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Are you slowly making the transition to a vegan diet? Cutting out eggs first may be the easiest way to transition in a gradual way. Why?
Keep reading to find out more! This guide outlines the nutrients you need to pay closer attention to when cutting out eggs (spoiler alert: eggs can’t brag about much), and tips from a Registered Dietitian.
But first, lets define the subject…
Table of Contents
What is an Egg Free Diet?
An egg free diet excludes eggs, whether it be scrambled or used in foods products (ie: egg yolks for mayonnaise).
Stanford Children’s Health does a great job getting into the nitty gritty about reading labels for hidden sources of egg. Check out the list here.
A Dairy Free Diet is Not the Same As an Egg Free Diet!
Just so no one is getting confused, eggs are not categorized as a “dairy products”. This guide will only be focusing on eggs, not dairy. To learn about cutting out dairy in your diet, check out my comprehensive article: Dairy-Free for beginners (coming soon -currently getting a makeover)
Why aren’t eggs a “dairy product?” In the most obvious sense, the eggs we typically eat come from hens, and dairy products come from cows.
Egg and dairy products are like comparing apples and oranges nutritionally. For example, milk contains nearly 30% of your calcium needs in a cup, while an egg meets only about 2%.
Why do we still get so confused? Perhaps because eggs and dairy are often grouped together in the same location at the grocery store? Your guess is as good as mine! Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
What are the Benefits of an Egg Free Diet?
First of all let’s get one thing straight: If you are truly allergic to eggs, an egg free diet will benefit you. But that’s not what this post is about. We are talking about the benefits for those who want to go eggless in a shift to a plant-based diet.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the benefits!
Lower Dietary Cholesterol
One thing not up for debate is the high cholesterol content of eggs. Eggs take the prize for the highest amount of cholesterol in a single commonly eaten food. At 186 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol in one large egg, they rise above whole milk yogurt ( 22 mg per 6 ounce serving), provolone cheese (23 mg per 1/4 cup serving), and even steak (about 97mg per 4 ounce serving). (Source: USDA Nutrient Database 2018 PDF)
Why does any of this matter? Well, despite what you have heard, dietary cholesterol may have a role to play in heart disease. We’ll talk more about this in the next section, “Wait, a Minute, Aren’t Eggs Good for You?” so don’t skip it!
In short, there is no dietary requirement for cholesterol, and healthy bodies produce all the cholesterol needed. Why not just eat the egg whites instead? Lets keep talking…
Decrease Hormone Intake
Eggs contain hormones, whether the hens who lay them are treated with hormones or not. In fact, eggs may have more estradiol (a type of estrogen) than beef. After all, they are produced directly from a hen’s ovaries, a gland that produces hormones.
Whether hormones from animal products increases the risk for cancer, diabetes, and other health conditions has been hotly debated.
Still, while it has not been determined whether the hormone in eggs poses a risk to health, if you are trying to avoid added hormones in your diet, know that eggs may be a significant source as compared to other foods.
A Cleaner Planet
When you think about food contributing to climate change, you might think about eliminating meat. However, one report from the World Research Institute suggests pork production might emit even less carbon emissions than eggs!
If you’ve ever been near a hen house though, you probably remember the all too familiar stench of ammonia. This is a result of all the manure produced by the hens. Those toxic emissions contribute to pollution.
Does cutting out eggs rather than meat and animal byproducts make a bigger impact on the environment? Instead of answering that question, I’ll leave you with this: in general, plant-based whole foods are still the best for the planet.
Not convinced? Lets not ignore the elephant in the room. There is one benefit of going eggless that no one can deny. that is…
Reduce Animal Suffering
What? Eggs can’t possibly contribute to animal suffering because they are a by-product of hens right?
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The process of getting eggs to your plate spells consequences for the egg industry hens and their offspring. Let me explain:
The average industrialized hen (hens breed to be egg producing machines for our consumption) lays about 296 eggs per year.
Guess how many eggs a non-industrialized hen lays per year? About 10-15.
Wow. Let that number sink in. Hens must make approximately over 25 times more eggs to feed us. And this unnatural production comes with a lot of pain.
