Health and Nutrition

Young mothers may help boost free range egg consumption

Lion is hoping to target young mums this coming year in its latest attempt to boost the consumption of eggs in the United Kingdom.

Although egg sales have been increasing in recent years, egg consumption in the UK is still below the average for the European Union. However, Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), says the council is hoping that the egg market will grow overall by about five per cent in 2014 - and by between two and three per cent for free range eggs. One of the main target groups for Lion this year, he says, is young mothers, many of who have in recent years avoided eggs for fear of the effect they may have on the health of their children.

Such fears have been caused not only by former Government Minister Edwina Currie's infamous outburst about salmonella in eggs in 1988 but also by concern about the possibility of eggs causing an allergic reaction in children.

Mark says that salmonella has been virtually eradicated in UK egg production as a result of the success of the Lion scheme and the UK vaccination programme and he says that scientists now suggest that the best way to avoid allergies in youngsters is to ensure they eat eggs or other potentially allergenic food at an early age.

"One of the biggest thing we feel at the moment holding us back is we know we lost a generation of egg eaters when Edwina said what she said," said Mark during a speech to the Yorkshire Egg Producers' Discussion Group near York in January. "A lot of mums did not eat eggs when they were pregnant or give their babies eggs when they were little. These kids are now grown up and they are mums themselves. The other thing we have got to handle is this allergy thing - that eggs are an allergen, like shellfish and peanuts and things like that. There is legislation already in place now about what should be marked on packets etc etc," he said.

"But what has been shown scientifically is that witholding a product - and I am talking about eggs here, although it could equally apply to other food products that are allergenic - if you don't eat a product when you are pregnant it can, potentially, have an effect on your offspring. What I am saying is that if mums eat eggs the child is less likely to have an allergic reaction to eggs."

He said that most mums would accept the advice that they should not give a child solids until six months of age, but advice was now showing that parents should not withold eggs until 12 months. "The longer you withold a product the more likely the child is to develop an allergy," said Mark. "This is very interesting work and we feel this could help egg consumption along when this message gets across."

Mark said that the image of British eggs had been transformed since Edwina Currie sent consumption into decline. Last year the former Minister had volunteered her services to help launch the latest version of the Lion code - on the 25th anniversary of her notorious remarks and the 15th anniversary of the Lion scheme. Mark says that in 2013 egg sales in the UK finally returned to pre-1988 levels. He told producers attending the meeting at York that the headlines in the press these days were all positive - unlike the negative publicity surrounding eggs following Edwina Currie's remarks in 1988. "When human salmonellosis was at a high level back in the 1990s eggs got blamed for everything. Now it's all positive, it really is."

Newspapers, magazines, television and the digital media all now wanted to know about eggs, he said. "There has been a total turn-a-round compared to what it was a few years ago," said Mark, who said that there had also been a change in way eggs were viewed by health professionals both here and abroad. "The Department of Health updated their nutritional information about eggs in 2012. We paid a little bit of money to do some extra tests and what it showed was things like eggs have 70 per cent more Vitamin D than they did in the 1980s, they have 13 per cent less calories, 22 per cent less saturated fat. It's all very positive," said Mark, and he said it enabled Amanda Cryer and her team at the British Egg Information Service (BEIS) to do their work in promoting the benefits of eating eggs. This included gaining coverage in specialist publications like Community Practitioner and working to encourage peer reviewed papers on the nutritional benefits of eggs. "It is all really positive stuff."

Mark said that when members of Lion sat down at the end of last year to review what had been achieved they realised that the level of media coverage seemed to get better each year. "We have seen year-on-year growth in egg sales and I think the key thing - and something that will stand us in good stead for the future - is this widespread endorsement of the nutritional aspects of eggs. They are nature's perfect product. We are so lucky. You can't adulterate an egg like you can horse meat and stuff like that."

Mark also pointed to the strength of the Lion code as something that was recognised and valued by consumers. He said research showed that 82 per cent of consumers recognised the Lion - a figure that was much higher than all other food assurance schemes.

In the year ahead, he said, the BEIS would continue to promote eggs as a main meal by publishing recipe ideas, it would make use of well known chefs and celebrities to act as ambassadors for the egg industry and it would work to target young mums with the scientific advice that it was safe and beneficial for both them and their children to eat eggs.

Scientific opinion turns in favour of free range eggs

An amino acid found in eggs is vital to the development of the human brain, according to scientists investigating a rare genetic disease.

Researchers based at the University of Montreal in Canada and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital say their work indicates that the amino acid, asparagine, which was previously thought to be 'non-essential', is, in fact, crucial to normal brain development. Their findings were released after studying the DNA of children affected by the genetic disease.

The Canadian research is the latest in a series of studies to have identified the potential benefits of vitamins and nutrients found in eggs. After years in which health experts suggested that the consumption of eggs should be limited because they were mistakenly linked to higher risk of heart disease, they are now being seen as a 'superfood.' Advice on limiting consumption has been withdrawn by the British Heart Foundation and other health organisations around the world.

