Are Eggs Dairy? + What You Need to Know About the Eggs You Eat
It’s one of those questions you may be afraid to ask, for fear that it’s a silly one, but it’s not a silly question. Are eggs dairy? Many people aren’t sure whether or not eggs are considered dairy.
After all, eggs are often pictured alongside dairy products, not to mention sold in the dairy aisle at most grocery stores.
So, let’s answer the question of are eggs dairy and then look at why they’re consideredan integral part of most healthy lifestyles.
Are Eggs Dairy?
To start at the beginning, let’s answer the question: Are eggs dairy? No, eggs are not dairy products. However, they do fit into one class with dairy, because both dairy and eggs are animal byproducts.
One of the most important points here is that eggs will not aggravate a milk allergy or lactose intolerance. Allergic reactions to milk are due to an abnormal immune response to the proteins found in animal milk (usually cow’s, but sometimes goat’s and other types of milk). Lactose intolerance occurs when the body does not produce enough lactase to break down lactose into glucose.
Since eggs don’t contain milk proteins or lactose, you’re probably OK to eat eggs, even if you follow a dairy-free diet. Of course, it is possible to have an egg allergy, but that condition is more rare than the others.
(Bonus fact: Mayonnaise, which is made with eggs, is also not a dairy product — it’s made with egg yolks, oil, lemon juice/vinegar and seasonings.)
What are eggs considered?
Now that we answered the question are eggs dairy and know they aren’t, what are they? Eggs are known as a classification all their own by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), listed alongside meat and poultry. (1) Again, they are considered an animal byproduct, which is why people on a vegan diet don’t eat them.
They’re not meat, although they contain a good amount of protein. Depending on what way you look at them, eggs could also fit into a Healthy Fats group, since their protein and fat content is nearly matched.
What is dairy?
Dairy is also an animal byproduct but it’s classified as a specific type: a product of the mammary gland of mammals. (3) Dairy products include, most commonly, anything made from animal milk: grass-fed butter, ghee, yogurt, cheese and raw milk, just to name a few. They generally contain a large amount of saturated fat as well as dietary cholesterol.
Not to cause more confusion, but make sure you’re thinking of the origin of products when you’re avoiding dairy. Almond milk and coconut milk are also not dairy products because they originate from plant sources, not the milk of an animal.
Benefits of Eggs
Are eggs dairy? No. That’s good news for those who don’t tolerate dairy well, as eggs have some nice benefits. Most research on the health benefits of eggs focuses on chicken eggs, as these are the most commonly consumed variety of eggs. Let’s take a look at why eggs are so good for you.
1. Reduce Risk of Disease
While there has been a notion for some time that eggs, or the yolk of eggs, is dangerous and can lead to heart disease, recent research shows that consuming the right kinds of eggs helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of any pre-existing conditions. (4)
2. Protect Eyes from Degeneration
Most people think of vegetables and fruits when looking for foods to improve eye health. However, eggs contain lutein and zeaxanthin, the carotenoids well-known for protecting against issues like macular degeneration and glaucoma.
3. Can Help You Lose Weight
There have been several studies finding that eggs play a part in weight loss for a few different reasons. For one, eggs help you eat less because they help you to feel full, so they can help your brain and body prevent overeating at subsequent meals. (6, 7)
In addition, the lutein in eggs may positively impact activity level. (8)
4. Aid Liver and Brain Function
Another important macronutrient found in eggs is known as choline. There are a number of incredible benefits of choline in the diet, but two of the most common are the way choline is associated with reduced risk of fatty liver disease and the way it may address some neurological issues like depression and memory loss. (9, 10)
5. Keep Skin, Joints and Connective Tissues Healthy
Eggs also contain a large amount of egg collagen, the protein that helps build and strengthen skin, joints and connective tissue. There are many foods that promote collagen production in the body, but eggs actually contain collagen, unlike most foods.
Egg collagen content changes when eggs are cooked, so it might be beneficial to take it in supplement form to get the full benefits of the collagen — unless, of course, you’re into eggs in your smoothies.
Types of Eggs
Most people scramble chicken eggs in the morning, but there are actually many types of eggs eaten around the world. (12)
- Chicken Eggs — The overwhelmingly common chicken egg is laid by a hen and eaten by people in most parts of the world.
- Duck Eggs — Before World War II, duck eggs were en vogue. After salmonella concerns, they lost popularity, but they’re somewhat similar to the chicken egg with slightly larger, fattier yolks.
- Roe — Fish produce egg “masses” that are used commonly in seafood dishes, especially sushi. They may be eaten raw or cooked and are also part of the raw base product that is used to make caviar.
