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.

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.

Lutein’s Role in Optimal Eye and Brain Health

Image: Actual lutein scores from attendees at the 2018 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo®.

Lutein is an important carotenoid that has been shown to act as internal sunglasses, protecting our eyes from harmful blue light. It also prevents against macular degeneration and other age-related eye diseases. Emerging research shows lutein’s benefits may extend beyond eye health, impacting cognitive function and brain health across the lifespan.