First, lets talk about the beginning for most of these animals in the industry. Female chicks are sent to live in crowded conditions, while the males chicks are killed alive.
The female chicks are separated from their mothers, fed an unnatural diet, and left to live in conditions that allow for hardly any movement. Waste, disease, and dead companions fill up that living space. Just because a label lists “Cage free” does not mean that the life of the hen is immensely better. Cage free or not, living quarters are often still crowded.
Lets not forget that industry hens produce many times more eggs than is natural. The process of laying such a high amount of eggs is unnatural and may even be painful. Egg shells contain lots of calcium. Calcium in turn is leached from the laying hens bones, which may contribute to osteoporosis and fractures. Eating the shell may have helped the hen, but instead, the eggs are sold for our consumption.
Cage free or not, nearly all hens go to slaughter at some point, often before their lifespan. Why? Because they being “profitable.”
If you want to learn more, check out this article by Surge: Why Don’t Vegans Eat Backyard Eggs?
In summary, the egg industry is not without suffering much to our skepticism. But don’t worry! If you are moved to go eggless for good, you totally can, and in a nutritionally sound way. But first we have to clear up a question I’ve been hearing a lot recently…
Wait a Minute, Aren’t Eggs Good for you?
I get it, eggs are confusing! They have received a lot of press, and the news is not very different than a bad relationship. First the media says eggs are bad for you, than months later, headlines state they are actually good. The cycle repeats, on and on.
Why is there so much confusion? Well, several reasons are likely.
Nutrition science is a relatively new field. As research continues, we learn more about what we eat, eggs included.
Some of that research is well done, and some of that research may be biased. In fact, one systematic review showed that egg industries were involved in about 60% of all studies regarding egg nutrition up until march of 2019. This is a red flag when it comes to research, why?
Here’s one way to think about it: If an egg industry (who’s job is to profit from eggs) funds a study that produces results suggesting eggs aren’t good for you, do you think they will publish it? Why pay someone to help decrease your bottom line?
In fact, when I was researching this subject, I was hard pressed to find recent studies that did not involve research funded (or previously funded) by an egg industry.
Now lets make this clear: We shouldn’t just throw out this research. But we should scrutinize these studies thoroughly.
Alright, enough about research bias, lets keep that in mind while we talk about what we do know about eggs and human health.
We know that eggs are one of the most common sources of cholesterol. The kicker is- we have no dietary requirement to consume cholesterol. Also, It is widely accepted that too much cholesterol in the blood may increase your risk of heart disease.
Ok, but maybe you’ve heard that despite the amount of cholesterol, eggs don’t actually raise your blood cholesterol. You’d have good reason to believe so, as recent research (albeit, potentially biased research) may suggest this. However, the body of evidence suggests that cholesterol intake can raise your blood level of cholesterol.
How much though, and is it significant? This depends largely on a variety of factors including age, sex, and even the amount of cholesterol you currently eat. So for healthy individuals who regularly consume cholesterol, eggs might not raise your levels as much. However, for those who consume little to no cholesterol, the rise might be larger.
In short, while the body can regulate cholesterol to an extent, too much may have an effect on certain individuals. For example, an inherited condition that causes naturally higher cholesterol levels.
So, will regular egg consumption increase your risk of heart disease or not? Maybe. Research suggests it most likely depends on how much you eat and any conditions you might already have.
The bottom line: a variety of factors are believed to contribute to heart disease risk. Cholesterol may play a role, but saturated fat may play an even bigger role for example. Ironically, eggs contain saturated fat as well, although to a lower extent than many other animal products.
So, if you are trying to make the decision about eliminating eggs for heart health, make sure you replace eggs with foods that really are heart healthy! I m talking about foods like beans (rich in fiber) over fried eggs (no fiber).
Your body makes enough cholesterol. There is no dietary requirement for it. This begs the question: why add something you don’t need?
If you are concerned about heart disease, it would seem prudent to skip cholesterol rich eggs… IF you can replace them with an alternative that has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, (a great example being beans).