- Turkey Eggs — Similar to their chicken counterparts, turkey eggs have somewhat thicker shells and membranes. Turkey eggs haven’t been regulated by the USDA in the same manner as chicken eggs, and turkeys also don’t produce many eggs, so most people who eat these eggs own the turkeys from which they originate.
- Bantam Eggs — This specialty chicken egg is laid by a small, rare breed of hen. Their blue shells and savory flavor set them apart.
- Emu Eggs — Yes, I’m serious, emus are raised in their native Australia and some parts of the U.S. for their meat, emu oil and eggs. These dark-shelled varieties weigh between a pound and a pound and a half.
- Goose Egg — This term doesn’t only refer to a bump on the back of your head. Goose eggs are large (about the size of 2.5 chicken eggs) and are commonly paired with asparagus or truffles.
- Guinea Fowl Eggs — Guinea fowls are similar to partridges and lay small eggs, similar in texture to the chicken’s egg, but with a much harder shell. Their taste is described as “custardy,” without a store-bought sulfur smell, and they are more common in African countries.
- Seagull Eggs — Gull eggs are collected for just four weeks every year by licensed specialists in England. Lucky connoisseurs forage for eggs laid by black-headed gulls in wetlands. Supposedly, their taste is more subtle than more common types of eggs.
- Ostrich Eggs — Easier to find than you might think, ostrich eggs are the largest variety in the world, weigh about three pounds and are almost the size of a human infant. They contain higher amounts of magnesium and iron than the same amount of traditional chicken eggs, with less saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. But since they take 90 minutes to hard boil and have 2,000 calories per egg, this might make an interesting family dinner item.
- Pheasant Eggs — Eggs of the pheasant are small and richer in flavor than other types of eggs. They’re often served next to caviar. Their taste varies quite a bit depending on whether the bird was free-range or caged.
- Rhea Eggs — The rhea bird, related to the ostrich and emu, produces eggs about 10 times larger than a hen’s egg. Apparently, their flavor is particularly strong and does not work well fried.
- Quail Eggs — These are commonly found in sushi and bento meals, considered a delicacy in most places. The exception is in parts of South America, where they’re regularly eaten as a hot dog garnish. Chinese culture, in particular, appreciates the value of the quail egg. Quail eggs are also unlikely to cause allergies.
- Crocodile Eggs — OK, these might not be the easiest to come by, but Andrew Zimmern bravely snagged some on his Travel Channel show, “Bizarre Foods,” saying it tasted “strong and fishy.” Croc eggs aren’t eaten in most cultures, but some Australian aboriginal tribes still enjoy them from time to time.
The Best and Worst Eggs to Eat
Getting back to chicken eggs, since they’re the ones you’re likely to eat, an important clarification should be made about the types of eggs you’re purchasing.
All eggs are not created equally.
Typical Battery Cages for Hens
Almost 87 percent of eggs in the United States are from hens living in “battery cages,” tiny and unsanitary cages that are often surrounded by deep manure pits infested by flies, maggots and rodents. (13) Caged hens often experience a large range of health conditions, including broken bones and bone loss. (14)
In these cages, hens are unable to engage in their natural, instinctual behaviors like nesting, dust bathing, perching and more. In fact, the amount of hens jammed into these small spaces prohibits the abused birds from doing any of the following: lie down, stand up, stretch, turn, flap their wings or groom themselves.
Often these cramped, unnatural living conditions cause such an enormous amount of stress and strain on the helpless animals that they resort to previously unheard of behaviors. From plucking each others’ feathers out to cannibalism, these living conditions push the unhealthy and unhappy chickens beyond their limits.
It is industry standard practice to burn, cut or laser off the beaks of these helpless hens to avoid the attacks and cannibalism — a painful, debilitating and abusive process I can’t support.
In addition, many of these farms engage in molting. This is the process by which hens are starved, almost to death, to increase their egg production.
It’s not just an unbelievably cruel way for any living thing to exist — the rate of disease, like salmonella, among hens in battery cages is massive and a serious threat to the public’s health.
On the other side of the coin are free-range chickens. These hens are allowed to wander and enjoy sunlight and the outdoors, and they produce eggs that are simply better.
Eggs contain 18 important amino acids necessary for bodily functions. However, free-range eggs not only contain these same amino acids, but have a better nutritional profile overall. Free-range eggs contain: (15)
- ⅓ less dietary cholesterol
- ¼ less saturated fat
- ⅔ more vitamin A
- 200 percent more omega-3s
- 300 percent more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta-carotene
- 98 percent smaller risk of salmonella contamination
Deciphering Egg Carton Labels
If you’re determined to purchase eggs only from healthy, free-range hens, how do you decipher the labels on packaging to know what you’re getting? Here are some of the common labels and what they mean: (16)
- USDA Certified Organic — These eggs are produced according to USDA organic standards, certified by private and state agencies. The hens can roam freely in- and outdoors and are fed an organic diet that includes no pesticides or fertilizers. (17)
- UEP Certified Regular and Cage-Free, American Humane Certified, Humane Farm Animal Care Certified — These labels refer to certification by the various agencies, from farms “dedicated to responsible, science-based methods to ensure optimal hen care.” These organizations are concerned with humane treatment of chickens as well as organic and/or nutritious dietary needs.
