When Omega Eggs (eggs containing Omega fatty acids) first appeared on the mass market in the early 2000s I had this bizarre image in my head of a semi-crazed scientist extracting the yolk with a giant syringe, swirling it about in a beaker with a neon blue solution to extract the bad fat, injecting it with Omega fatty acids and then placing it carefully back inside the eggshell.
Of course my next thought was that would be a completely absurd and impossible way to go about making healthier eggs and labelled the image as a flight of fancy. I dismissed the question of how Omega Eggs are produced as interesting but not a priority and went about my life.
10 months ago I started working at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). The important thing to remember about UNL is that although it is a Research 1 institution it was chartered as a land grant university in 1869 under the Morrill Land - Grant Colleges Act. Approved under the auspices of President Abraham Lincoln it was titled: "An Act Donating Public Lands to the Several States and Territories which may provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts". For this reason UNL is dedicated not only to providing affordable traditional college degrees but also to research, development, and education regarding best practices in agriculture and food production.
My colleagues anxious to extol to me the virtues of my new university mentioned in passing that Omega Eggs were first sold at the Dairy Store on our East Campus. Omega Eggs have been available for purchase there since 1995. It turns out that Sheila Scheidler, then a poultry scientist with UNL, created a patented system (the university holds the patent and trade mark on Omega Eggs) to efficiently produce eggs high in Omega fatty acids.
You Really Are What You Eat
It turns out that the old saying "you are what you eat" is really true in the case of the chicken and then eggs. By altering the hens' diets to include grains rich in Omega fatty acids such as flax seed (Omega 3 fatty acids), chickens are able to produce healthier eggs. Omega eggs have more omega fatty acids, lower cholesterol, and about half the fat of regular eggs. Two Omega Eggs have the equivalent amount of Omega fatty acids of one serving of salmon.
Not convinced? Check out this study by Nancy Lewis, (UNL professor of Nutrition Science), Sheila E. Scheidler (UNL professor of Animal Science), and Kim Schalch (a dietician in Lincoln, NE, formerly a UNL graduate research assistant at UNL.
In a controlled experiment researchers studied 25 volunteers (13 men and 12 women) with high cholesterol (and no other diagnosed health conditions). Volunteers were divided into three groups all of whom ate a self-selected diet. These groups were differentiated by their egg consumption: two Omega eggs per day over six days, versus those who ate two regular eggs six days a week, and those who ate no eggs.
The study looked at several factors but the really interesting thing was that those eating Omega Eggs showed no increase in cholesterol while their serum triglyceride levels decreased by 14%. (High triglycerides are bad because they increase your risk of heart disease).
One should, of course, eat all things in moderation: too much of anything is bad for you. But if you’re a big egg fan like my husband, next time you’re in the grocery store you might think about buying those Omega Eggs even though they cost more. They just might help you live longer and they’re a lot tastier than fish oil pills!
NebGuide G 2032: Omega -3 and Omega -6 Fatty Acids (Learn about these important nutrients and foods rich in them.) Published by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, Insitute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, written by Lisa D. Fanzen-Castle and Paula Ritter-Gooder
Image Credits: 1) Chicken in the Garden by HardworkingHippy CC BY-SA 2.0, 2) Eggs Copyright Jeffrey & Kiyomi Deards 2011 Used with permission. 3) Bizarre Imaginings Copyright Jeffrey & Kiyomi Deards 2011 Used with permission.
About the Author: Kiyomi Deards is an Assistant Professor with the University of Nebraska-LIncoln University Libraries . She is the librarian for chemistry, biochemistry, physics and astronomy. Ms. Deards belongs to several professional organizations focused on libraries, education, science and technology. She currently manges the website of the Association of College and Research Libraries Residency Interest Group . Her research and educational interests are in STEM education and career issues, diversity, library management, mentoring, and teaching. She maintains a personal blog and Web site, LibraryAdventures.com .
The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.