Eggs Across The Lifespan

Eggs contain a number of nutrients that are essential throughout the lifespan:

  • High-quality protein contains building blocks needed to support healthy bones and muscles. Research suggests that exercise, along with optimal protein intake, can slow the effects of sarcopenia or chronic age-related muscle loss.
  • Choline is essential for normal liver function and brain health. It is especially important during pregnancy to support normal fetal growth and development, and most pregnant women do not consume adequate amounts of choline. Consuming eggs during pregnancy is one solution to choline consumption issues.
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that are believed to reduce the risk of developing cataracts and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration, a disease that develops with age.

Parental Feeding Practices and Child Nutrition

By: Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN, LD 

Key messages

  • Nutrition in the first several years of life sets lifetime food preferences and eating practices
  • Teaching parents how to implement appropriate feeding practices at home enables an environment where children learn to prefer unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, such as eggs.
  • Parents need to be educated about serving nutrient-dense foods, and responsive feeding and positive parenting techniques.

Nutrition in the first several years of life sets lifetime food preferences and eating practices.1 Proper nutrition in the toddler years is also critical for rapid development.2 In fact, because toddlers have small stomachs, they need a diet of nutrient-dense foods that are minimally processed, such as eggs.

Many parents, however, are faced with picky eating behaviors. Most parents do not have adequate training in parental feeding and child nutrition, and this often leads them to practices that may promote poor nutrition and obesity.3

Many parents do not understand that “picky eating” is a normal behavior observed in most children. As a result, they begin to use unhelpful strategies to overcome this “problem.” They employ tactics such as restriction, bribing, and pressuring to get their children to eat nutritious foods.4 Unfortunately, these tactics are associated with poor long-term nutrition and health outcomes.

Here’s a scenario. A mother learns that eggs are one of the densest food sources of choline, and choline is necessary for proper brain development. She feels strongly that she wants her child to eat eggs. She serves eggs to her two-year-old daughter. Her daughter rejects them. The mom is upset. She begins to pressure her daughter to eat them. She forces her daughter to take a bite and mealtime becomes unpleasant. Other times, she bribes her daughter to eat the eggs, using dessert as a bribe. Unfortunately, these feeding practices can lead to an increased risk of obesity and a decreased preference for eggs in the long run.

This is a common scenario,4 showing parents need both nutrition information and feeding practice information. Nutrition professionals have the opportunity to instruct parents on evidence-based feeding practices. This will help parents teach their children to learn to like healthy choices without causing a damaged relationship with food.

Evidence-based parental feeding practices4 include the following.5

Exposure to nutrient-dense foods. While parents often think that a child does not like a food after only serving it once or twice, it may take many exposures for the child to accept it. It is essential to instruct parents to serve nutrient-dense foods, like eggs, repeatedly, and in different forms. Along with serving them frequently, parents can be given techniques for helping children choose to taste foods.

Responsive feeding. This type of feeding is a structure6 in which parents decide where food is served, what food is served, and when food is served, while children, decide what they want to eat from what is provided, and how much to eat. Parents use hunger and satiety cues from the child to help the child preserve their ability to self-regulate food intake.

Positive parenting. This type of parenting encompasses warmth toward the child and encourages autonomy and self-efficacy in the child. Parents provide behavioral limits and also sensitivity to cues from the child. It also includes role modeling. Parents can be encouraged to model eating a nutrient-dense diet and provide structure around food and feeding.

Given the ubiquitous presence of highly processed low-nutrient food in the food supply, parents need both nutrition and practice information. They need instruction to feed their children nutrient-dense foods that fill important nutrient needs, such as eggs. They also need information about positive feeding practices to help their children learn to eat nutrient-dense foods in the short-term and long-term.

Jennifer Anderson is a registered dietitian, mom of 2, and educates hundreds of thousands of parents @kids.eat.in.color on Instagram. She is the owner of Jennifer Anderson Nutrition, LLC, a public health company focused on chronic disease prevention and maternal mental health.

References

  1. Anzman-Frasca S., et al. Promoting healthy food preferences from the start: a narrative review of food preference learning from the prenatal period through early childhood. Obes Rev. 2018;19:576-604.
  2. Mameli C., et al. Nutrition in the First 1000 Days: The Origin of Childhood Obesity. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016;13.
  3. Kiefner-Burmeister A., et al. Implementation of parental feeding practices: does parenting style matter? Public Health Nutr. 2016;19:2410-4.
  4. Daniels L. A. Feeding Practices and Parenting: A Pathway to Child Health and Family Happiness. Ann Nutr Metab 2019;74(suppl 2):29–42.
  5. Daniels L. Complementary feeding in an obesogenic environment: Behavioral and dietary quality outcomes and interventions. In: Black RE, et. al. Complementary feeding: Building the foundations for a healthy lifestyle. Nestlé Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. Volume 87. Basel: Nestec Ltd., Vevey/Karger AG; 2017. pp. 167–81.
  6. Black MM, et. al. Responsive feeding is embedded in a theoretical framework of responsive parenting. J Nutr. 2011;141:490-4.

