The Health Benefits of a Simple Egg Sandwich

This is the typical conversation most mornings and sometimes at weekends during snack time, between my wife and my 4 year old daughter.

“Mum, I’m hungry.” “What would you like to eat?” “Egg sandwich.”

She wants a fried egg, cooked in a small dab of virgin olive oil over moderate heat with a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper in a sandwich of freshly baked wholegrain homemade bread. I introduced her to eggs when she was a toddler. Eggs are easy to chew and should be part of a daily diet given to any child of one year old or older. I remember when my daughter as a toddler would eat the egg white first and then pop the whole yolk of a hard-boiled egg straight into her mouth. I still remember when I was a child and my mother used to give me a hard-boiled egg whenever I was hungry. What happened to the good old fashioned days when eggs were given as snacks?

Today, we live in an addiction-prone society. Of all the addictions out there, one of the most deadly is one that is most often overlooked: Junk food. We feed our kids junk food everyday without realising it. We are all guilty of doing this. It is easier to pull out a bag of crisps when a child is hungry rather than have them suffer pangs of hunger. This practice is acceptable for the rare occasions but the problem with our society is that we use this kind of junk food as a common everyday snack.

Did you also know that processed food is junk food? The first image that comes to mind for most people when they hear the term “processed food” is a wrapped burger and a sleeve of fries served over a counter at a fast food joint. But the truth is the very food you have in your cabinets is processed if it’s boxed, bagged, canned or jarred, frozen or dehydrated and has a list of ingredients on the label. Processed foods have been altered from their natural state for “safety” and convenience reasons. Processed foods are more convenient, it’s so much easier to bake a cake by opening up a box, pouring out a dry mix, and adding an egg and some oil than starting from scratch. Instead of making a dish with fresh ingredients, why not pick up a ready-made meal from the store? Isn’t it easier to just pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes? No pots and pans, no mess! But processed food are laced with colours, those are often inedible, carcinogenic and harmful to the body. Studies have found that food colouring can cause hyperactivity and lapses of concentration in children. Chocolates, colas, flavoured drinks and snack are full of artificial colouring. These are not the only additives in processed foods. Don’t forget the refined salt, sugar, preservatives, flavour enhancers and other so called “beneficial supplements”. Children are especially vulnerable to these unnatural ingredients. Poor diets can slow growth, decay new teeth, promote obesity and sow the seeds of infirmity and debilitating disease that ultimately lead to incurable disease and death or worse make life insufferable.

Did you know that approximately 80% of mothers, who is usually the main parent controlling their child’s diet, considered that their child’s diet was ‘very good/good/healthy’ hence overestimate the quality of their child’s diet. This is extremely worrying, since mothers who do not perceive that their children follow an unhealthy diet will not make the appropriate amendments to improve their child’s dietary habits. Do not be one of these mothers, feed our children correctly and this can only be done by reducing your introduction of processed junk food into their diets. If you think you are one of these mothers who have already done this, think again. Do you feed your child bread from the bakery? Do you give them bottled “freshly squeezed” juice? Do you give them fruit yogurts? Do you spread their toast or sandwich with commercial butter or margarine? Do you use canned tomatoes to make your sauces? Do you feed them frozen sweet corn or peas? Worst of all, do you give them apples that you have not washed? This line of questioning could go on but if you answered “yes” to most of these questions already, your child has an unhealthy diet! (If you want to know more about the foods described above and why they are considered unhealthy read our research in “Is Your Food Killing You?”).

How can a simple egg sandwich contribute to a healthy diet? A fried egg sandwich for instance, consists only of bread, egg and possibly butter and the oil used for cooking the egg. The benefits of homemade bread are described in our article “Wholegrains and their benefits”. The benefits of homemade butter are described in our blog. The egg is a nutrient-dense food, containing high quality protein and a wide range of essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

As a whole food, eggs are an inexpensive and low calorie source of nutrients such as folate, riboflavin, selenium, lecithin and vitamins B-12 and A. Eggs are also one of the few exogenous sources of vitamins K and D. Furthermore, whole eggs are a complete source of proteins as it contains all the essential amino acids needed by the human body. Although, eggs were found to have lower amino acid content compared with beef, the biological value of egg protein is greater. The protein source from eggs are good for the development of skeletal muscle and egg protein is widely used by athletes to increase muscle mass.

We all know the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and mortality from heart diseases. Low levels of DHA have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Chicken feed is now enriched with omega-3 to increase the omega-3 levels in their eggs. Consumption of DHA-enriched eggs can greatly enhance current dietary DHA intakes from non-fish sources and help approach or surpass recommended intakes for optimal human health.

