If you’ve been to the supermarket, and especially if you are a fan of eggs, you’ve noticed that the egg aisles have turned into a shopper’s delight, or a shopper’s nightmare, depending on your perspective.

Here’s what we mean.  Back in the day, there were eggs. The cartons just called them eggs. You didn’t have all the choices that you do now. For instance, there’s organic eggs, non-GMO eggs, vegetarian-enriched eggs, free-range eggs, pasture-raised eggs (not to be confused with pasteurized eggs—because they exist too), and fortified eggs.

BLOG: Omega-3 and Omega-6 Foods

USDA recognizes six egg weights: peewee, small, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo—or the U.S. Grade eggs (AA, A and B). The number of eggs you’ll buy may be your easiest decision.

Let’s face it. The number of options for buying eggs can be so confusing, like, what’s the saying that might describe that confusion? Like a chicken running around without its head.

In today’s blog post, we’re going to ease the confusion slightly by focusing on one topic: omega-3 fortified eggs.

 

What Nutrients are in Eggs? 

Before talking about omega-3 fortified eggs, we’re going to talk about why your basic egg is both tasty and packed with key nutrients.

They didn’t start calling them “the incredible, edible egg” for no reason.

For example, there are anywhere from eight to 13 nutrients in your simple egg, depending on whether you’re talking about “essential” or not and depending on who’s answering the question. While the egg yolk is where most of the good stuff resides, the white of the egg is no nutritional slouch either.

WebMD says one (boiled) egg has just around 77 calories, with 6 grams of high-quality protein, about 5 grams of total fat including 1.6 grams of saturated fat, and some vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutritional components.

According to the American Egg Board, eggs are a nutrient-rich food, providing an excellent source of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and B7 (biotin), iodine, selenium and choline.

The latter, choline, has gained prominence in recent years in the scientific community, especially for pregnant women because of the role it plays in early brain development, starting with the fetus.

VIDEO: Which Omega-3s are Good for Children?

 

Iodine and selenium are two micronutrients that are vital to thyroid function, including healthy hormone production, among other body benefits.

But that’s not all. The American Egg Board adds that eggs are also a good source of protein, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and B5 (pantothenic acid), plus lutein and zeaxanthin (two carotenoids lauded for their eye health benefits, among others).

The B’s in eggs may contribute to red blood cell formation, energy production and metabolism, healthy skin and hair, and cognitive performance along with other health benefits. When it comes to protein, eggs are said to provide a complete source of protein because they contain all of the 9 essential amino acids that support our bodies’ development, growth and repair.

We could go on and on about eggs also serving up some vitamin A and D, folate (another B vitamin), phosphorous, magnesium and calcium, and probably more. And guess what: a regular egg contains about 25-30 mgs of omega-3. And all of this is before we get to fortified eggs, which is where the eggs up their omega-3 game.  Eggs fortified with omega-3 can have around 350 mg per egg—but there’s a catch. (Keep reading…we’re getting there.)

Over the years, the egg has had its ups and downs and consumers have experienced scientific whiplash as the research community and the media have given the egg the seesaw treatment: going from being a dietary hero, to labeled indulgent and unhealthy, laden with being the source of too much dietary cholesterol, only to more recently have found its way back up again. Right now, the egg is in nutritional vogue.

 

When and Why Did They Start Adding Omega-3 to Eggs?

Food fortification or enrichment is the process of adding vitamins or minerals (also known as micronutrients) to food. Usually, these micronutrients are not produced by our bodies (vitamin D being an exception) and therefore you must get them through food (or dietary supplements). Our bodies need these micronutrients for normal function.

In modern nutrition, food fortification began in 1831 when a French physician called for adding iodine to salt to prevent goiter, says this article. The practice was broadened during World Wars I and II, as a means to correct or prevent nutritional deficiencies or restore lost nutrients during food processing, explains the article’s author. During that time, vitamins A and D, iron and several B vitamins were added to foods, including margarine, milk, flours and bread.

Perhaps one of the most well-known and successful enrichment programs began in 1998 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration instituted a mandatory program that still exists today, requiring that folic acid (a B vitamin) be added to enriched grain products, such as bread, pasta, rice and cereal as a means to reduce specific neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida.

BLOG: New Clinical Recommendations for Omega-3 & Preterm Birth

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the birth prevalence of NTDs has decreased by 35% in America since the start of this folic acid mandatory fortification program.

This was a rare government mandated food fortification program. Today, food companies and their ingredient suppliers and manufacturing partners are taking the lead in voluntary food fortification, under guidance by FDA, adding a variety micronutrients to all sorts of products, including juices, milk, breakfast cereals, margarine, and yes, eggs.

According to this article, it was a Canadian food scientist who in 1990 was hoping to find a way to reverse the fortunes of eggs, which at the time were sitting on the downside of the health seesaw, due to the negative publicity about their high dietary cholesterol content. He discovered a relatively simple way to increase the omega-3 content through egg fortification. Thus, the interest in omega-3 fortified eggs began.

From there, it took a while for omega-3 enriched eggs to make their way into the public’s consciousness. Do you remember when you first started seeing cartons of omega-3 eggs on the shelves?

Here’s something to know: while some fortified egg products now contain omega-3s, not all companies are clearly indicating which components of omega-3—EPA, DHA or ALA—the eggs are fortified with. And that’s the catch we mentioned earlier.

 

What Types of Omega-3s are in Eggs?

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are best sourced from fatty fish, which provides the richest way to get omega-3 benefits. ALA is plant-based and while it provides important health benefits, the research for the benefits of EPA and DHA are more robust.

