Can Eggs be Part of a Healthy Diet in Children?

The Egg Nutrition Center partnered with Yanni Papanikolaou, MPH, PhDc to write this blog post

With children in school and on a routine schedule, there can be frustration and anxiety about what goes on to the breakfast plate for those active young, ready-to-learn brains. As someone who is immersed in nutrition research, I often get asked questions usually framed into one of two buckets: which foods should I eat and which should I avoid? At a recent gathering, parents were discussing the trials and tribulations of the morning rush and what to feed their kids and, naturally, the conversation turned to eggs with one parent questioning the need for eggs in children’s diets. With our recent ENC-sponsored research study examining the nutritional relevance of eggs in children, which was published this past May in the journal Nutrients, I gladly provided my expert opinion.

For our study, we used twelve years of data that was collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and we examined nutrient intakes, diet quality and growth-related health outcomes in American children 2 to 18 years-old who ate eggs. In turn, we compared findings of those who ate eggs to children who did not eat eggs and found that a dietary pattern that includes eggs was associated with greater daily intakes of several nutrients, including dietary protein, omega 3 fats, lutein + zeaxanthin, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and selenium.

Children in the study who included eggs in their diet also had increased choline intake when compared to children avoiding eggs. Choline is an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in brain health and development, and most children in the US are not meeting recommendations (Adequate Intake for children ≥4 years-old is 550 mg)1. One large egg contributes about 150 mg of dietary choline and eggs represent a leading food source of choline in the American diet2. While previous research has shown that humans can produce small amounts of choline in the body, levels are not sufficient to meet the physiological needs1. Choline is required to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is an integral part of memory function, mood, muscle health, and other brain and nervous system functions. Some experts have also suggested that choline is particularly important in younger children as part of early brain development and function1.

Additionally, as part of the study, we also found that children who included eggs in their diet, also had greater intakes of potassium, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E—all of which have been designated as shortfall nutrients by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015 DGA)3. Further, vitamin D and potassium are classified as nutrients of public health concern by the 2015 DGA because their underconsumption has been linked with adverse health outcomes.4

The research also examined whether differences were present for body weight and being overweight or obese. There were no differences for any of these weight-related variables in egg and non-egg consumers. Similarly, no differences were seen for height measurements.

In 2018 ENC-sponsored study, my colleague Dr. Fulgoni, and myself, found that egg consumption in infants and toddlers was associated with several nutrient and health benefits. Introducing eggs as part of complimentary feeding practices in infants and toddlers was linked to improved nutrient profiles, including higher daily intakes of protein and nutrients important in healthy brain and eye development, including omega-3 fatty acids, choline, lutein and zeaxanthin. Infant and toddler egg consumers also had greater recumbent length5 (i.e., length of an infant/toddler while lying down) when compared to infants and toddler not consuming eggs6.

Interestingly, one of the reasons Dr. Fulgoni and myself became interested in conducting the research in children was simply because the data considering egg consumers vs. non-consumers did not exist. Regardless of whether scientific evidence exists, myths around the nutritional importance of eggs in the diet will continue to propagate. It remains my mission to bust myths without scientific support and communicate and promote messages with robust scientific backing. So next time someone misclassifies eggs as not being part of a healthy diet, feel free to bust their myths with evidence that says otherwise.

References

  1. National Institutes of Health. US Dept. of Health and Human Services. Choline: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/.
  2. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release, April 2018. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
  4. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2015. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/growthcharts/who/using/transitioning.htm
  6. Papanikolaou Y and Fulgoni VL 3rd. Egg consumption in infants is associated with longer recumbent length and greater intake of several nutrients essential in growth and development. Nutrients. 2018 June 4 10(6); https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/6/719.