In recent years the egg industry has been knocked by a Harvard study that revealed a strong, positive correlation between egg consumption and prostate cancer.
The study revealed that:
“Men who consumed 2.5 or more eggs per week had an 81 percent increased the risk for cancer that spread to the organs or caused death compared to men who consumed less than half an egg per week before their diagnosis.”
This negative press comes on top of the continuing debate over eggs high cholesterol content and its link with heart disease.
In need of some good PR, the egg industry decided to try a different approach.
A number of egg companies are now advertising that eggs can improve eye health because of their lutein and zeaxanthin and content (1).
But is this true?
Lutein and zeaxanthin are powerful antioxidants that can absorb blue light and protect the retina from damage and thus maintain excellent eyesight (2).
However, the lutein and zeaxanthin content in eggs is minuscule.
In fact so minuscule, that within the USDA’s nutrient list for lutein and zeaxanthin content eggs do not even make the top 100! (3)
Where are eggs ranked?
Eggs rank at the bottom of page 16, where one large egg comes in with just 250µg of lutein and zeaxanthin. This ranking is lower than Frosted Flakes which have 284µg, and Corn Pops with 320µg!
Even if you have a whole cup of eggs, it would still only amount to 480µg, less than microwave popcorn at 500µg.
In fact, the lutein and zeaxanthin content is naturally so low in eggs that the industry has to boost the levels to reach 250µg by feeding the hens a diet which includes yellow corn, alfalfa meal, corn-gluten meal, dried-algae meal or marigold-petal meal. (4)
Which foods naturally have the highest levels of the eye-protecting lutein and zeaxanthin?
The top 5 foods for lutein and zeaxanthin content are:
Kale = 25,606µg per cup.
Spinach 22,630µg per cup.
Turnip Greens 19,541 µg per cup.
Swiss Chard 19,276 µg per cup.
Collard Greens 18,527 µg per cup.
To get the same amount of lutein and zeaxanthin as just half a cup of kale, you would need to eat 51 large whole eggs!
This I would not recommend.
As the lutein and zeaxanthin content of eggs is so small the industry is claiming that the lutein and zeazanthin content in eggs is “more bioavailable than that from sources with a higher content”, and The Egg Nutrition Centre have listed three studies to support this statement. (1)
Now you know me, I love investigating the truth behind the claims, so I went straight to the sources cited…
The first study listed: ‘Chung HY, et al. Lutein bioavailability is higher from lutein-enriched eggs than from supplements and spinach in men. JN 2004‘ studied the diets of ten men over twenty-three days.
Ten men! Are they serious?
With such a small pool of people over such a short period of time, there is a multitude of factors that could have influenced the results.
Moreover, the study DIDN’T EVEN USE CONVENTIONAL EGGS!!!
“It should be noted that the eggs used in this study contained ∼5 times the amount of lutein contained in conventional eggs. Comparison of the bioavailability of lutein from eggs and spinach necessitated the use of these eggs.”
Therefore the lutein content in spinach is naturally so high that they had to ‘engineer’ the eggs used so that they stood a fighting chance.
Moreover, the Egg Nutrition Centre paid for by the study. Vested interest?
The second study listed: ‘Goodrow EF et al. Consumption of one egg per day increases serum lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in older adults without altering serum lipid and lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations. JN 2006‘, comprised of 33 individuals comparing a diet of no eggs with a diet of 1 egg daily for 18 weeks.
Again an extremely small pool of subjects, with a very high mean age of 79 years, and an average BMI of 26 (overweight).
As it is difficult to become overweight on a healthy diet, the older participants were most likely nutritionally lacking to begin with.
Furthermore, the American Egg Board and the Egg Nutrition Centre paid for the study.
The third study: ‘Waters D et al. Change in plasma lutein after egg consumption is positively associated with plasma cholesterol and lipoprotein size but negatively correlated with body size in postmenopausal women. JN 2007‘, followed 22 women over two months.
Again an extremely small number of subjects, and once more the study did not even contain real eggs! The participants were given an egg substitute which contained 600 μg/d additional lutein and zeaxanthin.
And similarly, the study was paid for by The American Egg Board. Vested interest?
The report also concludes that:
“plasma responses to dietary cholesterol and lutein from eggs are related. Individuals who are hyper-responders to dietary cholesterol have greater increases in plasma lutein and zeaxanthin due to eggs.”
Effectively they are stating that if you increase eggs in your diet, your cholesterol levels will also increase.
As cholesterol is a type of lipoprotein (a protein that can transport fat in the blood), it can carry lutein, meaning more lutein carried around the system.
However, is there not a healthier alternative than increasing your cholesterol levels?
Yes, there is.
Simply increase your lutein intake with the vegetables listed above, and add a healthy source of lipoprotein such nuts or seeds.
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