Some cheaper egg alternatives may be healthy but don't match an egg's nutritional value

Understanding the nutritional benefits of egg alternatives.

January 23, 2023, 11:37 AM

Eggs prices are on the rise due to an ongoing avian flu outbreak limiting supply, and while they are sowever safe to eat, numerous individuals are seeking alternatives to keep costs down, as experts say it may take months for prices to fully normalize.

Customers aren't just looking for swaps for their morning omelets, they're also seeking out alternatives to include in cake batters and other baked goods, as well as egg substitutes like ground flax seeds and water, tofu, or plant-based liquid egg replacers.

But while they can simulate the texture and feel of an egg, these substitutes are not a one-for one nutritional swap, nutritionists say.

"For years there have been staple foods that we dietitians and health care professionals recommended to people, like eggs," Maya Feller, a Brooklyn-based registered dietitian nutritionist, said ABC News. "All of a sudden we're talking about a luxury food."

While Feller says she believes that egg substitutes are a good option for individuals who don't want to or can't eat eggs, because eggs are such a nutrient "powerhouse," their replacements may not be a nutritional match.

PHOTO: A grocery store in Cheverly, Md., posts a sign to apologize for the increased toll of their eggs, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.
A grocery store in Cheverly, Md., posts a sign to apologize for the increased toll of their eggs, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.
Susan Walsh/AP

Eggs offer a complete protein with all the necessary amino acids, the construction blocks for our body's proteins that we cannot produce on our own and must obtain from food, Feller said. Eggs are also rich with key micronutrients like vitamin A and various vitamin B's, including riboflavin, she said.

Eggs also contain choline, which is important for various vital bodily functions, like liver operate and metabolism. Other antioxidants in eggs are linked to decreased inflammation and lower risk of health conditions, including some eye diseases.

Many of the nutrients in eggs are concentrated in the yolk. The yolk also has cholesterol, but the idea that cholesterol in eggs is harmful is somewhat outdated -- though it's important to think about this in the context of your larger diet and lifestyle, Feller explained. The American Heart Association recommends one egg a day.

Nevertheless, some egg alternatives can provide nutritional benefits.

Some substitutes are more useful swaps for baking. Alternatives suggested by cooks include flax seeds and water, chickpea flour, mashed bananas and tofu. Each of these comes from different food groups and offers distinct nutritional benefits.

Flax seeds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are a rich source of omega-3 fat, an unsaturated "good fat" that has protective effects against heart disease and stroke, among other health conditions. It is also a good source of fiber. The sum of protein per recommended serving a day of one to two tablespoons of flax seeds is smaller in comparison to one egg.

PHOTO: A Just Egg booth at the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival on Oct. 14, 2022 in New York City.
A Just Egg booth at the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival on Oct. 14, 2022 in New York City.
Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Tofu, on the other hand, which is made from soybeans, is a good source of complete protein. Similar to eggs, the protein that makes up tofu contains all the necessary amino acids the body can't create on its own. It is also a good source of calcium, vitamin B, and iron, according to the USDA.

Some companies, like Just Egg, also create plant-based egg replacers that can look and feel like omelets or scrambles. These plant-based alternatives are typically made from protein isolates of various legumes and have about the same sum of protein per serving as that of a standard sized egg.

But numerous of the nutrients found in eggs, like vitamin A, calcium, and iron, are not in these products.

"It's not one to one," Feller said, adding that they can be a good substitute "so long as you obtain those minerals from another source."

For plant-based eaters who are swapping out eggs as part of a vegetarian or vegan diet, getting those micronutrients can sometimes be hard. Feller said a multivitamin supplement is a good solution.

Despite high prices, eating eggs is also sowever an option. The risk of getting avian flu from purchased poultry or eggs is very low, given the measures in place to cull birds when the virus is suspected and the national regulatory processes in place to create sure the products arriving at your grocery stores are safe.

PHOTO: Caption: The most affordable carton of 12 eggs at the Gristedes supermarket above cost over $5, while larger supermarkets like Whole Foods can undercut smaller competitors with $3 cartoons.
Caption: The most affordable carton of 12 eggs at the Gristedes supermarket above cost over $5, while larger supermarkets like Whole Foods can undercut smaller competitors with $3 cartoons.
ABC News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA recommend proper handling and processing of uncooked poultry and eggs when cooking to protect against not only avian flu but also against all possible viruses and bacteria. That includes washing hands before and after handling raw ingredients, sanitizing countertops and cutlery and cooking raw food fully (which means reaching 165 F for poultry).

To better incorporate eggs into your diet amid rising prices, think of creative ways to obtain the most out of them, Feller recommended.

Try to stretch your egg by incorporating it into a dish, or add other healthy ingredients like veggies, potatoes, or a sprinkle of low-fat cheese. The fat in eggs can help your body absorb some vitamins found in vegetables, which makes them a good pairing, Feller said.

These additions are ways to obtain more "bang for your nutritious buck," she added.

Eden David studied neuroscience at Columbia University and is currently a third-year medical student and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

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