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Omega-3 eggs: healthier choice or marketing gimmick?

The question: Are omega-3 eggs really better than regular eggs? Or is this just a marketing gimmick?

The Answer: Eggs labelled "omega-3" do contain these fats, which many people associate with good health. But depending on which brand you buy, they might not have the type of omega-3 fat that's linked to brain and heart health. And the actual amount of omega-3 fat might be considerably less than you think.

Eggs can be fortified with two different omega-3 fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha linolenic acid). DHA is found in oily fish like salmon, trout and sardines. It's crucial for the proper development and maintenance of brain cells. Higher intakes of DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), the other omega-3 fatty acid in oily fish, are also thought to guard against heart disease.

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ALA is plentiful in flaxseed, flax oil, chia seeds, hemp oil, walnuts and walnut oil. It's also found in canola oil and soybeans. Some studies suggest that higher intakes of ALA are protective against heart disease. However, the evidence for ALA's heart benefits is less convincing since it hasn't been studied as extensively as DHA.

Omega-3 eggs are produced by hens fed a diet containing flaxseed. When the hens digest the flax, some of the ALA gets broken down into DHA and both fatty acids transfer to the yolk. One omega-3 egg typically contains 340 milligrams of ALA and 75 to 100 milligrams of DHA.

Some companies also add fish oil to the chicken's feed to further increase the DHA content of egg yolks. GoldEgg Omega Choice, for example, provides 130 mg of DHA an egg.

There is no official recommended intake for DHA and EPA. Many experts recommend a daily intake of 1,000 mg of DHA + EPA (combined) for heart health. Eating an omega-3 egg each day will deliver only a fraction of this amount.

Sure, you could eat two or three eggs at a sitting to get more DHA. But let's not forget about the cholesterol. Omega-3 eggs have just as much as regular eggs – 195 mg of cholesterol per large egg yolk. Since consuming too much cholesterol can increase LDL (bad) blood cholesterol, we're advised to limit our intake to less than 300 mg a day. (If you have heart disease, your daily cholesterol intake should not exceed 200 mg.)

You're better off sticking to fatty fish to get DHA into your diet. Consider that six ounces of salmon contains roughly 3,600 mg of DHA + EPA. Eat this serving once a week and you'll get 514 mg DHA + EPA a day (the math: 3,600 divided by 7 days = 514 mg a day); two six-ounce servings of salmon a week provide 1,028 mg a day.

Omega-3 eggs are a good source of ALA. Since ALA is an essential fatty acid – it must be obtained from food because the body can't produce it – there is a daily requirement for it. Adult women need 1,100 mg a day and men require 1,600 mg. One omega-3 egg supplies 20 to 30 per cent of a day's worth of ALA.

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The bottom line: Depending on your diet, you might not need to pay extra for omega-3 eggs. If oily fish is a regular part of your diet or you take a fish-oil supplement, eating an omega-3 egg now and again won't do much to boost your DHA intake. If ground flax (2 tablespoons = 2,400 mg ALA), chia seeds (2 tbsp whole seeds = 3,600 mg) or walnuts (seven halves = 1,280 mg) are a daily staple, you're covered for ALA.

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