How to replace the nutrition that eggs provide

Margaret Moss suggests some ways.

There are a number of reasons why people avoid eating eggs.

John and Susie own a residential home for elderly people. They are afraid of salmonella in eggs. The answer is to cook them well, but gently. Cooking at too high a temperature changes the chemical structure of the egg creating harmful substances. Scrambled eggs are safer than fried eggs, as they are cooked evenly.

Cynthia is allergic to hens’ eggs. It would be worth trying duck eggs, but only eating a few, or she may become allergic to them too. Again, they need to be cooked well but gently. Her mother, Anne, wonders if she should avoid allergenic foods like eggs in her next pregnancy. The answer is no. So long as she herself is not allergic to them, she should eat them, throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. It would be best for her to breastfeed exclusively for six months, and then continue breastfeeding for another six months, while introducing the foods she eats to the baby. This is how a baby’s immune system is programmed to see egg as normal, and not to react to it. If her baby does react to eggs, Anne should avoid them herself, until she finishes breastfeeding.

Joe has coronary heart disease, and is worried about eggs raising his cholesterol levels. However, eggs are not associated with coronary deaths. Cholesterol in food relates little to cholesterol in blood. A recent study showed that 45 to 60 year olds in France have an average cholesterol level of 6.2 units, which would be regarded as high here, yet France has a low heart disease death rate. Joe should avoid milk and sugar, not eggs. Some cholesterol is needed for making the male and female sex hormones, the adrenal hormones, cortisol and aldosterone, and vitamin D.

Sally has ulcerative colitis. Bacteria involved in this disease thrive on meat and fish proteins which she needs to avoid. Some people with ulcerative colitis also need to avoid eggs.

Proteins are long chains of amino acids. Eggs provide an excellent balanced protein, with the amino acids our bodies need to make muscles, hormones and enzymes. However, there are plenty of other sources of protein, for those who do not tolerate eggs.

Fish provides protein, along with valuable omega 3 fats, which are needed by the brain, and which reduce inflammation.

Meat is another good source of protein and is not, in itself, an unhealthy food. However, meat that has been smoked, barbecued, or cured with nitrate or nitrite, like ham, bacon and sausage, should be avoided.

The reason that some vegetarians are particularly healthy is not because they avoid meat, but because they eat lots of vegetables. Those who avoid vegetables as well as meat should not be called vegetarian.

Hard cheese provides a broad assortment of amino acids and is not associated with heart disease. Producing hard cheese removes most of the harmful sugar that is in milk. Avoid Dutch cheese if it contains nitrate or nitrite.

Pulses are a cheap and useful vegan source of protein. Vegan proteins are sometimes described as second class. This just means that a combination of proteins should also be consumed, to give a balanced mix of amino acids. In Africa, people eat maize and beans, while in India they may have rice and lentils, or chapatti with a bean curry.

Those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or arthritis may have difficulty with the skins of pulses, and may do best on split lentils, from which the skins have been removed. (Red lentils are the insides of brown ones, yellow mung lentils the insides of green mung, and white lentils the insides of black ones.) Experiment with different sorts of pulses; you may find white lentil flour useful too.

Nuts provide protein and are convenient for salads, snacks and picnics although those with arthritis and IBS may do best avoiding those with skins.

Unlike other nuts, cashews must be cooked. They can be bought already roasted, or they can be roasted in a moderate oven for about ten minutes, with a stir half way through cooking. Cashew nut butter is tasty. Do not have large quantities of nuts if you have cold sores or genital herpes, as nuts provide too much of an amino acid needed by herpes viruses.

Seeds are another source of protein. Linseeds contain a fragile fat, and need to be kept in the fridge. These small seeds are not always broken down by chewing. It helps to grind or soak them.

Eggs contain fats. We cannot live without some fat. All cell membranes need it. However, nuts, seeds, cheese, butter, fish and meats provide different fats.

Eggs contain lecithin, which breaks down bigger fat globules into smaller ones, so that they can be processed to make energy. Lecithin protects us from gallstones. Soya lecithin granules can be used instead of eggs. They can be sprinkled on porridge or mixed into soups.

It is necessary to eat some fatty foods in order to obtain the fat soluble vitamins. This is especially important for babies, and it is why they should not be given skimmed milk.

Vitamin A
Eggs contain vitamin A, which is fat soluble, but this can be obtained from full fat hard cheese. Reduced fat cheese contains less vitamin A. Duck eggs contain more vitamin A than hens’ eggs. Vitamin A is needed for night vision, the skin, and protection from measles. Enough is needed but excessive amounts are harmful.

Eggs also contain the useful antioxidant zeaxanthin, one of the carotenoid family. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the carotenoids found to be most protective against macular degeneration, a common form of blindness.

However, maize is a good source of zeaxanthin, so long as you eat the common yellow maize, and not white African maize. So you could eat corn on the cob, try Italian polenta recipes, or have maize porridge for breakfast.

Saffron also contains zeaxanthin (but it is rather expensive) as do spinach, lettuce, oranges and peas.

Vitamin D
To replace the fat soluble vitamin D in eggs, you could use salmon, sardines, mackerel, butter or full fat hard cheese, and have some exposure to sunlight, although not an excessive amount. But it is important to avoid over use of sunscreen, as it prevents the production of vitamin D.

Infants who spend most of the time indoors, and people with dark skin who live in temperate climates, are at particular risk of vitamin D deficiency. So are people who cannot absorb fats efficiently.

Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium, and is therefore needed by bones and teeth. It may protect us from cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Vitamin E
Eggs supply a useful amount of vitamin E, which is also fat soluble, but sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts are much richer in this vitamin. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant, and heals wounds and sore skin.

Folic acid
There is folic acid in eggs, but alternative sources are green leaves such as kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, as well as cauliflower, asparagus, beetroot, leeks, okra and parsnips. The word foliage can remind us to eat green leaves for folic acid.

Folic acid protects babies in the womb from spina bifida, and is believed to prevent heart attacks, strokes and senility. It is needed for transporting oxygen around the body.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is needed to make red blood cells. If the levels are insufficient the nervous system becomes irreparably damaged.

To replace the vitamin B12 in eggs, you can use the other animal sources, meat, fish or cheese, or else take a good quality supplement. Do not rely on supposed plant sources, like spirulina; they provide compounds similar to B12, which prevent it working properly.

Eggs contain useful amounts of potassium, a mineral that keeps blood pressure from rising too much. However, vegetables and fruits also provide potassium. Just ripe bananas are also a good source of potassium but over ripe bananas increase blood pressure.

Eggs provide iron, which the blood needs to carry oxygen around the body, but this can be obtained from meat, beans, lentils and spring greens. It is best to eat vegan sources of iron with vegetables or fruit, as vitamin C increases its absorption.

The nutrients in eggs are available in many other foods. In order to obtain them, have plenty of variety in your diet: nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, cheese, meat or fish for protein, and plenty of vegetables for vitamins and minerals.

The main problem with avoiding eggs is not that we become malnourished. It is just the inconvenience. Eggs are so quick to cook when we are in a hurry. Cheese, nuts and seeds, cashew nut butter and tinned salmon are handy when there is little time for cooking.

To consult Margaret contact the Nutrition and Allergy Clinic 0161 432 0964

First published in 2007. Updated 2013.

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