Eggs and Protein

Position Statement for Healthcare Professionals

Eggs and Protein

 Updated June 2016

 

Eggs have the highest nutritional quality protein of all food sources, providing all the essential amino acids in amounts that closely match human requirements..  Eggs are classified as a high quality protein food based on both the newly recommended DIAAS (Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score) or the currently used PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score ) methods of assessing the quality of protein in foods.

One serve of eggs* contains 12.7 grams of protein, representing 20% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for men and 27% of the RDI for women. Figure 1 highlights the protein content of eggs compared to other common meat and meat alternative food sources. 

Figure 1: Comparison of protein content per 100 grams

 

Australians’ intake of protein

Based on the 2011-12 National Nutrition Survey, the average Australian protein intake for those aged 2 years and over is 95 grams daily, providing 18% of energy. This is higher than the previous national survey showing protein contributed 16% of daily energy intake. This protein intake easily meets the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of 46 grams for women and 64 grams for men. On average Australians consumed 1.7 serves from the lean meat and alternatives food group per day.  Of this, eggs contributed 6.2%.  The major contributors were lean red meat (38.4%) followed by lean poultry (29.2%) then nuts/seeds (11.2%), fish and seafood (9.9%), eggs ( 6.2%) and legumes (4.8%).

The 2007 Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey showed children in all age groups exceeded the RDIs for protein, with average intakes found to be two to four times higher than recommendations. However, there are certain groups within the population that may benefit from increased intakes or higher quality sources, including ovo-vegetarians, children and adolescents, elderly people and those participating in resistance training.

Ovo-vegetarians:

  • Due to the smaller variety of protein containing foods eaten by ovo-vegetarians, these people may have a limited intake of essential amino acids if they do not follow a balanced eating pattern. Additionally, the protein digestibility and lower biological protein value of many plant proteins may result in deficient dietary intakes of essential amino acids in ovo-vegetarian diets. Despite the total protein content of a vegetarian diet being significantly lower than an omnivore diet, the majority of vegetarians are still meeting current protein recommendations. It has been suggested, however, that total protein requirements should be higher for vegetarians if low levels of animal protein are consumed or if single plant sources are relied upon for protein due to the lower digestibility of protein from plant sources. Due to their high protein quality and high digestibility, eggs may therefore be particularly useful in the diets of ovo-vegetarians.

Children and adolescents:

  • Children and adolescents have increased requirements for protein during periods of growth. Evidence also shows that higher protein, low glycemic load diets can improve symptoms of acne that is common in teenagers. A higher protein egg-rich breakfast has also been shown to help suppress appetite, reduce subsequent cravings and snacking and prevent body fat gain in adolescent girls. Eggs are an excellent source of protein for children and adolescents due to their ideal amino acid profile, nutrient density and versatility.

Older adults (≥ 70 years):

  • Older adults aged 70 years and over have a greater protein RDI than younger people, and may need additional protein intake to stimulate muscle protein formation and maintain fat free mass. It has been demonstrated that the formation of muscle protein in the elderly can be stimulated by the increased availability of protein and/or amino acids of foods. Muscle mass in the elderly can be maintained through adequate protein intake combined with resistance training. Increasing protein intake may also assist wound healing in the elderly. Protein intakes as high as 2g per kg per day have been recommended for older adults with severe illness or malnutrition. Eggs are an ideal protein source for the elderly as they are economical, easy to prepare and easy to chew.

Athletes:

  • Some athletes can benefit from higher protein intakes for preservation of lean muscle mass and weight loss. Athletes who undergo resistance training, particularly in the early phases of their program where muscle synthesis is high, can also benefit from extra dietary protein. One study examined the effect of consuming different amounts (0, 5, 10, 20 and 40 grams) of egg protein after resistance exercise on muscle building. Muscle and albumin protein synthesis increased in relation to the amount of egg protein consumed, however reached a plateau at 20 grams. Above this level, the protein was used for energy. Eggs are a highly bioavailable protein source that can easily be included in the diets of athletes without adding unwanted bulk. Recent evidence suggests that to maximise the benefits of protein intake in athletes, moderate amounts (approximately 20g) are consumed at regular intervals (every 3 hours) throughout the day. A serve of eggs, providing just over 20g protein, can be a convenient source of protein for athletes. 

Restricted diets:

  • People following a kilojoule-controlled diet may benefit from an increased percentage of energy from protein. A growing body of evidence, including a number of Australian clinical trials, have demonstrated that moderately higher protein, lower carbohydrate, kilojoule controlled diets provide an effective weight loss strategy for some. A higher protein, low GI diet was found to be the most beneficial diet for weight loss maintenance. It is likely that protein’s role in weight management is largely due to its effects on satiety and appetite. Recent evidence also suggests that higher protein intakes (1.2g per kg body weight) assist in maintaining fat free mass, reduce resting energy expenditure and decrease diastolic blood pressure as part of a weight loss diet. A higher percentage of protein in the diet has also been shown to be associated with a lower overall energy intake. Being nutrient dense and a good source of high quality protein, eggs are one food that fit well within the dietary recommendations for moderately higher protein weight loss diets.

 

Due to their significant contribution to nutrient intakes, eggs can be a valuable inclusion in a healthy diet and contribute significant amounts of high quality protein to assist in meeting daily requirements.

 

This statement is for healthcare professionals only.

*One serve = 2x60g eggs (104g edible portion)

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