Most omega-3 fortified eggs are enriched with ALA. And the reason for that is quite simple. It’s because of the way companies fortify omega-3s into the eggs.

Far from being some biotech or complicated scientific approach, it’s relatively simple. Enriching eggs with omega-3s is based on what the chickens are raised to eat. And if you’re envisioning chickens sitting down to a delicious meal of salmon or some other fatty fish, you have a vivid, but in this case, not realistic, imagination.

Instead, chickens are raised on a diet containing flaxseed, a rich plant-based source of omega-3 ALA. When hens lay their eggs, the egg yolks contain ALA and some DHA, as the hens convert ALA into DHA and EPA. Now while this is good news indeed for vegetarians (those vegetarians who choose to eat eggs), it’s not necessarily great news, and here’s why.

BLOG: What is Omega-3 ALA Good For?

The ALA conversion to DHA and EPA is rather inefficient, in both humans and chickens, meaning that you’d need to eat a lot of fortified omega-3 eggs to access all the potential benefits.

Perhaps for this reason, scientists and companies are looking to further enrich omega-3 fortified eggs with DHA and EPA by adding fish oil or algal oil to the hens’ diets as both are direct sources of these omega-3 components.

 

Making the Case for Omega-3 DHA and EPA Enriched Eggs

And there’s research that supports those dietary modifications for hens. For instance, there’s this study, which also references other encouraging studies on the topic. Among the results, it was indicated that when fish oil share increased from 0.3 to 1.5% (combined with soybean oil from 3.5 to 4.7%) in laying hens’ diets, the results in the EPA content also increased from 1.08 to 1.96 and DHA from 1.43 to 2.24.

This study provides some important reasons for companies to consider developing an omega-3 feed supplement derived from fish oil distillation and incorporated into feed for hens in the production of omega-3 enriched eggs.

In the study, the authors supplemented with omega-3 fish oil along with their usual grain feed and found that as the supplement dose increased, so did the EPA, DHA, and omega-3 concentrations in the eggs, with significant differences compared to the control group. Specifically, after 180 days, the EPA, DHA, and omega-3 content in eggs ranged from 11.4 to 28.71 mg/100 g, 116.41 to 206.62 mg/100 g, and 172.03 to 327.78 mg/100 g, respectively, depending on the supplement dose.

BLOG: Omega-3 and Atrial Fibrillation

Among their other conclusions, the study authors advised that continuous and regular feeding of hens with fish oil omega-3 DHA and EPA not only statistically significantly increased EPA, DHA and other omega-3 levels in laid eggs, but also contributed to the overall well-being of the hens.

While this option may benefit people who love eggs, but don’t really enjoy eating fish, it may not be a viable option for vegetarians, depending on how strict of a vegetarian one is.

However, this study may be of interest to those vegetarians who do eat eggs, but don’t want to add fish oil. The study examined DHA-enrichment in eggs by feeding algal oils as part of a diet for hens. Algal oil is a true vegetarian source of DHA and EPA, as it comes from plant-based marine algae, not fish. The study concluded that the algal oils increased the concentration of DHA in eggs without adverse effects on the egg production and eggshell quality.

There may be a few companies currently marketing fish oil- or algal oil-enriched eggs, however, they may be harder to find at this point.

 

Are Omega-3 Eggs Healthier than Regular Eggs?

The answer is maybe, but maybe not.

The author of this article is skeptical about whether counting on eggs alone, even those fortified with omega-3 from algae/algal oil, will give you the amount of omega-3 EPA + DHA that you need to reap all the benefits. He says that although all eggs contain some omega-3s, the amount is inconsequential based on what you really need. Even by eating eggs enriched with flax seed, only a small amount of the omega-3 ALA content is converted to DHA. What’s more, by enriching the chickens’ grain with algae, you can obtain about 150 mg from an enriched egg, but as he points out, a couple of bites of salmon will give you the same thing.

BLOG: Can You Take Fish Oil on an Empty Stomach?

This author advises something similar, stating that the amount of omega-3 in a fortified egg varies from around 100 to 500 mg per egg. She adds that one of the most popular brands of omega-3 eggs claim about 125 g of omega-3 per egg, so 250 g in a serving of two large eggs. Most fortified omega-3 eggs appear to be based on adding flaxseed to the chicken’s diet, so by comparison, adding a 4 ounce serving of salmon (or a tablespoon of flaxseed) to your own diet provides roughly 6.5 times as much omega-3 as the egg serving.

With the flaxseed, you’re getting omega-3 ALA and with the salmon, it’s omega-3 EPA and DHA. With the enriched egg, you may not know which unless it’s on the label.

 

Conclusion

Eggs are indeed a nutrient-rich food and you can get some of your omega-3 fatty acids from omega-3-fortified eggs. If you’re interested in learning more about the different types of eggs, here are a few articles that may help. Click here, here and here.

Don’t forget that dietary supplements are also an option if you suspect you’re falling short on omega-3s. There’s no need to just “suspect”—instead you can get your EPA and DHA blood levels tested. Learn more here.

VIDEO: Considerations for Buying an Omega-3 Test

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This test is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. This site does not offer medical advice, and nothing contained herein is intended to establish a doctor/patient relationship. OmegaQuant, LLC is regulated under the Clinical Laboratory improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and is qualified to perform high complexity clinical testing. The performance characteristics of this test were determined by OmegaQuant, LLC. It has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Sign up for our Newsletter and save 10%*

Join our mailing list to get the latest news and updates from OmegaQuant.

You have successfully subscribed! Use code NEWSLETTER10 to receive 10% off your next purchase*.