Eggs are often used in cooking and baking because of their material properties. But what if you can’t eat them? While following an egg-free diet may seem overwhelming at first, luckily, many foods can replace eggs from a culinary and nutritional standpoint!
What is an egg-free diet?
Following an egg-free diet means that you exclude eggs in all forms, including in baked goods and as an ingredient in other foods. While an egg allergy usually refers to eggs from chickens, you may also need to avoid eggs from other birds such as ducks, geese, and quail.
Who should follow an egg-free diet?
If you have an egg allergy or an immune reaction to egg proteins then you may follow an egg-free diet. Egg allergy symptoms can be both unpleasant and may become life threatening, including but not limited to:
- Abdominal cramping
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the throat
- Skin rash
- Swelling of the tongue or mouth
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
The onset of symptoms may occur a few minutes to a few hours after eggs are consumed. If you are at risk of developing a severe allergic reaction, your doctor may recommend that you carry around an EpiPen in case you accidentally consume eggs. You should immediately seek medical care if you experience severe allergy symptoms and need to use your EpiPen. Egg allergies are most common in children and are sometimes outgrown over time, however, many still have an egg allergy in adulthood.
Some are only allergic to egg yolks, while others may be allergic only to egg whites. If this is the case, it is generally still recommended to avoid all egg components, since it is very difficult to isolate egg yolk from white without cross-contamination.
Some individuals may be allergic to raw eggs or lightly cooked eggs but are able to eat thoroughly-cooked eggs and eggs in baked goods. This is because heat changes the structure of egg proteins, potentially helping some individuals tolerate them. If you have an egg allergy and suspect that you may be able to tolerate cooked eggs, you should first consult with your doctor before experimenting on your own.
Diagnosing an egg allergy
An egg allergy is diagnosed by a doctor or allergist who may use one or a combination of the following tests:
Skin Prick Test
For this test, a portion of the skin on the forearm or back is pricked with a needle and exposed to a liquid that contains egg allergens. If a raised bump develops underneath the skin within 15-20 minutes, it is likely that you have an egg allergy. Skin prick tests can also help to determine if your allergy is to egg white protein, egg yolk protein, or both.
Immunoglobulin E (IgE) Antibody Blood Test
A blood test can also be performed to measure the levels of egg allergen-specific IgE antibodies in your blood.
Since it is possible to have “false positive” results from either of these tests, your doctor or allergist may recommend that you partake in an “oral food challenge” to better evaluate the diagnosis of an egg allergy.
Oral Food Challenge
For an oral food challenge, you are fed different quantities of egg in a medical setting and observed for allergic reactions. If you develop allergic symptoms, the challenge will stop. These challenges must be performed under medical supervision, because allergic symptoms may be severe and require immediate attention by trained staff.
Those with an egg intolerance can also benefit from an egg-free diet. An egg intolerance means that you have difficulty digesting eggs properly and as a result, experience adverse but non-life threatening symptoms. These symptoms are usually related to the gastrointestinal tract and may include:
- Abdominal pain
Symptoms may occur anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming eggs. They will usually last between 12 and 48 hours, until the eggs have passed through your system.
Diagnosing an egg intolerance
There are currently no approved diagnostic tests for egg intolerance. While there are a number of food intolerance tests on the market that claim to evaluate for egg intolerance, evidence to support the efficacy of these tests is lacking. The best way to assess for an egg intolerance is to temporarily eliminate eggs from your diet for 2-4 weeks to see if your symptoms improve. Then, try gradually reintroducing eggs back into your diet to see if your symptoms return. If they do, it is likely that you have an egg intolerance. It’s best to work with a Registered Dietitian through this process to help guide you and interpret your symptoms.
Lastly, some may choose to follow an egg-free diet out of personal preference, such as those following a vegan diet.
How to follow an egg-free diet
While an egg-free diet may sound self-explanatory, there are some things to keep in mind. Eggs can hide in things that you wouldn’t expect like foods that have an egg wash coated on the surface to add a shine, such as bagels, brioche, and pretzels. Eggs may also be in pasta and pizza dough, pancakes, waffles, baking mixes, chips, crackers, and soups.
Since eggs are commonly used as an emulsifier, they can be found in some salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces, dips, ice creams, puddings, and custards to stabilize them and prevent separation.
Eggs also function as a binder in some burgers, veggie burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, processed meats, and meat alternatives. Foods that are breaded or fried (such as breaded chicken cutlets and mozzarella sticks) may contain egg as part of the batter or to help breading adhere to the food. Additionally, marshmallows, meringue, marzipan, frostings, and even specialty alcoholic beverages with egg foam on top are just a few of the many surprising places where eggs may be hiding.
