First the hen, then the egg

Sunny side up? Scrambled? Poached? A new Tel Aviv study says it’s not how you eat your egg that’s important, but rather what the hen that laid the egg ate that matters. Dr. Niva Shapira of Tel Aviv University’s School …

Sunny side up? Scrambled? Poached?

A new Tel Aviv study says it’s not how you eat your egg that’s important, but rather what the hen that laid the egg ate that matters.

Eggs

Dr. Niva Shapira of Tel Aviv University’s School of Health Professions says that all eggs are not created equal. Her research indicates that when hens are fed with a diet low in omega-6 fatty acids from a young age – feed high in wheat, barley, and milo and lower in soy, maize and sunflower, safflower, and maize oils – they produce eggs that may cause less oxidative damage to human health. And that’s a major part of what determines the physiological impact of the end product on your table.

Niva Shapira

Dr. Niva Shapira of Tel Aviv University.

Her findings were published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

As eggs play a major role in breakfasts worldwide, Dr. Shapira says it is the consumer’s prerogative to be aware about the health value of eggs they’re eating.

“In addition to factoring in the cost of the chicken feed, farmers need to think about the health of the consumer,” she says. To produce healthy foods, they need support from local authorities and increased consumer awareness. That would help to expand access to better foods.

Eggs high in omega-6 fatty acids heighten cholesterol’s tendency to oxidize, which forms dangerous plaque in our arteries. Dr. Shapira’s research shows that eggs laid by hens with healthier feed can lessen oxidation of LDL (low density lipoprotein), the body’s “bad cholesterol.”

But healthier eggs are likely to cost more, Dr. Shapira says. The price of chicken feed varies from region to region, and in many areas, feed containing products high in omega-6 fatty acids, such as maize, soy, and their oils, are much cheaper for egg producers to purchase.

To test the effect of a healthier feed on the eventual composition of the egg, Dr. Shapira and her fellow researchers designed feeds that were high in anti-oxidants and lower in omega-6 fatty acids, based on wheat, barley, and milo. The specialized feed was given to young hens who had not yet accumulated n-6 fatty acids in their tissues, and the composition of their eggs was then tested. The eggs were then given to test participants, who were instructed to eat two of these special eggs daily. Their results were measured against daily intake of two standard grocery store eggs, and a weekly intake of only two to four standard eggs.

The results were just as Dr. Shapira suspected: Daily consumption of two industry-standard eggs, high in omega-6, caused a 40 percent increase in LDL oxidizability in participants. After eating two per day of the specially-composed eggs, with both high anti-oxidant and low omega-6 levels, however, LDL oxidation levels were similar to the control group eating only two to four eggs a week.

About Viva Sarah Press

Viva Sarah Press is an associate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. She has extensive experience in reporting/editing in the print, online and broadcast fields. Her work has been published by international media outlets including Israel Television, CNN, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and Time Out.