A new multi-university study finds that infants who are introduced to eggs beginning at six months show significantly higher blood concentrations of choline, other biomarkers in choline pathways, and higher levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid crucial for healthy brain structure and development.
“Eggs have been consumed throughout human history, but the full potential of this nutritionally complete food has yet to be recognized in many resource-poor settings around the world,” said lead author Dr. Lora Iannotti, associate dean for public health and associate professor at Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.
Although egg whites are listed as one of the high-risk allergy foods for babies, recommendations for when to introduce them to infants have been changing. So while some pediatricians recommend waiting until eight months to introduce egg yolks and 12 months for whites/whole eggs, others suggest eggs as a first food if there is no history of food allergies.
Choline is a macronutrient that acts like vitamin B in that it helps support energy and brain function and keeps the metabolism active. DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that serves as a structural component of the brain, plays a vital role in infant brain development and function.
“Like milk or seeds, eggs are designed to support the early growth and development of an organism and are, therefore, dense in nutrient content,” Iannotti said. “Eggs provide essential fatty acids, proteins, choline, vitamins A and B12, selenium and other critical nutrients at levels above or comparable to those found in other animal food products, but they are relatively more affordable.”
Eggs deliver their nutrients in a holistic package, or “food matrix,” which helps improve absorption and metabolism, Iannotti said.
Iannotti and her co-authors from such universities as Texas, Maryland, and Johns Hopkins conducted a randomized, controlled trial in Ecuador in 2015. Children ages six to nine months were randomly assigned to be given one egg per day for six months, versus a control group, which did not receive eggs.
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A previous paper from the same study, published in June in the journal Pediatrics, showed that early introduction of eggs significantly improved linear growth and reduced stunting among infants who were introduced to them at 6 months.