Today’s eggs contain over 70% more vitamin D and double the amount of selenium than when previous analyses were carried out 30 years ago, a new study has revealed.

 

They also contain around 20% less fat, 13% fewer calories and more than 10% less cholesterol than previous surveys suggested.

The changes are believed to be the result of improvements to hens’ feed, an increase in the ratio between the white and yolk and improved analytical methods since the last official government analyses.

Vegetable oils replaced meat and bonemeal in layer rations in the 1980s, and it is believed that better quality oils, together with other enhancements, have improved the hens’ absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and the take-up of nutrients.

The study, produced by the UK Foodcomp project and funded by the Department of Health, provides the first update on the nutrient content of eggs since the 1980s. “These particular data reinforce the contribution to essential nutrients that eggs can make as part of a varied diet, for people of all ages,” said Prof Judith Buttriss, director general of the British Nutrition Foundation.

The new analysis found that two medium eggs can provide around two-thirds of the Recommended Daily Amount for vitamin D and comes at a time when a large proportion of the UK population has an inadequate supply of this vitamin, crucial for bone health and the immune system.

“This is a very welcome finding at a time when there is rapidly accumulating evidence that a lack of vitamin D could be a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases,” said independent nutritionist Cath MacDonald.

The increased selenium content of eggs is also of public health significance, as UK selenium intakes have declined in recent years alongside a switch from North American to European wheat. Selenium is important in protecting cellular components such as DNA, lipids and proteins against oxidation.

The new analyses reveal that an average medium egg now contains around 177mg of cholesterol, although it is now acknowledged that such cholesterol does not have a significant effect on blood cholesterol in most people.