Nutrients in Eggs, and How To Get Them On An Eggless Diet
Is this the first time you are hearing about this nutrient? Well, you are in good company! Choline was first discovered in the 90s. In other words, it is a fairly new discovery, and a nutrient that we are still learning about.
We don’t have enough evidence to support a Recommended Daily allowance (RDA) dietary reference. But we do have an AI (Adequate Intake), a less robust dietary reference. There are several limitations to an AI, but it can be used as a tool to “check” your diet to see if you are hitting near the mark. That “mark” is 550 milligrams (mg) choline for adult males, and 425 mg choline for adult (non pregnant/breastfeeding) females.
While we aren’t 100% sure if the AI targets overshoots our needs for choline, what do we know for sure? Choline is involved in fat metabolism, and important brain functions. We do make some choline in our liver, but not enough to prevent choline deficiency. Choline deficiency can lead to liver problems and issues with fat metabolism.
We assume that the highest source most common in the diet is eggs. However choline is so new that we do not know the choline content in every food, plant based or not.
While animal products are king in the choline department, there are a few plant based foods believed to be higher in choline than others. They include:
Before you throw your hands (and eggs) up and reach for that choline supplement, “check your diet. Are you going egg free but still including fish and/or meat in your diet on a regular basis? You’ll probably won’t need to pay as much attention to choline.
Further more, some research suggests that a high intake of choline creates inflammation in the body, making it susceptible to diseases like heart disease. So whether you are vegan or not you probably don’t need to add a supplement (of course, talk to your doctor about your individual needs if concerned). Rather, focus on getting plant based choline rich foods if you mostly plant based.
In Summary: Choline is an essential nutrient that is necessary for liver function. Since eggs may be one of the highest source of choline in the diet, you may want to consider paying attention to whole food plant based sources of choline, especially if you aren’t eating fish or meat regularly.
Yep. You heard it form this Dietitian! According to my research, choline is the only micronutrient that eggs can really “brag” about when compared to other foods.
You may have heard that eggs also contain vitamin A, E, selenium, folate, etc. But the truth is, there are so many other foods that have as much or significantly more of these nutrients than an eggs.
Maybe you’ve never heard any one say that they eat eggs for vitamin A, but what about vitamin B12?
While eggs are unique in containing vitamin B12, you would have to eat about 5 eggs a day to meet 100% the RDA! Most of us aren’t eating 5 eggs a day (or have a doctor who recommends this, just my guess though).
So yes, most likely, you’ll still need to supplement with vitamin B12 even if you ate an egg a day on plant based diet. Find out why vitamin B12 is so important in my article Vegan for Beginners.
Alright, now that you know eggs can’t brag about much in the micronutrient department, what about protein (a macronutrient)? Aren’t eggs a good protein to include at breakfast?
What about Protein?
Ever heard that eggs are the “perfect protein?” Lets unpack that a bit.
One large egg will give you approximately six grams of protein. For reference, 1/4 a cup of peanuts contains about 9 grams, and 1 cup of cooked broccoli is just shy of six grams of protein.
Alright, so what? Eggs might not be too far off from other foods in the protein department, but what about protein quality? Aren’t eggs superior?
Eggs contains all essential amino acids (sometimes called a “complete protein food”). However, unless your diet is very limited in variety, you shouldn’t need to obsess about complete protein foods.
In other words, you could eat a variety of plant based proteins and shouldn’t be at a greater risk of protein inadequacy than those who eat eggs.
Check out the protein section in my article on meat for more a more in-depth conversation about meeting protein.
Will I Need To Add any Supplements?
At this time, we only have enough evidence to establish an AI for choline. As you may recall, most of us in the US are not meeting the AI. In other words, there is still many questions about what the optimal amount of choline. Symptoms of choline deficiency are very rare aside from pregnancy, breastfeeding, and those on Parenteral Nutrition (PN, nutrition through the veins), and certain rare genetic mutations.
In summary, given the lack of clarity, and concerns surrounding choline and TMAO production, I would skip the supplements. Instead, focus on getting enough plant based sources of choline, but if you fall into one of those at risk categories above or are concerned, talk to your doctor about your diet and whether or not a choline supplement is recommended.
