myths & Truths, the use of hormones in eggs is forbidden by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Whether or not it says so on the carton, you can rest assured that no hormones are given to egg laying hens.

Similarly, you need not fear antibiotics in eggs. The egg industry does not use antibiotics on a continuous basis; therefore, eggs are generally antibiotic-free. That said, there are occasions when antibiotics may be used for the health of hens (just like humans use antibiotics on occasion when they are sick). Hens who receive antibiotics rarely produce eggs, as their egg production is severely decreased due to illness, and if an egg is produced, it would be diverted from human consumption according to FDA regulations.

Seeing eggs labeled as natural and non-GMO? That’s another marketing tactic. According to the USDA, all shell eggs are natural and eggs are not a genetically modified food. Research confirms that any GM food in the hen feed is not passed into the egg itself.

Mediterranean Style Egg & Cheese | Smoky halloumi, fragrant rosemary-garlic roasted tomatoes, and poached eggs top hearty sourdough bread in this light & lean breakfast for dinner - or anytime - recipe! Get the vegetarian recipe @jlevinsonrd.

Fact #6: Hens Fed Different Diets May Or May Not Produce Eggs With Slightly Different Nutrients

Some egg cartons may have claims like “omega-3 enriched” or “vegetarian fed” based on what the hens are fed. In general, commercially raised hens are fed a specially formulated feed consisting of corn, cottonseed, soybean meal, and/or sorghum. Poultry nutrition specialists carefully balance the feed to make sure it has the right amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

Some producers add flax, marine algae, or fish oils to increase the omega-3 fatty acid content of the yolk. Whereas most shell eggs have about 30 mg of omega-3 per egg, omega-3 enhanced eggs provide anywhere from 100 to 600 mg omega-3 per egg.

On the other hand, eggs touted as vegetarian fed—meaning they are produced by hens whose feed is free of animal by-products—are no different nutritionally than conventionally fed eggs. Some experts suggest that feeding hens a vegetarian diet may actually increase feed costs and reduce feed efficiency.

So, there you have it; six facts about egg nutrition and labeling that you may not have been aware of, and that show you the truth about eggs. Hopefully this helps clear up some of the confusion and you’re ready to get cooking.

Click through the images in this post to get the recipes for some of my favorite egg recipes you’ll want to try! You can also find some more egg recipes from healthy food bloggers and RDs in this Eggs Anytime Recipe Roundup.

Did you know the truth about eggs?

Do you have any remaining egg questions?

Share with me in the comments below!

A version of this post originally appeared in February 2015

The Truth About Eggs | Nutrition myths abound, especially when it comes to eggs. Learn the truth about eggs including six facts regarding their nutrition and labeling @jlevinsonrd.
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  1. I feel bad for eggs too!! I work with heart failure patients and every single one of them won’t touch eggs because of the myths of the past. I have to let them know that yes, you can have an egg every once and a while! Be friends with eggs!

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I totally agree. Thank you for making a distinction between the effects of endogenously produced and dietary cholesterol. Poor eggs and cheese, they have gotten such a bad rep. I love these wonderful vegetarian sources of protein 🙂

    1. Thanks Lauren! It’s so frustrating how maligned certain foods are because of a study here or there. And consumers don’t understand that what’s reported in the media is not the whole story. I can’t stand the sensational headlines! It’s so nice knowing there are other dietitians dispelling the myths!

  3. Eggs have so many health benefits: they are among the most nutritious foods on the planet.; they are rich in good cholesterol, chlorine, antioxidants and quality protein. Eggs lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of stroke. They also tend to make people eat fewer calories, leading to weight loss. Definitely an egg-supporter!

    1. So glad you enjoy eggs and understand the benefits Ethel! (I think you meant choline though, not chlorine, lol). Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Great article, Jessica. As a 20-year advisor to the Egg Nutrition Center, I appreciate your setting the record straight about the super star role eggs can play as part of a nutritious, healthful diet!

    1. Thanks so much Neva! I know you’re an avid supporter of eggs. I think the word is spreading about how good eggs are for us, but the labeling issue is another area we need help to set the record straight.

  5. awesome post!! I love my eggs too. I still have a lot of people ask me about the truth behind the cholesterol in eggs and whether or not they can eat them, this provides some great clarity!

    1. Thanks so much Abbey! It’s amazing how much misinformation there is and people are still afraid of cholesterol in eggs. hope this is a helpful resource for you to direct people to.

  6. This is so interesting Jess! I had no idea about the fed information and am shocked about the veg fed diet, but it makes sense! Also interesting on the high variance with omegas, I may need to look at those more closely next time! Great post!

    1. Thanks so much Sonali – I really appreciate that feedback and so glad you find the posts helpful and informative. And I’m extra happy to hear that you no longer fear the whole egg either!

  7. Yes there a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about eggs.
    Side not I got to learn all about yolk coloring while on a tour with my mother in law at her work. Apearantly in different parts of the world different colored yolks are perfered. It was interesting.

  8. I’m a big fan of eggs. When we lived in MD and had our small farm, having laying hens was so much fun.
    Even though what you say about the eggs themselves are partially true concerning antibiotics and gmos, the feed they actually feed the chickens is another story.
    Having had chickens and worked with large farmers myself, it’s just a good idea to understand the whole process. What they eat plays a major part in the nutrition of the eggs.

    1. Thanks for sharing Mikki. I’m not quite sure what you mean about the feed being another story. Can you share that since you have some personal experience?

  9. Wow, so much good information here! I was allergic to eggs as a kid, so I’ve struggled a bit incorporating them as an adult, but needed this reminder. My dad loves eggs, but was limiting his egg yolks due to cholesterol concerns. I finally convinced him that he can eat the yolks! He’s pretty happy about that now 🙂

    1. Thanks Alisa. I know so many kids who are allergic to eggs and it’s great that they can grow out of it like you do. I’m thrilled for your dad that he gets to eat the yolks now too!!

  10. We eat eggs daily, but always choose humanely raised eggs in our house. And nutrients aside – they taste better! 🙂 Great info in this post, I know so many people are still afraid of the cholesterol in eggs, so this is a great way to clear up the confusion!!

    1. Thanks Heather. I think most farmers would say that they raise their eggs humanely, so I’m curious what brand you buy and whether that label is regulated at all.

  11. I personally feel better without eggs. I was allergic as a kid and now when I try to eat them I don’t feel well, so might still be the case even they don’t show up in tests.

    1. Thanks so much Lindsey and I appreciate you sharing! I totally agree – the marketers make it so much more difficult than it has to be!

    1. I decided to write about this because of all the questions I get and b/c I was tired of hearing moms talking about these myths (as if they were truths) at birthday parties! Thanks in advance for sharing this with people!

  12. I was under the impression that, like livestock or meat from an animal, their feed (i.e. GMO corn) could transfer the undesirable effects of glyphosate to the egg. I’d love to hear this is not the case.

    1. Hi Beth, according to the US Poultry and Egg Association that is not the case. They say that genes do not transfer from corn to the animals that eat it. Hope that helps.