High-Quality Protein on a Budget

Eggs-One-CrackedWhile dangerously high rates of obesity today are no secret, scientists and health professionals continually strive to find obesity’s root causes, in an effort to combat related alarming health trends. In their searches, researchers have found a link between obesity and chronic diseases due to consumption of high energy dense foods such as refined sugars, grains and processed convenience foods. Simultaneously, several studies have shown that high energy-dense diets may be cheaper than diets based around nutrient-dense foods such as meats, fruits and vegetables, making them particularly appealing to the low socioeconomic population (1,2,3). Health professionals’ dietary recommendations may indeed be limited by what patients can afford. However, high-quality protein sources, such as eggs, can be an affordable and nutritious option for populations with limited food budgets.Obesity is inarguably a multi-causal state, but research has demonstrated that two major factors in the development of obesity are education and income levels (1). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that the availability of inexpensive food items to poverty-stricken areas correlates with higher energy intakes, but lower intakes of macronutrients such as protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber (2). Therefore, adults consuming these diets are less likely to feel satiated after their meals and often have an increased intake of saturated fats and added sugars. This can cause a state of overfeeding and undernourishment including low intakes of iron, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin B-12 (3) .

Given the different metabolic pathways of macronutrients during digestion, strategic adjustment of the proportions of intake from protein, carbohydrate and fat may help to combat obesity. Protein, for instance, has a higher satiety value than carbohydrates and therefore has been shown to reduce overall caloric intake. A 2013 study found that when people ate high-quality protein that consisted of an egg- and beef-rich breakfast, they had greater satiety between meals, which reduced appetite-regulating hormone levels and food cravings (4) and in another study, lowered energy intake by 130 calories, compared to those who ate a refined cereal breakfast (5). Also, two studies found that men who ate 25 percent more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein were able to decrease hunger and the amount of energy dense foods consumed (6,7).

Eggs are a source of high-quality protein, providing 6 grams or 12% of the Daily Value (DV), at only 70 calories per egg. A single egg also provides 10% of the DV for vitamin D, 15% for riboflavin, 8% for vitamin B12 and 4% for iron (8). At only 16 cents apiece on average, eggs are a nutritional bargain, providing one of the least expensive sources of high-quality protein per dollar spent (9). As such, eggs can help fill nutrient gaps in the diet; and health professionals can feel confident recommending this high-quality protein source as a means to help combat obesity and micronutrient deficiencies.


  1. Adam Drewnowski, Obesity and the food environment: Dietary energy density and diet   costs, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 27, Issue 3, Supplement, October 2004, Pages 154-162, ISSN 0749-3797, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2004.06.011.
  2. Symposium: Modifying the Food Environment: Energy Density, Food Costs, and Portion Size: Adam Drewnowski and Nicole Darmon. Food Choices and Diet Costs: an Economic Analysis J. Nutr. 2005 135: 4 900-904. http://www.biomedcentral.com.archer.luhs.org/content/pdf/1743-7075-6-12.pdf.
  3. Miller, B. D., & Welch, R. M. (2013). Food system strategies for preventing micronutrient malnutrition. Food Policy, 42, 115-128.
  4. Leidy HJ, Ortinau LC, Douglas SM, Hoertel HA. Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese “breakfast-skipping” late-adolescent girls. Am J Clin Nutr 2013; 97(4):677-88.
  5. Leidy HJ, Racki EM. The addition of a protein-rich breakfast and its effect on acute appetite control and food intake in ‘breakfast skipping’ adolescents. Int J Obs 2010; 43(7):1125-33.
  6. Layman DK. Protein quantity and quality at levels above RDA improves adult weight loss. J Am Coll Nutr 2004; 23(6):631S-6S.
  7. Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, Callahan HS, Meeuws KE, Burden VR, Purnell JQ. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 82(1):41-8.
  8. Egg Nutrition Center. Egg Nutrition Facts Label (2014). Retrieved on October 16, 2014 from https://www.enc-online.org/egg-facts/.
  9. United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Retail data for beef, pork, poultry cuts, eggs, and dairy products (October 2013). Retrieved on October 22, 2014 from http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/MeatPriceSpreads/
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