Infant complementary feeding: how do eggs fit?

As mandated by the Agricultural Act of 2014, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) will include dietary guidance for infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months of age, as well as pregnant women.  Scientific questions being examined by the current DGA Advisory Committee include recommendations for complementary foods and beverages, dietary patterns, as well as the mother’s diet during pregnancy.  Evaluation of how specific foods help to build healthy dietary patterns is a component of these reviews.  Recent evidence supports that eggs are a nutrient-dense component of early eating patterns, and introducing eggs in the first year of life (>4 months) may reduce the risk of developing a food allergy to eggs.

Previous recommendations from health organizations1 included guidance to avoid early introduction of eggs.  However, more recent data show that introduction of eggs after four to six months does not increase the risk of allergy.  A recent USDA/Department of Health and Human Services literature review evaluated complementary foods in relation to food allergy.  Twenty-eight studies that examined consumption of eggs as a complementary food in relation to development of any atopic disease was one component of this extensive review.2  The conclusion statement summarized, “Moderate evidence suggests that introducing egg in the first year of life (>4 months of age) may reduce risk of food allergy to egg.”  Although more research is needed to fill gaps related to complementary foods and beverages and allergy, these most recent data support that eggs should not be avoided once a child is developmentally ready to eat them.

Another recent analysis found that consumption of eggs in infants 6-24 months of age is associated with intake of several nutrients.3  Based on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2012 data, egg consumption in infants 6-24 months of age was linked with higher energy, protein, choline, lutein + zeaxanthin, α-linolenic acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium.  Infants who ate eggs also consumed higher levels of total fat, monounsaturated fat, saturated fat, and sodium, and lower amounts of total sugar compared to infants who did not eat eggs.  Further, egg consumption in infants was linked to longer recumbent length compared to non-consumers and not associated with body weight.

These observations build on the evidence that the nutrients in eggs are important for growing children.  Emerging evidence shows that both choline and lutein are critical for brain and neurological development during the first 1000 days post-conception,4 and a recent paper found it is difficult to achieve the Adequate Intake for choline without eating eggs or taking a dietary supplement.5   These nutrient intake observations in infants also demonstrate that a total-diet approach is important.  Eggs are one food within healthy dietary patterns and there is opportunity to offer children other nutrient-dense foods in combination with eggs to meet all nutrient needs.  Please see our First 1000 Days toolkit for more information.

  1. Zeiger, R.S., Food allergen avoidance in the prevention of food allergy in infants and children. Pediatrics, 2003. 111(6 Pt 3): p. 1662-71.
  2. Obbagy, J.E., et al., Complementary feeding and food allergy, atopic dermatitis/eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr, 2019. 109(Supplement_7): p. 890s-934s.
  3. Papanikolaou, Y. and V.L. Fulgoni, 3rd, Egg Consumption in Infants is Associated with Longer Recumbent Length and Greater Intake of Several Nutrients Essential in Growth and Development. Nutrients, 2018. 10(6).
  4. Wallace, T.C., A Comprehensive Review of Eggs, Choline, and Lutein on Cognition Across the Life-span. J Am Coll Nutr, 2018. 37(4): p. 269-285.
  5. Wallace, T.C. and V.L. Fulgoni, Usual Choline Intakes Are Associated with Egg and Protein Food Consumption in the United States. Nutrients, 2017. 9(8).

 

Healthy dietary patterns and brain health in children: the emerging role of lutein

Higher intake of carotenoid-rich vegetables and fruits has been consistently identified as a characteristic of healthy eating patterns.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids (lipid-soluble pigments) found abundantly in various vegetables such as spinach, kale, squash, peas, and are also present in egg yolks.  These yellow carotenoids are selectively taken up by macular tissue of the retina and new research links these pigments to eye health as well as cognition1.

Power of the First 1000 Days: Early Nutrition for Lifelong Health

Featured article in the Winter 2019 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN

Good nutrition is important at every stage of life but most dynamic and with the greatest vulnerability in the first 1000 days (pregnancy and the first two years). Researchers are connecting the impact of vital nutrients early in life with overall health, growth and neurodevelopment.