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Folate-Enriched Eggs

by 5m Editor
19 September 2002, at 12:00am

By Desmond Ballance, Department of Animal Science, University Of Manitoba - As most people who enjoy eggs for breakfast know, having their eggs "vitamin-enriched" is not typically a menu option. That may soon change, as researchers in the animal science department at the University of Manitoba have developed folate-enriched table eggs.

Folate-Enriched Eggs - By Desmond Ballance, Department of Animal Science, University Of Manitoba - As most people who enjoy eggs for breakfast know, having their eggs "vitamin-enriched" is not typically a menu option. That may soon change, as researchers in the animal science department at the University of Manitoba have developed folate-enriched table eggs.

Folate is one of the family of B-vitamins, which is essential for maintaining good body health. Found abundantly in green leafy vegetables, beans and citrus fruits, folate is shown to protect against neural tube birth defects and may reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease.

Compared to a standard large egg, a folate-enriched egg contains up to three times as much of this essential vitamin. Such a generous increase in egg folate concentration potentially positions the egg as an excellent source of dietary folate. While the idea of eating eggs to get your vitamins may sound strange, the logic behind the folate-enriched egg is not cracked or scrambled in the least.

A 1996 Canadian national health survey of more than 5000 men and women indicated that those with the lowest body reserves of folate were more likely to experience fatal heart problems than those with high folate reserves. As well, women of child-bearing age who ensure that their dietary folate level is at or above recommended levels are more likely to reduce their risk of giving birth to a child with neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida.

In light of the serious medical conditions linked with folate deficiency, the need for sufficient folate in the body is obvious. Historically, Canadian men and women alike have not been regularly consuming their daily recommended intakes for folate as set by Health Canada.

While informing the general public of folate-rich foods and encouraging the use of vitamin supplements will certainly improve the populations' ability to meet their recommended folate levels by a small degree, the Canadian and U.S. governments have proceeded one step further. In 1998, both countries enacted legislation requiring that grain products be fortified with folic acid in the hopes that the protective benefits of this vitamin would reach as many people as possible. While early reports suggest that grain fortification is working, there is always room for improvement. Folate-enriched eggs would be a practical solution to this, in addition to rounding out a folate-rich meal of eggs and toast.

Wondering how much folate is in your daily diet and whether you are meeting your recommended intake? While you may be getting sufficient folate based on current Health Canada dietary recommendations, the amalgamation of Canadian and U.S. nutrient requirements has led to an increase in the human adult recommended dietary allowance (RDA), to 0.400 mg folate/day. As a result, there is a definite need to ensure that a number of good folate sources are available to the consumer, creating a significant opportunity for the folate-enriched egg.

According to the new guidelines, folate-enriched eggs contain12.5 per cent of the RDA for folate as compared to an unfortified egg that contains only 5 per cent. While studies suggest that the availability of food folate for use by the body is 50 per cent, egg folate availability is likely to be even higher as a result of the easy-to-use form of folate predominantly found in the egg. In fact, preliminary research from the University of Manitoba suggests that egg folate is 100 per cent available relative to that found in over-the-counter vitamin supplements. Such findings add to the already nutritious profile of eggs and help reduce any health concerns related to egg consumption, particularly those linking egg intake to heart disease.

To the relief of egg-lovers everywhere, the medical claims of the past suggesting a strong connection between egg consumption and heart disease have been heavily revised. New evidence shows that increased egg consumption is unlikely to increase the risk of heart disease in the general healthy population. More so than ever, eggs are being recognized and promoted as the highly nutritious and versatile food products they are, and for the first time since 1957, egg consumption is on the rise.

While a reduced fear of egg cholesterol has played a big role in this turnover, the development of specialty eggs, such as the omega-3 fatty acid-enriched egg, has also contributed to the current upsurge in egg consumption. Likewise, the folate-enriched egg has the opportunity to enter the specialty egg market and further re-position the egg as the healthy and wholesome food it has always been.

By increasing egg folate levels, consumers can take advantage of a greater selection of folate-rich foods and the protective health benefits that this B-vitamin provides. Perhaps folate-enriched eggs will one day be a menu option and if so, then one can eat their folate and scrambled eggs too.

Source: University of Manitoba - Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences September - 2002.