The Omega-3 Egg?

Articles
January 03, 2011

The Omega-3 Egg?

Eggs are an American dietary staple because they're a great source of inexpensive, adaptable protein; these days some brands are also being touted as a good source of another nutrient: omega-3s.

Eggs are an American dietary staple because they're a great source of inexpensive, adaptable protein; these days some brands are also being touted as a good source of another nutrient: omega-3s.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a hot topic because of their proven beneficial effects on heart and overall health. The Institute of Medicine, recommends 1,100 milligrams of omega-3s per day for women and 1,600 mg for men.

So how did the omegas get in the eggs – and how much do they actually contain? Omega-3 eggs were developed in the 90’s by a Canadian food scientist looking for a way to repopularize eggs, whose consumption had declined due to fears of cholesterol content. Producing an omega-3 egg turned out to be fairly easy: feed hens flaxseed or another natural source (fishmeal and algae) of the fats and… they ended up in the eggs.

A quick refresher on omega-3s, the essential fatty acids: There are twenty different types of fatty acids needed by the body for optimum health. We can manufacture all but two, thus they are named, the essential fatty acids: Omega-3 Linolenic Acid (LNA) and Omega-6 Linoleic Acid (LA).

Specifically, omega-3 consists of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the components known for their role in protecting the brain and body cells from the physiological effects of stress, reducing heart disease risk factors, possibly reducing prevalence of dementia, reducing symptoms of some skin ailments, and helping support pregnancies and infant brain and eye development

EPA and DHA (from marine sources) are readily used by various cells in the body and contribute to the health benefits of omega-3s; ALA (found in plant foods) can not be directly used by the body and must be converted into EPA and DHA. The conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is limited and thus larger quantities of ALA rich foods need to be consumed to obtain sufficient levels.

Now back to the eggs, the majority of omega-3 eggs are from hens fed flaxseeds.  Flaxseeds are a less expensive feed than marine sources like fishmeal and algae.  Flaxseeds contain ALA, which then has to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body- not many omega-3 egg cartons specify the type of omega-3 on the label. Some companies claim to contain around 350 mg of omega-3s per egg, but the types DHA, EPA or ALA and amounts of each aren't specified on the carton. On the contrary, one popular brand reveals that its omega-3 large eggs each contain 160 mg of ALA and 32 mg of DHA.

Consumers take note! The amount of omega-3s in fortified eggs pale in comparison with the quantities found naturally in fatty fish. Three ounces of wild Alaskan salmon or sardines, provides 1,000 to 1,500 mgs of EPA and DHA combined. That means it's a lot easier to meet one's daily requirement by eating fish- plus the number of eggs it would take to meet the minimum omega requirement is almost a dozen!  Omega eggs often cost more and regarding most brands, you may not be getting much omega for your buck! Do keep in mind that eggs, omega-3 or not, are still a valuable source of nutrition.

If you are on a plant based diet, thus only consuming ALAs, it is recommended to consume between 1,300-2,700 mg ALA per day to ensure adequate amounts are being converted to EPA and DHA.