Scientists in China recently published research showing that including eggs in the diet could reduce the risk of developing lung cancer, whilst evidence from a study in the United States indicated that eating eggs could be beneficial for people with metabolic syndrome - a condition that leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Other research has provided evidence that eggs can lower breast cancer risk, lower the risk of age related eye disease and lower muscle loss. Scientists also say that an egg is an important source of choline. Studies have shown that choline is needed for optimal foetal brain development.

A paper published as recently as December shows that scientific opinion has turned full circle - with health experts now recommending that increased consumption of eggs could have widespread benefits for several key population groups. The paper, ‘Eggs - establishing the nutritional benefits’, was published in the December issue of the British Nutrition Foundation’s Nutrition Bulletin. It praised eggs as a natural health food and diet aid.

It looked back at a tumultuous quarter of a century which had seen the reputation of British eggs transformed. The egg industry had not only dispelled the myths about heart disease, but it had also succeeded in tackling the }} issue of salmonella that was raised by the then Government Minister Edwina Currie 25 years ago. The former Minister is now a vocal supporter of the British egg industry and played a part recently in the public launch of the new version of the British Egg Industry Council's (BEIC) Lion code.

“A lot has changed in 25 years," said BEIC chairman Andrew Joret. "It is fantastic news that diet and health experts now fully recognise the important role eggs can play in a healthy diet and that their consumption should be encouraged and not limited. Eggs are unique in terms of their health credentials and, as consumers become more and more aware of their benefits, we expect to see even greater consumption.”

The report in Nutrition Bulletin presented the first full nutritional analysis of eggs since the 1980s, showing that changing hen feeding practices had led to eggs now containing 20 per cent less fat, more than 20 per cent less saturated fat and about 13 per cent fewer calories. Eggs also now contain more than 70 per cent more vitamin D, as well as double the amount of selenium than when last analysed. They are recognised as a significant source of choline and omega 3 fatty acids.

The latest research in Canada involved a study looking into a rare genetic disease that causes congenital microcephaly, intellectual disability, cerebral atrophy, and refractory seizures. The study was launched after one family in Quebec lost three children through the disease. As a result of their work the researchers, led by Dr Jacques Michaud, discovered a genetic abnormality responsible for what is a developmental disorder. “We are not at the verge of a miracle drug,” Dr Michaud said, “but we at least know where to look.” They found that asparagine was vital to normal brain development.

The amino acid, which can be found in meat and dairy products as well as eggs, was, say the researchers, previously considered to be 
non-essential because it is produced naturally by the body. However, they discovered that, whilst it might not be vital for other parts of the body, it is crucial for brain development.

“The cells of the body can do without it because they use asparagine provided through diet. Asparagine, however, is not well transported to the brain via the blood-brain barrier,” said Dr Michaud, who found that brain cells depend on the local synthesis of asparagine to function properly. He said that the knowledge the research team had gained as a result of the study could be used to develop treatments.

“Our results not only open the door to a better understanding of the disease,” he said, “but they also give us valuable information about the molecular mechanisms involved in brain development, which is important for the development of new treatments.”

He said that asparagine supplement could be given to infants to ensure an adequate level of asparagine in the brain. “The amount of supplementation remains to be determined, as well as its effectiveness,” he said. “Since these children are already born with neurological abnormalities, it is uncertain whether this supplementation would correct the neurological deficits.”

Dr Michaud's team discovered the genetic mutation by comparing the complete DNA of the Quebec family's children with symptoms of the disease. The researchers then identified children amongst other families who carried the single candidate gene.

Free range eggs are a food you can trust

In an unusual study, a team from the University of Leiden found that foods containing a certain ingredient called tryptophan increase the feeling of trust in people who eat them. Tryptophan, which is an amino acid, is present in free range eggs, according to the research team, which was led by a psychologist at Leiden Institute for Brain Cognition and the Department of Psychology at Leiden University.

It is perhaps ironic that a food until recently mistakenly mistrusted because of fears over cholesterol and heart disease has been scientifically proven to improve trust. Up-to-date research has discredited the link between eggs and heart diseases, and this latest study from Leiden adds to a growing body of scientific evidence showing that eating eggs provides a wide range of health benefits.

The Leiden research, which was published in the Journal Psychological Science, involved volunteers pairing up and taking part in a game of trust. The psycologist running the study, Lorenza Colzato, explained that the game measured the extent to which participants trusted each other by using money transfers. It was found that those who had taken tryptophan transferred significantly more money to their partners than those who had not - indicating an increased feeling of trust.

"These results support the idea that we are what we eat," said Lorenza Colzato. "The food one eats has a bearing on one’s state of mind. Food can thus act as a cognitive enhancer that modulates the way one thinks and perceives the physical and social world. In particular, the intake of tryptophan may promote interpersonal trust in inexpensive, efficient, and healthy ways," she said.

