Eggs have been getting a bad rap for quite a while now. They've fallen victim to a lot of bad science and the general confusion about cholesterol. In spite of the fact that we now know that dietary cholesterol is not the main culprit in coronary heart disease, and in spite of the fact that no research has ever linked egg consumption to heart disease, the "eggs are bad for you" myth persists and a significant number of consumers still consider eggs off limits. Indeed, a survey conducted by the Egg Nutrition Center found that that nearly one out of four healthy adult Americans still avoids eggs for fear of dietary cholesterol.
As egg sales have declined, driven by consumer perception that eggs are a high cholesterol food, the industry has responded with a "designer egg," re-engineered to calm cholesterol worries and to take up some of the slack in falling sales. Apparently it's working.
Omega-3 eggs, designed to help lower cholesterol, now account for a significant portion of eggs sales. These alternative eggs are produced by feeding hens diets that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like high alpha-linolenic acid flax seed and fish oils. The resulting egg has as much cholesterol as conventional eggs, but the new ratio of good to bad fatty acid presumes that the designer Omega 3 eggs may reduce cholesterol levels..
The efficacy of omega-3 egg production, the several peer-reviewed studies that we looked at do, indeed, confirm that these eggs can have three to six times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids found in regular eggs. That does not, however, make consumer choices easy.
These results, as one study stated, are "similar to those of egg yolks produced by free range hens feeding on green leafy vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, insects, worms, etc." In other words, the small local farmer selling eggs from chickens that feed in his barnyard may already be producing healthier eggs.
Since omega-3 eggs can be quite expensive, even pricier than free range eggs, health conscious buyers may want to opt for more ethically produced products. More cost-conscious consumers may simply choose to eat fewer eggs and acquire omega-3 in other foods.
And eggs are not the best source of Omega 3 anyway. It would still take an omelet of these re-engineered eggs to equal the omega-3 found in a three ounce (85 g) portion of salmon.
Finally, there is the issue of consumer reliance on these designer eggs as a functional food. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has urged the FDA to stop seven egg producers from implying that their eggs can reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, says the CSPI, egg producers should not be making heart-healthy claims at all because the FDA specifically prohibits such claims on eggs and other foods high in cholesterol or saturated fat. No FDA regulations monitor the advertising claims surrounding omega-3 eggs.
Eggs are still incredible, healthy, and wonderfully edible. But designer eggs may not be all they're cracked up to be.