Whether you prefer over easy, scrambled or sunny side up, eggs are a go-to specialty for chefs de cuisine or home cooks with a little culinary experience. You will find a mix of types in grocery stores and farmer's markets — from omega-3 eggs to regular layer eggs — and all offer health benefits.
Omega-3 eggs come from chickens fed with an omega-3 source, and regular layer eggs come from chickens fed with a grain — and this causes a difference in nutrient levels between the two types. Omega-3 eggs might also have a slightly different taste and less cholesterol than regular layer eggs.
Read more: 12 Tips to Getting a Vegetarian Diet Right
What are Omega-3 Eggs?
For egg lovers, one increasingly popular egg type is omega-3 eggs. These eggs come from chickens whose feed is supplemented with an omega-3 source (often flaxseed). These chickens produce an omega-3-enriched egg, which includes fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic (ALA eggs), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA eggs) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA eggs), according to the Flax Council of Canada.
They say omega-3 eggs provide about 12 times more omega-3 fatty acids than regular eggs, as well as more polyunsaturated fatty acid, which is considered a healthy fat. Some omega-3 eggs even contain less cholesterol than regular eggs. Because of their fatty acid enrichment, you will often find omega-3 eggs marketed for their ability to reduce inflammation, improve brain and heart health and expand motor skills.
In addition, some of the chickens fed with an omega-3 source might not spend their lives "cooped up" inside their coop. Some of these animals spend a little time outside, which could expose their bodies and muscles to outside elements, potentially making the taste of their eggs differ — similar to free-range eggs.
Giving chickens space to peck for food can make their eggs more nutritious than industry-sourced eggs, according to Green America with the Center for Sustainability Solutions in Washington D.C. However, how much a chicken ate of the omega-3 can determine how much omega-3 is in the egg — and this can vary significantly.
If you have a chicken coop in your backyard or wish to start one, the official Agriculture of Manitoba in Canada offers the following advice:
- Try including some flaxseed in your hens' rations. Don't overfeed on flaxseed, as it can stop the chickens from digesting some of the nutrients, cause their weight to drop and the size of their eggs to become smaller.
- Mix up and use this ration recipe: 40 kilograms of wheat, 15 kilograms of oats, 25 kilograms of layer supplement, 10 kilograms of flaxseed, 8 kilograms of limestone and 2 kilograms of canola oil. The canola oil ups the omega-6 fatty acid (associated with improved health) content of the feed as well.
- You will still have cholesterol in the yolks. You should see a medical professional before eating eggs if you have a heart condition.
What are Regular Layer Eggs?
Regular layer eggs come from chickens fed grains supplemented with vitamins and minerals. These chickens generally produce edible, good-tasting fare that you'll find in your standard supermarket's refrigerator aisle.
But with the health benefits of an omega-3 egg, would you want to consider a regular layer egg? The answer is yes. Although omega-3 eggs contain more fatty acids, the Flax Council of Canada says that the omega-3 content can vary substantially between brands, despite you paying a premium price for these fortified foods. Omega-3 eggs also don't provide a significant difference in other nutrient content to regular layer eggs. The Flax Council of Canada says that the caloric value, protein and fat content between the two types are similar to each other.
You also might not need the extra nutrition. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), most children and adults consume the right amount of omega-3s anyway.
Regular layer eggs are also easier to find, especially for the on-the-go shopper. Omega-3 eggs, depending on where you live, might not be as readily available for purchase.
Read more: How to Reheat Scrambled Eggs
What Is Omega-3?
According to the NIH, omega-3 is polyunsaturated fatty acid that plays an important and necessary role in the body. Omega-3s provide energy and serve in wide-ranging functions for your body's pulmonary, immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. Omega-3s also help prevent chronic diseases and are associated with healthy aging.
To consume the proper amount, the daily adequate intake recommendation for males ages 14 and older is 1.6 grams, and 1.1 grams for female ages 14 and older. Anyone pregnant or lactating needs approximately 1.3 to 1.4 grams each day, per the NIH. Those who take more than the maximum daily intake are unlikely to experience any adverse health effects. However, if you do have a deficiency in this fatty acid, you could potentially experience scaly skin and dermatitis issues.
