Crack open an egg and you find a wealth of nutrients. Because eggs contain a wide variety of nutrients compared to their calorie count (75 per Large egg), they’re called nutrient dense. Eating nutrient-dense foods helps us satisfy our nutrient needs without excess calories. The nutrient density benefit of eggs is especially important for older adults and anyone who is overweight.
Eggs are best known as a high-quality protein source. The protein in eggs contains all the essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Eggs are also a good source of the B vitamin riboflavin and contain varying amounts of a number of other nutrients, including vitamins A, B12 , D and E and folate and the mineral iron. Scientists have only just begun to learn about the importance of some egg nutrients, such as choline, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Choline is now thought to be vital in the development of fetal brain and memory functions. A lack of sufficient choline during pregnancy can cause defective memory or lower memory capabilities that last throughout life. Choline is essential for normal functioning of all cells and assures the structural development and signaling functions of cell membranes. Some studies suggest that choline may also improve both verbal and visual memory capacity later in life. Research shows that choline may help prevent heart disease, fatty liver and neural tube defects, too. A single Large egg yolk is a significant source of choline, providing 125 mg, at least 25% of our daily needs.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two yellow-orange plant pigments called carotenoids that have been shown to help prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people 65 and older. Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the eye lens and macular region of the retina. Scientists believe these carotenoids may protect the eye from damage due to oxidation. Studies have shown that generous intakes of these antioxidants are associated with up to 20% less cataract risk and up to 40% less AMD risk. One study also suggests that lutein may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Some foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables, contain more lutein and zeaxanthin than egg yolks (150 to 250 mcg lutein and about 213 mcg zeaxanthin per Large egg yolk, depending on the hen’s diet). But, because egg yolks contain fat, research indicates that the human body absorbs the lutein and zeaxanthin from egg yolks more easily than it absorbs the lutein and zeaxanthin from other sources.
Altogether, when you choose eggs as a high-quality protein source, you get a bonus of many other needed nutrients, from vitamin A through choline, lutein and zeaxanthin. But, beyond their good nutrition, eggs are also economical and quick and easy to prepare in a host of different ways. That’s pretty much a miracle!