Who would have thought that adding one simple ingredient to a vegetable dish could unleash its nutrition potential? You almost certainly have this food in your fridge right now. It’s delicious and nutritious. And it unlocks from your veggies and fruits a range of carotenoids—antioxidants that help nourish skin and protect against cancer and vision loss.
What is this magic ingredient? An egg or two. Yes, eggs. They’re not only rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are potent antioxidants crucial to eye health…egg yolks also contain fats that seem custom-made to help your body absorb and use carotenoids from vegetables and fruits.
Yes, we just told you to eat eggs, including the yolks, with their fat and cholesterol. Here’s why…
A PERFECT PAIRING
Nutrients in your stomach do you no good if they don’t get out into your blood so your body can use them. So researchers from Purdue University have been exploring absorption of carotenoids. After showing that dressing raw mixed vegetables with different types of oils, such as olive, canola or safflower, enhances absorption of carotenoids, they decided to study the impact of eggs on carotenoid absorption. Eggs are a modest source of fat (about five grams per whole egg), and they’re commonly added to salads, but until now, little was known about how they affect carotenoid absorption.
On three different occasions, the researchers fed three different versions of a salad to 16 healthy volunteers and tested their blood for carotenoid levels over the next 10 hours. All of the salads were dressed in three grams (g) of canola oil (less than a teaspoon) and the same proportions of tomatoes, shredded carrots, baby spinach, Romaine lettuce, plus a sprinkling of goji berries, a.k.a. Chinese wolfberries, which are a particularly good source of the carotenoid zeaxanthin.
The difference was that one of the salad versions had one and a half scrambled eggs tossed in…another had three scrambled eggs tossed in…and another was egg-free. (Granted, hard-boiled eggs might have been more traditional and appealing, but the researchers scrambled the eggs so they could evenly distribute the egg yolk in each batch.)
The results: Carotenoid levels after consuming a salad containing three eggs were nearly three times higher than they were after consuming a salad with one and a half eggs…and eight times higher than they were after consuming an egg-free salad. Of course, it’s no surprise that blood levels of carotenoids naturally found in eggs—lutein and zeaxanthin—were higher after consuming eggs…but along with that, blood levels of vegetable-based carotenoids, such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lycopene, were significantly higher, too.
So maybe breakfast isn’t the only time for eggs—but rather lunch or dinner, with a salad or other vegetables? Foods rich in carotenoids are easy to spot—their colors are deep green, orange, yellow and red. Beyond leafy greens, think peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots and red, purple and blue berries and other fruits. If you want to get the most out of carotenoid-rich veggies and fruits, go ahead and toss in a hard-boiled or poached egg. And come to think of it, eggs and colorful fruits do sound good for breakfast!
Want to learn more about the healthiest eggs to buy for your next meal? Check out “The Truth About Eggs: What These 7 Tricky Terms Really Mean.”