Omega-3 eggs - DHA eggs

Jan 2014  DHA eggs - omega-3 eggs
Eggs branded "omega-3", "DHA' or "pastured" do contain omega-3 fats like Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Even ordinary regular eggs also contain some amount of these fats. The crux of the problem is the lack of clarity in the types and quantities of fatty acids present in a particular product.

Free-range pasture poultry farming

Before the advent of intensive commercial poultry farming, free-range pasture poultry farming was practised wherein the birds were allowed to move around the land freely foraging on  worms, bugs, insects, leaves, grass, wild seeds etc. The natural feed and its variety helped in producing eggs which had good amount of omega-3, DHA and EPA. However these hen lay eggs only in the warmer months which limited the productivity.

In 2007, Mother Earth News egg testing project came to a conclusion that eggs of hens raised on pasture when compared to conventional commercial ones were likely to contain,
  • "1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene".
Dr.Heather Karsten et all Of the College of Agricultural Sciences, University Park, Pennsylvania, in their study on the nutrient content of eggs have concluded that pastured birds produced about three times more omega-3 fat in their eggs than did birds raised on an industrial diet. The pasture dominated by legumes like clover and alfalfa added more omega-3 to the product than plain grass pasture. They also found that the increase in the fatty acids corresponds to its level in the foraged food. There is also a marked increase in the levels of vitamin A and E.

Factory eggs

The advent of 'battery cages' or factory poultry farming has no doubt increased the productivity as well as the profitability of poultry industry. The predominant components of fat sources in the poultry feed are corn and soy which are very high in omega-6 fats like arachidonic acid (ARA) and poor in DHA.

The change in the food habits and the fast food culture have skewed up the fatty acid composition of American diet, resulting in drastic increase in the levels of omega-6 fats and steep decline in docosahexaenoic acid and EPA content. Similarly the high-protein, high-energy poultry feed used in the egg factories has drastically brought down the DHA and EPA content and increased the omega-6 presence. The eggs produced in these factories are very high in ARA and low in omega-3 fats. Though arachidonic acid is required for the body, it can be harmful if consumed in excess as it is a precursor to many inflammatory processes. Further high levels of ARA affect the synthesis and utilization of docosahexaenoic acid.

Omega and DHA eggs

Alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is a precursor of the DHA and EPA. ALA is an essential fatty acid as the human body cannot synthesize it. It has to be necessarily sourced through our food. ALA is plentiful in flaxseed, hemp oil and walnuts. The conversion of ALA to docosahexaenoic acid is an inefficient process in the humans and to fulfil the body's requirements docosahexaenoic acid, it has to be consumed through the diet.

Docosahexaenoic acid is very important for the healthy functioning of the body organs, especially the brain. It was found in research studies that feeding hen with ALA rich feed or docosahexaenoic acid rich products, enhances the fatty acid content of the eggs greatly. The eggs producers have resorted to feed the chicken with flaxseed, fish oil or fish products to enhance the fatty acid content. The hen have greater capacity for converting ALA present in their feed to DHA. Omega-3 eggs may have 5 times as much Omega-3 as the conventional ones.

The market is flooded with fatty acid enriched eggs. Now the issue is the amount of docosahexaenoic acid present in these products. Depending upon the type docosahexaenoic acid source and its quantity added to the feed, the amount of DHA present may differ among the products from different hen stocks. Simultaneously the arachidonic acid content in the feed has to be checked as it is the precursor to many proinflammatory eicosanoids. Omega-3 egg or DHA egg can contribute to the healthy life. However they have to be consumed sparingly as their cholesterol content is high, almost contributing the total daily cholesterol requirement in one egg.

To sum up we may say that omega DHA enriched eggs help in increasing the docosahexaenoic acid content of our diets.
  • Eggs of pasture raised hen are also equally good.
  • We should not get carried away by the deceptive labels and look for real content of the product.
  • More than the total fatty acid content we have to look for the DHA content.
  • Considering the high cholesterol content, we have to restrict the consumption to one or two eggs a day.
  • As the omega-3 eggs may not fulfill the total docosahexaenoic acid requirements of our body, we have to augment our diet with DHA rich fish and other supplements like fish oil, algal oil, green lipped mussel oil or krill oil.

Current topic on nutritional deficiency diseases:
DHA eggs and omega-3 eggs

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