Fat in eggs used to be considered bad to our body. However, scientific evidence has shown that it might actually be good for your health.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a large chicken egg contains 5 grams of fat, which counts up to 10% of total weight in an egg. It may look high, but it is actually low when comparing to other food sources. For example, half of a chicken breast, which is considered healthy meat, contains 20% daily value (DV) of fat, while there is only 8% DV of fat in an egg. Furthermore, people like to fry eggs with oil. The most commonly used oil sources, such as olive oil, cooking oil, sunflower oil, and palm oil, all contain up to 21% DV of fat in just one tablespoon, and it is about three times more fat than an egg.
Fat is one of the essential energy sources. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 20 to 35 percent of total caloric intake should come from fat. A large egg contains 1.6 g of saturated fats, 1 g of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and 1.8 g of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs). With exercise, saturated fats increase brachial artery dilation and thus improve cardiac health. MUFAs and PUFAs are essential for maintaining blood cholesterol and lipid levels, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are the main PUFAs in eggs. One large egg contains 37 mg of Omega-3 and 574 mg of Omega-6 fatty acids. Studies have shown that lower Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio may reduce cardiovascular diseases and it is most beneficial when the ratio is close to 1. Although the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio in regular eggs is 19.9, it may reach to 1.3 in free-range eggs.
In addition to their well-known beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, omega-3 fatty acids in eggs may improve exercise performance and recovery. They increase blood flow that provides oxygen and nutrients into muscle during and after exercise. By regulating inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids shorten recovery time and decrease sourness. They increase the fat usage in muscle and decrease fat storage. They also improve muscle protein synthesis and inhibit muscle loss. Bone mineral density (BMD) was also shown to be maintained with Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation. Therefore, free-range eggs, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, not only improve exercise performance and recovery but also help maintain muscle and bone mass during training breaks or injury lay-offs.
Fats in eggs provide energy for physical activities and improve exercise performance and recovery. Beside fats, eggs contain many essential nutrients such as proteins and vitamins that are important for muscle growth and metabolism. Therefore, we can actually consider eggs as a superfood for athletes.
Riechman SE, Lee T V, Chen VCW, Lee CW, Bui S. Whole Egg as an Athlete’s Training and Performance Superfood. Watson, Ronald Ross FDM, ed. Handbook of Eggs in Human Function. Vol 9. Human Health Handbooks. Wageningen Academic Publishers; 2015:215-230.
This article was originally published in the Sydney & J.L. Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine & Human Performance website (2016)