Helpful tips when starting an egg-free diet
As with any dietary restriction, checking food labels before buying a product is key to ensure that what you are eating is suitable for you. The Fig browser extension and Aisle can help you identify dairy-free foods!
Keep an eye out for the phrase “contains eggs” on food labels. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires egg-containing foods to be clearly labeled. There are also a number of egg-containing ingredients to watch out for including (but not limited to):
- Anything containing the prefixes “ova” or “ovo”
Since the vegan diet excludes animal products of any kind, opting for foods labeled as vegan is generally safe, as is dining out at vegan restaurants. When dining out, be sure to inform your server that you cannot consume eggs.
Baking and cooking without eggs
Baking without eggs can seem challenging, but there are a number of excellent egg alternatives! They replace the rising, binding, and emulsification properties of eggs—you won’t even notice that they’re missing!
Mashed banana or applesauce
1 mashed ripe banana or about ¼ cup of applesauce can replace 1 egg in baked goods. However, beware that these replacements will lend some flavor to the baked goods that they are used for. They work best for sweet recipes, such as cakes, cookies, and muffins.
Flaxseed or chia seed egg
For a flavorless egg alternative, try a flaxseed or chia seed “egg” which consists of 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or ground chia seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of water. Before adding it to your batter, allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes until it thickens to the consistency of an egg.
For meringues or to provide the same rise that whipped egg whites contribute to baked goods, aquafaba (a fancy name for the liquid drained from canned chickpeas) can be used. When aquafaba is whisked together, the protein and starch present in the solution forms the consistency of an egg white foam.
If you’re missing your morning egg scramble or omelet, don’t worry—there are a few tasty and nutritious egg-free options that you can try instead. A tofu scramble is rich in protein and can be seasoned to lend a similar egg-y flavor. Crumble some extra firm tofu and sauté it in a pan with olive oil, a dash of turmeric powder, salt, pepper, and any additional ingredients of your choosing (such as spinach, mushrooms, and shredded cheese). The turmeric powder lends a slightly yellow egg-like color and earthy flavor, plus it has anti-inflammatory properties as a bonus.
Chickpea flour omelet
Chickpea flour can be used to whip up an omelet with a similar texture and protein content to eggs. While many chickpea flour omelet recipes exist, the basic formula is to mix 1 part chickpea flour with 1 part water or milk along with seasoning of your choosing. Then cook the batter in a pan as you would an egg-omelet.
Commercially available egg replacements:
Lastly, you can find a number of commercially available egg replacements at most health food stores or in the specialty aisles of your local grocery store. These include Bob’s Red Mill Vegetarian Egg Replacer, Ener-G Egg Replacer, and Just Egg.
Things to look out for on an egg-free diet
Eggs are rich in protein along with important micronutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, choline, and selenium. If you’re avoiding eggs, you may want to actively incorporate other sources of these nutrients into your diet to ensure that you’re getting enough.
Eggs are a tasty and convenient protein source, but there are plenty of egg-free ways to obtain protein. As long as you are eating a variety of different foods and replacing eggs with other protein-rich options like dairy, tofu, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, meat, poultry, fish, or meat alternatives, you need not worry.
Choline is a micronutrient that plays a role in the nervous system, DNA synthesis, nutrient metabolism, and maintaining the integrity of our cell membranes. Other sources of choline include protein-rich foods like meat, poultry, seafood, soybeans, nuts, and seeds. Certain vegetables (such as broccoli and mushrooms) and whole grains are also good sources of choline.
Selenium is a mineral that functions as an antioxidant in our bodies, helping to protect our cells from free radical damage. It’s also needed for normal thyroid function, as it helps to protect the thyroid gland against oxidative stress and is involved in thyroid hormone production. Eggs are a great source of selenium, but Brazil nuts are an even better source. 1 egg contains around 27% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for selenium but 1 Brazil nut contains over 100% of the RDA! Other sources of selenium include fish (like tuna, halibut, and sardines), meat, poultry, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy type of fat with anti-inflammatory properties. They’re beneficial for heart health, skin health, brain and eye health and more. Interestingly, research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may even help to fight against depression and anxiety. Aside from eggs, you can get your omega-3s from fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel. Walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds also contain omega-3s, although these sources are less bioavailable compared to those from animal foods.
Who is an egg-free diet not for?
Eggs are a healthy food and can provide a number of key nutrients, but they are not an essential component of the diet. Going egg-free can be safe and not pose any health risks, as long as you consume a varied, balanced diet.
Photo by Cara Beth Buie via Unsplash.com