22 May 1998

Healthier food from the hen

ENHANCING hens diets with natural feed ingredients improves egg composition by increasing anti-oxidant and fatty acid levels and offering protection against disease.

Work at SAC Auchincruive has found that increasing levels of docosahexanoic acid – an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid – in hens rations leads to greater DHA concentration in eggs, enhancing immune system capability. It is also involved in brain and retina development, and is, therefore, important in pregnant women, explained poultry specialist Ray Noble.

"Vitamin E and carotenoids are also added to prevent DHA oxidation in the egg. Both are natural anti-oxidants, helping to protect against heart disease, brain disease and cancer, while the carotenoids protect the retina of elderly people against degeneration."

Infants, the elderly, sick people and pregnant women would all benefit from including these eggs in their diet, said Prof Noble.

The eggs also have no effect on cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, and, in some cases, can even help to decrease it, according to SAC. This means egg consumption would not be limited by cholesterol concerns.

While the extra cost an egg of including additional nutrients is 11p – compared with taking capsules costing 64p to provide the same level of nutrition – Prof Noble says little interest has been shown by UK companies.

"These eggs are available throughout the rest of Europe, America and Australia, but we have been to industry and supermarkets and they have all said they are not interested."