Egg Free Diet
What is an egg allergy?
This type of food allergy most commonly affects children under the age of five, and is the second most common allergy in the UK after an allergy to cow’s milk. When you suffer from an allergy to eggs, the body is hypersensitive to the proteins found in egg yolk or egg white (or both), and mistakenly triggers an allergic response. 20% of children in the UK are affected by this allergy. Allergies to egg yolk are slightly more common than allergies to egg white. Most (though not all) affected individuals will outgrow an egg allergy by age 10, although a small number of people with an egg allergy may also develop an allergy to poultry meats.
How do I know if I’m allergic to eggs?
Common symptoms of an allergy that appear after eating eggs or egg-containing produce include itching and swelling around the lips and eyes, as well as skin rash (like hives). This is caused by the release of histamine in the body as part of the allergic reaction. Flare-ups of eczema are known to be a fairly common delayed allergic reaction as well. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, an itchy throat and diarrhoea. A severe allergic reaction can even induce symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling of the mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy or faint. Thankfully, severe allergic reactions to eggs are fairly uncommon.
A doctor will diagnose an egg allergy using a combination of history and skin-prick or blood allergy tests.
What does an egg-free diet entail?
Some people who are allergic to the proteins in raw egg can tolerate baked goods because the heat during the baking process changes the structure of the allergy-inducing protein. However anyone with a severe reaction should definitely avoid all produce containing eggs.
As well as eggs themselves, ingredients to look out for when on an egg-free diet are: egg white, egg yolk, egg solids and powder, as well as: globulin , lysozyme, ovalbumin, livetin, ovoglobulin, ovomucin, ovovitellin, albumin and lecithin (E322). Lots of these are easy to remember as they contain the word ‘ovo’ (the Latin word for ‘egg’). Sometimes lecithin is made from soya, but if it is not specified it’s best to assume it is egg-based. Some foods, like bakery produce, may not list ingredients so it is a good idea to ask questions about whether a meal has hidden egg protein in it when dining out. Egg is used to thicken lots of sauces, for example. In fact, many sauces that we buy or make at home commonly include eggs, such as mayonnaise, aioli, béarnaise sauce, hollandaise sauce, tartar sauce and custard. Canned soups, breaded foods, ready meals and casseroles, fresh pasta, quiches, meatballs and burgers are other produce that normally contain eggs.
Eggwhites or shells can be use to clarify soup stocks, consommés, wine, and coffee drinks; egg is also often found in malt beverages. Baked goods that don’t contain eggs in their batter but have shiny glaze when finished have probably been brushed with an egg wash prior to baking.
A note on labelling and preparation.
Although food labelled ‘vegan’ may not contain eggs (or milk and meat products), it is still a good idea to check for added ingredients like lechtin. Contrary to a common misconception, eggs are not considered ‘dairy’, so don’t assume that ‘dairy-free’ means ‘egg-free’.
Many, but not all, manufacturers will warn you on the label about potential cross contamination about the produce with eggs with statements like ‘may contain eggs'. These warnings are voluntary and should not be relied upon – always read the ingredients to be safe.
In terms of preparing food at home, it is important to remember that a very small amount of the allergen can trigger an allergic reaction in sensitive people. For example, when cooking for people with an egg-allergy, watch out for butter or oil that has been used to fry eggs being re-used to fry other things.
Some great egg substitutes.
Tofu is a great replacement for eggs in recipes like scrambled eggs, and products like vegan mayonnaise are often tofu-based. For baking, there are plenty of alternatives to eggs as well. For light, fluffy recipes like muffins, baking powder can be used to replace the leavening factor provided by eggs, and additional water and oil replace the liquid and fat normally provided by them. Creating a reaction between an acid and a base, such as baking soda and lemon juice or vinegar, creates gas bubbles to give cakes and biscuits a light, fluffy texture. Similarly, the pectin in fruit puree holds air bubbles in batter in a similar way to the fat in egg, and is good for making moist goods like scones and muffins. Flax seed oil is another alternative for whole grain baked goods as it already has a nice nutty flavour. Chickpea flour can also be used as a binder because it is high in protein, so is good to use in batter for recipes like French toast and tempura.
What are the benefits of an egg-free diet?
The benefits of eating egg-free are self-evident for people with an allergy to egg protein. Furthermore, cutting eggs out of your diet removes a major source of cholesterol, which is known to increase the risk of heart disease. Eggs and undercooked poultry are also a major source of food poisoning from salmonella bacteria. As well as the risk of food poisoning, poorly cooked eggs can cause nausea, vomiting, bloating and other gastrointestinal problems.
Egg whites are naturally high in sodium as well as egg yolk being high in cholesterol, so people with high blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular problems really need to avoid or limit their consumption. Eggs are also highly calorific (approximately 90 calories in a whole egg), and so cutting them out of your diet can help you to loose weight.
As well as the dietary advantages, many vegans will also cite ethical reasons relating to the horrific conditions that many chickens are kept in as a primary reason for not eating eggs.
What are the risks of an egg-free diet?
As part of a healthy, balanced diet, eggs are a good source of high quality protein needed for muscle development, omega 3 fatty acids which assist in the production of ‘helpful’ cholesterol (HDL), amino acids, as well as calcium and vitamin D, needed for healthy bones and teeth. All the vitamins except vitamin C are present in eggs, and they are particularly rich in B vitamins like B12 and B2. Eggs are also a good source of essential minerals, especially iodine, needed to produce thyroid hormone, phosphorous, needed to maintain healthy bones and selenium, an effective antioxidant. They also contain folate, which is important for pregnant women to consume as it helps the foetus develop healthily. For these reasons eggs are often referred to as a ‘superfood’.
However, most of these nutrients can easily be obtained from other foods. Dense meat like liver, turkey and fish like tuna are rich in B vitamins, for example. Flour is often enriched with them, and grains, beans and lentils are a good source, as are potatoes and bananas. Nuts, seeds and cheese are all a great source of phosphorous, and green, leafy vegetables are high in vitamin D. There are also excellent supplements out there for those that are trickier to replace (for example, pre-natal supplements will normally contain folate).