- Free-Range — This can be on any egg carton label and is not backed by any specific guidelines or audits. If hens have any sort of access to the outdoors at any time, their eggs may be labeled free-range.
- Pasture-Raised — Again, no audits determine the clarity of this label. It is meant to refer to hens who eat mostly grass and bugs and graze outside.
- Pasteurized — Said to benefit people with immune-compromised systems (like patients with HIV/AIDS or who have had organ replacements), these eggs are heated to the point just before cooking temperature to destroy pathogens.
- Enriched with Omega-3 — These hens are fed omega-3 foods and contain anywhere from 3–20 times more omega-3s than traditional eggs. These eggs may be caged, and this label does not speak to any living conditions or other issues.
- Vegetarian Fed — Hens on a vegetarian diet are given only plant foods and receive no supplements or additives.
- Hormone-Free — According to federal law in the U.S., laying hens are not permitted to be given hormones of any kind. All eggs in the U.S. are hormone-free, a law regulated by the government.
In my experience, one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting eggs that satisfy your hunger, nutrition needs and conscience is to find a local farmer in your area and purchase eggs from him or her. Many farmers will even allow you to see the living conditions of their hens if you ask.
Bottom line? Avoid conventional eggs, and purchase only certified organic eggs, preferably from a local farmer if you are able.
One of my favorite things about the incredible egg is the large variety of uses it has in recipes. From egg-centric recipes to baking and everything in between, there are egg recipes for just about any diet or craving.
For an easy recipe using the powerful antioxidants of spinach, try Baked Eggs and Spinach. It’s great for any meal and tastes amazing.
History and Interesting Facts About Eggs
There isn’t a clear beginning in history for the use of egg as food because they have been eaten for so long. Historians generally agree that chickens were domesticated due to the usefulness of their eggs thousands of years ago.
Chickens made their way from Southeast Asia and India to Egypt around 1500 B.C., then to Greece in 800 B.C. and exponentially spread in popularity from there.
Eggs are depicted in several ancient works of art. They have also been in their fair share of folklore. Ancient Romans believed that crushing eggshells in their plates could prevent evil spirits from hiding.
The egg carton was invented in 1911 by Joseph Coyle in British Columbia, made of paper and created to solve a problem between a farmer and customer about the common breakage of eggs.
Precautions and Side Effects
Unless you have an egg allergy, there are few dangers or risks to eating eggs. A growing body of research disproves the theory, in general, that eggs are dangerous to your heart as previously implied.
The exception to the heart rule has to do with how you cook your eggs. Dietary cholesterol does not necessarily correlate to high cholesterol levels in the human body unless it is oxidized cholesterol. Eggs do not contain oxidized cholesterol, but if they are cooked at a high heat for a long time (read: fried), the cholesterol can oxidize, which could be a factor in the development of heart disease. (18)
To avoid this issue, cook your eggs at lower temperatures and carefully consider what you use to cook them.
Final Thoughts on Are Eggs Dairy?
- Are eggs dairy? No, but they pair well with many dairy items, such as cheese or raw milk.
- Eggs are not considered dairy because dairy products are made from milk of the mammary gland of mammals. Chickens do not produce milk and are not mammals, which is why the answer to are eggs dairy is no.
- The classification of eggs is separate from meat or poultry but in that same category. They are high in both fat and protein, so they fit into both a “healthy protein” and “healthy fat” label.
- Eggs offer many health benefits, including a reduction in risk for certain diseases, supporting brain function and helping build good connective tissue.
- While chicken eggs are the overwhelming winner when it comes to edible egg varieties, various cultures eat different types of eggs from the small pheasant egg to the largest option: ostrich egg.
- The nutritious and ethical value of hen care makes a huge difference in what type of eggs to buy. Conventional eggs are from hens who are kept in inhumane conditions, increasing the risk for disease. Free-range hens produce eggs with more nutritious value, less disease risk and an exponentially higher ease on the conscience.
- When possible, try to purchase certified USDA organic eggs, ensuring that hens are kept in safe and healthy conditions. If you can, get your eggs from a local farmer, especially if you’re able to physically see the place where hens are raised.
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Rebekah EdwardsDr. AxeAugust 29, 2017