Which foods are high in omega-3? You'll find plenty of options. To get your omega-3s, you can turn to both foods and a healthy mix of supplements. Per the NIH, foods high in omega-3s are as follows:
- Fish, although omega-3 content varies significantly. If you're looking for a high amount of omega-3, you should eat cold-water fatty seafood, such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines. Lower amounts are found in fish with low fat content, such as shellfish, bass, cod and tilapia. The amount of omega-3 in each piece of seafood is similar to the amount of omega-3 in eggs — what the fish ate will determine how much omega-3 content is in the fish.
- Overall, the amount of omega-3 in beef is usually quite low. Look for labels saying "grass-fed beef" as these cows were allowed to go outside and could sometimes generate more omega-3 in their diet.
- Dairy products such as milk and yogurt
- Soy milk
- Certain brands of eggs
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseed oil
- Canola oil
You'll also find omega-3s in several types of dietary supplements, such as fish oil — the most commonly used nonvitamin/nonmineral dietary supplement in the U.S. by adults and children, according to the NIH — krill oil and cod liver oil. Doses vary depending on the manufacturer, and you must check the label to know the type and amount. If you do decide to supplement your diet with these oils, you should look for omega-3 under a number of names, such as triglycerides, phospholipids, ethyl esters, free fatty acids and re-esterified triglycerides, per the NIH.
You should always take necessary precautions with supplements. These dietary supplements, especially fish oil, can interact with other medications. You should speak with a medical professional if you take an anticoagulant. You might experience prolonged clotting times when taking an omega-3- enriched supplement simultaneously with a prescribed blood clotting medicine.
Overall, you shouldn't worry about getting enough omega-3, as the majority of people get enough in their diets.
Health Benefits of Eggs
Good news for breakfast lovers: the USDA says that eggs offer 6 grams protein per egg, as well as almost 20 milligrams of calcium to aid with bone health. You will also only add about 60 calories per egg to your daily caloric count. The number of calories does vary depending on the brand and size of the egg.
Yolks are also valuable for eyesight, as they contain lutein and zeaxanthin. However, egg yolks are also widely known for their cholesterol. The USDA says that an egg contains 165 milligrams of cholesterol — so eat them in moderation. If you have heart disease, you might want to stick with egg whites.
According to an August 2018 study from Cholesterol, researchers tout eggs as an inexpensive and highly nutritious food. Eggs offer essential proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds, such as the following (not-exhaustive) list:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
Researchers also state that eggs are one of the best sources of high-quality protein; only breast milk is superior.
Egg Handling Safety
You need to store eggs safely and handle them appropriately, especially when they are raw. For anyone wanting a refresh on food handling of eggs, the Harvard School of Public Health offers tips:
- Always check both the label and inside the container. You need to make sure you aren't purchasing eggs past their sell-by date. You also shouldn't buy cartons that contain cracked eggs, as these are a waste of money and could contain salmonella. If you do go home with a cracked egg, immediately throw it out.
- Eggs will last in the refrigerator for four to six weeks. You should discard them after this date.
- To prevent any food-borne illness, cook eggs until both the whites and yolks become solid and not runny anymore.
- When cooking an egg dish, such as a quiche, make sure the eggs reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit so you don't eat any raw eggs.
- After you finish eating an egg-based dish, put the food back in the refrigerator. Don't leave it out for more than two hours at room temperature.
- Always wash your hands after contacting raw eggs.
- Store eggs in the coldest part of your refrigerator. You shouldn't keep them in the side doors because the temperature can vary.
A contaminated egg can transmit salmonella, and salmonella can even penetrate through egg shells' tiny pores. Staying vigilant in your food handling can help keep you safe from an infection, whether you're eating omega-3 or regular layer eggs.
- Flax Council of Canada: “Omega-3 Enriched Eggs”
- National Institute of Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids”
- Center for Sustainability Solutions: "The Many Benefits of Backyard Chickens"
- Agriculture of Manitoba: "Increasing Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Eggs from Small Chicken Flocks"
- Cholesterol: "The Impact of Egg Nutrient Composition and Its Consumption on Cholesterol Homeostasis"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Eggs"
- USDA: "Eggs"