Eggs had fallen in and out of favour through the years mainly due to the perception of cholesterol-rich eggs as a “forbidden food” developed in response to the highly publicized 1970s recommendation by the American Heart Association (AHA) to restrict egg consumption and limit dietary cholesterol intake to 300 mg/d. The dietary cholesterol guidelines are similar in the most recent AHA report;however, their position regarding egg intake has become more specific. It was stated the intake of one yolk a day is acceptable, if other cholesterol contributing foods were limited in the diet. Although an egg contains 212 milligrams of cholesterol, dietary cholesterol has less of an effect on blood cholesterol than once believed. Also, cholesterol is a dietary component that has elicited much public and scientific interest in conjunction with CHD but extensive research has failed to establish a definite link between dietary cholesterol intake and disease progression. In fact, a recent review of years of research has concluded that healthy adults can enjoy eggs without CVD. Many conclusions can be made about the ill-effects of eating eggs but these have to be taken with caution. For instance, one study concluded that eggs were linked to increased risk of Type 2 diabetes but this was not the real story as the result of manifestation of this disease was the associated bad nutrition, mainly sausages and bacon taken with eggs in the individuals tested. The reality of the situation is that although egg intake has steadily declined since the original recommendations in the 1970s, CHD and Type 2 diabetes as well as obesity are still the leading causes of death in the U.S. today.

Eggs have been getting some attention for their role in maintaining eye health and potentially helping prevent age related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States. This condition develops from long-term oxidative damage caused by the exposure of the eye to intense light. Recent research has shown the value of lutein, a natural pigment or carotenoid in egg yolks. Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the macularregion of the retina therefore, because of their chemical properties; these two carotenoids may function to reduce the risk for development of AMD. Epidemiological studies support the fact that those individuals who consumed a greater number of foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin had a lower risk for AMD. Even though eggs contain less lutein than leafy greens, the lutein in eggs is more easily absorbed. One yolk has been found to provide between 200 and 300 micrograms of these carotenoids. In a study that measured the total carotenoid content of several foods, lutein represented 15-47/100 parts of the total carotenoid found in various dark green leafy vegetables, whereas eggs were found to contain 54/100 parts. This suggests that one would benefit more by eating an egg than getting lutein from other sources. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also classed as antioxidants and their intake also may be associated with a decrease in the risk for rheumatoid arthritis, CHD and chronic diseases such as cancer.

Eggs contain many of the minerals that the human body requires for health. In particular eggs are rich in choline, an essential nutrient needed for the normal functioning of all cells. It is especially important for proper liver, brain and neural network, memory development and even in inflammation hence reducing risk of heart disease and breast cancer. The potential public health implications of not consuming enough of this essential nutrient have only recently begun to be examined. There is a significant variation in the dietary requirement for choline. When fed a choline-deficient diet, some men and women developed fatty liver and liver and muscle damage, whereas others did not. This brings in a genetic variability to the need of dietary choline. Nonetheless, it is strongly recommended not just for kids but also for moms-to-be as eggs are a concentrated source of choline without the added calories. To get the same amount of choline found in a single egg (125 mg/72 calories; most of the choline is in the egg yolk – 680 mg/100g), one would need to consume 3 ¼ cups of milk (270 calories) or 3 ½ ounces of wheat germ (366 calories).

Despite all their positive features, eggs sometimes are linked to food safety issues. They do need to be stored and handled properly. Eating raw eggs is not considered safe because eggs may contain salmonella, a type of bacteria that especially is dangerous for the very young, old and immune-compromised. In cases where raw egg is called for in a recipe, ensure that it is pasteurised.

If judged as a whole food, and not simply as a source of dietary cholesterol, the positive contribution of eggs to a healthy diet becomes apparent and far outweighs the myths about dietary cholesterol from eggs. Because eggs are a conventional food containing nutrients that play fundamental roles beyond basic nutrition, their promotion as a functional food should be considered. In conclusion, it is time is right to change the egg message. For the consumer,the most essential image is probably that eggs taste good. Taste is highly important to consumers. The second image needing change is that eggs be recognized as a nutritious food which also has health benefits beyond basic nutrition.The concept of eggs as a ‘functional food’ is new to many and requires a change in the perception of role of eggs in the diet. And finally, the evidence that eating eggs is unrelated to heart disease risk needs to be widely disseminated to health professionals and the public so that everyone can benefit from including eggs in the diet.

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