Your Egg Free Diet Plan
Alright, so now that empowered with information to give up eggs AND stay healthy, how is it practically done?
Well, as you discovered, your probably not going to be deficient in any nutrient when you give up eggs. Just remember to include those choline rich foods in your diet if eggs were a consistent item previously.
If you are the type of person who might only eat eggs because it’s a Sunday brunch day tradition, look at the menu! What are other as equally tasty dishes that also align with your values to stop eating eggs?
Lets be real. Eggs are always in the obvious menu listing such as “hard boiled eggs”. But if you want to avoid eggs in more obscure menu items. Check out the list below.
Egg Free Fast Food: Common Foods to Avoid
- Eggs, scrabbled, sunny side up, omelet , egg salad, etc, scrambled eggs (unless vegan “eggs” available)
- French Toast
- Huevos Racherous
- Egg Curry
- Carbonara Pasta
- Egg drop soup
- Custard Pie
- Bakery items ex: doughnuts, cake, cookies, brioche bread, commonly have eggs in them, look for vegan options!
- When in doubt, remember, eggs are one the the top 8 common allergens. Ask the waiter if a dish you want to order contains eggs. If he/she doesn’t know, he/she should get someone who does!
What can I replace eggs with in My Diet?
Maybe your saying ya, I don’t eat eggs for the nutrients, I eat them because they taste good! Fair enough, as many savory breakfast eaters may say: eggs are a staple in the morning.
If that’s you, then you have to try my favorite go tos when I am missing the flavor of eggs:
For Convivence: JUST Egg
What it is: A plant based egg substitute that can be scrambled just like you would a hens egg. This “egg” is made from mung beans and has that savory flavor and texture of softly scrambled eggs. Try it, and let me know in the comments below if you agree with this analysis!
P.S. My toddler and non vegan hubby think they are pretty great.
|Just Egg (1 Serving)||Egg (1, large)|
|Saturated Fat (grams)||0||2|
For those concerned about their cholesterol, JUST eggs takes the prize s the healthier option, as it has zero cholesterol and no saturated fat.
On the flip side, we don’t really know how much choline JUST egg has, as we do not have information on the choline content of mung beans. One could assume it is similar to the other beans, but we really don’t know.
So keep those choline rich foods present in your life, if you replace eggs with JUST egg! Check them out here.
For The Cooking Enthusiast: Tofu Scramble
What It is:
We love tofu scrambles over here in our house! While the texture is very similar to eggs, the taste is not exactly the same as eggs. Apparently, black salt might help you achieve a more “eggy taste” (never tried, just heard anecdotally). However, even if you don’t use it, you’ve still got a delish dish that is tasty! How good? Well, my non vegan husband doesn’t buy eggs anymore (that’s how much!).
Check out this awesome recipe from the Vegan Blueberry Here: https://www.veganblueberry.com/tofu-scramble/. We make it all the time, with a few modifications.
|Best Easy Tofu Scramble (1 Serving)||Egg (1 large)|
|Saturated Fat (grams)||1||2|
If you remembered from the nutrient section above, soy is one of those plant based foods high in choline. So if you are looking for a substitute that helps replace some of that choline from eggs, sauté up that tofu!
Tofu also contains a good amount of protein. At 11 grams per serving, tofu give eggs a run for their protein content.
For The Baker:
Wrapping It Up
If you are gradually shifting towards a plant or fully plant based diet (vegan), than eggs are a great first food to cut out. They really don’t have much to brag about in the nutrient department, compared to eating a variety of plant based foods.
You probably won’t need to supplement anything (but always talk to your doctor about this first). However, if you cutting out eggs and eating a variety of plant based foods with minimal animal products you may want to pay special attention to choline. Choline can be found in a variety of plant based foods, such as edamame, tofu, peanuts, and quinoa.
Transitioning to a plant based diet doesn’t have to be scary! You can meet all the nutrients you need on a well planned vegan diet.
Sign up for the Plant Powered You e-mail list to get further support and motivation. Congrats! You have successfully added plentifully nutrient rich foods and let go of eggs! The planet, animals, and possibly your health thank you.