The Leiden researchers, who were joined in their work by scientists from Munster University, are the first to investigate whether tryptophan, which is known to stimulate the production of serotonin, has a positive effect on mutual trust. It was already known that serotonin plays a role in mutual co-operation, but no-one had previously looked into the impact of tryptohan, which is found in fish, soya and spinach as well ass eggs.

Lorenza Colzato said, "Mutual trust is an important condition for co-operation. Society functions in the first place on the basis of mutual trust. After that, such institutions as the courts and the police come into play."

She said that volunteers taking part in the experiment were given either tryptophan or a placebo before playing the trust game. One group of volunteers received orange juice with added tryptophan, while a second group was given the placebo. During the game, a volunteer was given five Euros and was free to decide how much of that money to give to a partner in each round of the game. Those who had been given trytophan were significantly more generous.

What's in your Free Range Egg?

Eggs are made up of yolk (the yellow part), and albumen (the white part).

Helps build and preserve muscle

Helps your body use oxygen

B2, B12 and Folate
For red blood cell production, a healthy nervous system and energy release

Supports the immune system, eyesight and skin health

Helps keep bones and teeth healthy

For eye health

Helps maintain a healthy immune system

For bone and teeth health

An antioxidant which helps protect cells from damage

Supports a healthy metabolism

For brain  development and function

A Few Egg Myth Busters

*  Keeping an eye on our cholesterol levels is important for maintaining good health, as high cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease. Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver. It is carried around the body in the blood by molecules called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins, low density lipoproteins (LDL), and high density lipoproteins (HDL). Too much LDL in your blood can cause fatty material to build up in your arteries, but HDL can help prevent that. According to the British Heart Foundation, the cholesterol we consume in foods such as eggs does not raise the amount of cholesterol in our blood. It is the saturated fat that we eat that raises our cholesterol levels. Previous advice restricting the number of eggs we eat in a week has now been discarded. If you are worried about your cholesterol, it is how you cook your eggs that matters, without the addition of saturated fat from other sources, e.g. butter and cheese. There is no limit to the number of poached, boiled and scrambled eggs (without butter) that you can eat in a week.

*  Salmonella in eggs has now been ‘effectively eradicated’ according to the British Egg Industry Council (the BEIC).  In 1998 the BEIC introduced the British Lion Quality Code of Practice which requires all eggs from flocks covered by the ‘Lion’ code to be registered and traceable, imposes strict hygiene standards, routine vaccination against salmonella, salmonella testing and detailed record keeping and labelling of egg packs. More than 85 per cent of UK eggs are produced under the British Lion Quality Scheme and this has gone a long way towards reducing incidences of salmonella in eggs.

*  In addition all flocks on premises with more than 350 laying hens, even if they are not accredited to any assurance scheme must comply with the National Control Programme for Salmonella in Laying Flocks. This programme, part of an EU wide initiative, requires regular salmonella testing of commercial flocks from the time birds are chicks to the end of their laying lives. If any flock is found positive for either Salmonella Enteritidis or Salmonella Typhimurium, eggs from these flocks cannot be sent for human consumption unless treated in a manner which will guarantee the elimination of Salmonella. Reporting by UK agencies and the European Food Safety Authority confirm UK egg production is among the safest in the world with levels of salmonella of public health significance falling to 0.17% in 2011. 

Your Health and Free Range Eggs

An average medium sized egg contains just 66 calories and research by the Institute of Food Research has found that eggs today are even better for you than they were 30 years ago. The Institute found that eggs contain twice the levels of selenium, 75% more vitamin D, 20% less fat and 10% less cholesterol. The reason is that birds are given better feed which helps them absorb more vitamin D and other nutrients.

Pregnancy Eggs are an excellent source of choline which aids foetal brain development. The high quality protein supports foetal growth. They are a good source of folate which can help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. They are a good source of readily available iron, useful for pregnant and breastfeeding women who may be at a higher risk of anaemia.

Babies Well-cooked eggs are an excellent source of nutrition for babies from the age of 8 months.

Children Eating a healthy well-balanced breakfast that includes eggs can improve a child’s concentration, attention, behaviour and results at school!

As We Get Older The high quality protein found in eggs can help prevent the degeneration of skeletal muscle as we age. The compounds lutein and zeaxanthin found in eggs can help prevent macular degeneration in our eyes that results from the ageing process.

Weight Control Eating high quality protein such as that found in eggs keeps you feeling full longer so can aid weight-loss. A recent study by The University of Surrey*compared a breakfast consisting of two poached eggs on toast with cornflakes and milk with a slice of toast, and a croissant and a glass of orange juice. Those who ate the egg-based breakfast were less-inclined to snack and ate less at lunchtime.

Eggs for breakfast… a cracking way to start the day!

*Research by Wilson L, Fallaize R, Gray J, Morgan L, Griffin B at the University of Surrey