Author Annie Siegfried is a research dietician at the University of Stanford as well as a photographer, educator, and health advocate.
Are eggs good for pregnancy?
The human body undergoes significant hormonal and physiological changes to help with the development of the baby and preparing for lactation afterwards. These changes completely alter the way a human body reacts to certain things. While nutrition and a healthy diet never rely on a single food group, food type, or nutrient, eggs in particular provide exceptional protein, fatty acids, and an array of vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds that significantly improve birth outcomes, as well as infant nutrition and brain development during pregnancy and lactation. The best part is that eggs deliver nutrients in compounds that work in tandem and are more readily absorbed and metabolized.
1. The role of high quality protein during pregnancy
Eggs are packed with high-quality protein containing all nine essential amino acids in the right amounts required for optimum growth and development of a fetus. Due to their protein content, consuming eggs can help reduce variations in glucose levels during pregnancy.
Hormonal changes and gestational diabetes
In late pregnancy, the hormones estrogen, cortisol, and human placental lactogen can block insulin. These changes cause the body's cells to use insulin less effectively. As a result, blood sugar levels rise more than usual after a meal, and this change can sometimes cause an expecting mother to become diabetic during pregnancy. This condition is called gestational diabetes. While it usually goes away as soon as the baby is born, it can result in pregnancy complications if not addressed properly.
Can eating eggs combat gestational diabetes?
A high-protein, balanced diet combined with low-volume exercise during pregnancy helps keep blood glucose levels stable and in range. Protein helps slow down the digestion of carbs and delay their absorption into the blood, minimizing the spike in blood glucose levels. That's why combining a high-quality, complete protein (like eggs) with carbs at each meal is a good idea, especially when pregnant.
There certainly are some other foods that contain proportionately more protein than eggs, but it's the quality of the protein in eggs that really stands out. Protein from eggs is highly bioavailable, and the high satiety levels of eggs lead to greater feelings of satisfaction, less hunger, and fewer cravings throughout the day, meaning you'll be less likely to crave simple empty carbohydrates.
2. The role of choline during pregnancy
Choline is an essential nutrient made in the liver. As most people don't produce enough choline to meet daily requirements, it also needs to be consumed through the food we eat. Similar to B vitamins, it is essential for normal cell functioning, playing a significant role in brain and spinal cord development during pregnancy, cognitive development in infants and preventing neural tube defects in newborns.
Can eating eggs impact brain and spinal cord development during pregnancy?
Despite research demonstrating that choline supplementation during pregnancy - particularly the third trimester - can have a positive lasting impact on the baby's brain health and development even into childhood, choline is rarely found in pregnancy and postnatal multi-vitamins. Luckily, eggs are a simple food-forward solution to help pregnant and nursing people meet their daily choline needs, with one large egg meeting 25% of a pregnant person's daily choline needs and 20% of a nursing parent's needs. In addition, eggs provide more than double the amount of choline per 100g than any other type of food in our diet. This makes eggs an exceptionally effective food source for meeting daily nutritional requirements during pregnancy and lactation.
3. The role of folate during pregnancy
Eggs are a good source of folate, a nutrient known to help prevent some major birth defects of the baby's brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida) in the first trimester of pregnancy. Major birth defects of the baby's brain or spine occur very early in pregnancy, 3-4 weeks after conception. The neural tube forms the early brain and spine. During pregnancy we commonly refer to this nutrient as folic acid, though it's important to remember that folic acid is a synthetic form of the vitamin folate.
Can eating eggs prevent major birth defects?
Folate reduces the risk of spina bifida by 70%. This is why it is recommended that all pregnant women, or women who are planning pregnancy consume foods rich in folate such as eggs, legumes and leafy greens and/or take a daily supplement of folic acid during their pregnancy.
It's important to make folate-rich foods like eggs part of your everyday diet throughout your entire breastfeeding journey as well, as it plays an important role in a baby's brain development during the first year of birth.
The recommended daily intake of folate while breastfeeding is 500 mcg. For pregnant women, the recommended intake is 600-800 mcg per day. One large egg contains 22 mcg.
4. The role of vitamin D during pregnancy
Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption and bone mineralization. We all know that to build and maintain strong bones and teeth, one should eat calcium-rich foods like dairy. But vitamin D plays an equally important role, as it enables the body to absorb and hold onto that calcium and other minerals the mother and the developing baby need during pregnancy and lactation.
Can eating eggs help with bone development?
During pregnancy vitamin D plays an essential role in the development of baby's bones. Low levels of vitamin D in pregnancy have been linked to conditions like rickets, the softening and weakening of bones, that can lead to growth failure, bone deformities, and fractures in a newborn.
Breast milk is the optimal source of nutrition for infants because it provides complete nutrition for growth and development. However, it typically contains an average of 5-80 IU per liter of vitamin D. This is insufficient to meet the daily requirement of 400 to 600 IU per day. As eggs are one of the few food sources of vitamin D, they're a wonderful addition to a mother's diet both during pregnancy and lactation.
This is especially true for mothers who live in areas with little sunlight or who have melanated skin. Below are a few conditions that decrease exposure to the sun's UVB light and lessen vitamin D absorption.
- Use of sunscreen, while imperative to overall skin protection, reduces vitamin D absorption by more than 90%.
- Wearing full clothing that covers the skin.
- Spending limited time outdoors.
- Skin tones with higher amounts of melanin, which acts as a type of natural sunscreen.
- Seasonal changes and distance from the equator: The further away from the equator, the weaker the UVB light. Additionally, the changing seasons can decrease UVB strength. For example, in the northern hemisphere, people who live in Boston, U.S., Edmonton, Canada, and Bergen, Norway can't make enough vitamin D from the sun for about 4-6 months out of the year. In the southern hemisphere, residents of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Cape Town, South Africa make far less vitamin D from the sun during their winter months (June-August) than they can during their spring and summer months.
If one or more of these conditions apply to you, then eggs can be an amazing choice in your everyday diet.
Food safety during pregnancy: are eggs safe for pregnant people?
It is safe for pregnant women to eat properly cooked and pasteurized eggs. To obtain all the nutritional benefits of eggs during pregnancy while maintaining food safety, simply follow these tips:
- Make sure all egg dishes are well cooked. Avoid raw eggs in foods such as aioli, homemade mayonnaise, cake batter or mousse.
- Try not to use eggs with cracked or dirty shells.
- Don't store eggs in a bowl alongside other foods; keep them separate inside the carton that you bought them.
- Consume hard-boiled eggs within two days of boiling.
- Consume leftover egg dishes within 24 hours of cooking.
- Check the best before dates on egg cartons