The importance of eggs in people’s diet has been highlighted in a new report produced by a United Nations agency.
UN Nutrition – which that looks into such issues as hunger, under-nutrition, overweight and obesity – has produced a discussion paper on livestock-derived foods.
The report says humans have relied on food such as eggs for 100,000 years, pointing to a list of vital nutrients they provide.
“The digestible indispensable amino acid score (the percentage of digestible indispensable amino acids compared with a reference protein) evaluates the quality of proteins in foods.
“The digestible indispensable amino acid score for milk and eggs both exceed 100 per cent, compared with rice, at 37 per cent, and wheat, at 45 per cent, for example.
“Several essential fatty acids are also present in those two food types. Egg yolks, for example, are rich in linoleic acid and a-linolenic acid, with some variability in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),” say the reports authors.
They say that eggs are also rich in many micronutrients, being high in choline and vitamins A, B12, D, E and folate, as well as bioavailable minerals, especially selenium, but also iron and zinc.
The authors say that livestock-derived foods, including eggs, can provide the essential fatty acids needed for a child’s brain development, function and maintenance.
“Eggs were recently shown to increase both DHA and choline during the complementary feeding period,” they say.
“There is also evidence that ageing adults need certain livestock-derived foods to preserve memory, bone health and muscle mass.
“Evidence of the benefits of livestock-derived foods for young children is growing, though data from low-resource settings remain somewhat limited,” the report says.
“One review of animal-source food interventions among young children aged six to 24 months in five countries found that livestock-derived foods increased the height-for-age z-score, a key growth indicator.
“The Lulun Project in Ecuador showed that introducing eggs early in the complementary feeding period improved growth, reducing stunting by 47 percent, and a child’s nutrition biomarker status.
“The study used social marketing strategies to encourage egg nutrition, as well as to involve and engage all mothers and the wider community in the study.”
The authors address the issue of cholesterol in the report. For many years fears of cholesterol in eggs resulted in advice to limit consumption, although over recent years new research has shot down this link, leading to the widespread removal of advisory consumption limits.
The report says: “While there is an established link between blood cholesterol and heart disease, eggs, which contain high levels of cholesterol, have not been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease unequivocally.
“More broadly, dietary cholesterol explains a smaller proportion of blood cholesterol than previously thought.
“Eggs may even have beneficial effects by increasing high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol relative to low density lipoprotein, but more evidence is needed.”
The UN discussion paper looks at not only the health benefits of eating animal products but also the impact of the livestock industry on the environment.
Egg production also scores well in this regard, with the report saying that poultry production – both chicken meat and eggs – is far less emissions intense than keeping ruminants.
“Livestock-derived food production is directly tied to GHG emissions, accounting for between 72 per cent and 78 per cent of total agriculture emissions.
“This is mainly attributable to the enteric fermentation processes of ruminants, low feed-conversion efficiencies and manure-related emissions.
“However, it is important to distinguish between different production systems, animal types and activities.”
The report’s authors say that, across animal species, beef production produces the most greenhouse gas emissions.
However, they say: “The environmental impacts of agriculture, including livestock production, could be lessened by policy and programme support for mixed farming systems that embrace circular agriculture and pastoral systems.”