The internet has made a lot of things more awesome than they were before. We’re now able to order wonderful items from all around the world in just a few clicks, stay in touch with family from across the country, and look up any burning questions we might have within a few minutes. But it has also brought along quite some confusion since everyone is free to just state their opinion online. That’s probably why we sometimes get questions like “Yeah, but do vegans eat eggs?”
The short answer to this, of course, is: No. We don’t. As per definition, a vegan is someone who’s in it for the ethics and it’s clear that the egg industry is objectifying, harming, and killing animals. Although there are different reasons as to why people go vegan, there should always be this basic understanding of avoiding exploitation as much as possible. Veganism isn’t just a diet, though many people are interested in it for that exact reason.
That’s why plant-based diets have become pretty popular over the last few years. We have seen that eating mostly or exclusively plants is great for our overall health, waistline, and happiness. But if someone isn’t an ethical vegan, there’s a big chance they might “cheat” on their vegan diet here and there, mainly when eating out, and don’t think it’s a big deal to let an egg slip in. After all, what’s the harm?
With this article, we don’t intend to shame anyone into becoming a full blown vegan. We are aware of the fact that there are a lot of misconceptions and even lies that are spread about the importance or even safety of animal products. Did you know that the egg industry has paid professionals to set up studies so the outcome would be in their favor?
Out of six studies in the medical literature that fail to demonstrate a significant blood cholesterol level with the consumption of whole eggs, 3 were paid for by the American Egg Board, one by the Missouri Egg Merchandising Council, and one by the Egg Program of the California Department of Agriculture. Support for the sixth paper was not identified. So, this should give you an idea.
Then, there’s also the disgraceful fact that it’s not legal for the egg industry to advertise their products as a “protein-rich food”, “healthful” or that they “contribute healthful components”. The scariest part of this is that they are not even allowed to claim eggs are “good for you”, an “important part of well-balanced, healthy diet”, or even “safe”. The outcome has been that eggs are now advertised as “can reduce hunger”.
How can it be that they are still such a controversial topic, then? Well, in 2015 the egg industry paid food bloggers as much as $2,500 in order to write online recipes or articles about the benefits of eggs, repeating lobbyist “key messages” they were supposed to use.
The truth is that with every food we consume, we’re getting the whole package, not just a few nutrients. So, even though it might be the case that eggs have some beneficial vitamins or minerals, the harmful components far outweigh them. But let’s take a look at the whole picture!
Here are 11 reasons why vegans don’t eat eggs – and why you probably shouldn’t, either.
1. Conditions in Factory Farming
Nobody would argue that today’s large farms offer good conditions for the animals (or the workers there, mind you). Female chickens are held there in tiny cages, unable to spread their wings, giant warehouses holding hundreds of thousands of birds. Neither their basic biological nor behavioral needs are being met.
The birds are crammed so closely together that although normally clean animals, they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. Little hens will get the tip of their beaks cut off (which is done with a hot blade, without painkiller, a procedure comparable to a human being amputeed) to avoid picking each other.
Many birds die of shock on the spot of the procedure. In order to maximize their egg production, hens are being starved and exposed to artificial light for many hours per day. The bad conditions and huge amount of eggs the hens have to produce (300 eggs per year as compared to 10-15 eggs they would lay in the wild) leads to many diseases and early death. Surviving birds are often forced to live with their dead and dying cagemates, who are sometimes left to rot.
2. High Fat and Cholesterol Content
Eggs are about 70 percent fat, a big portion of which is saturated. Saturated fat leads to higher cholesterol levels and is a huge risk factor for heart disease and diabetes (amongst others). Like all animal products, they contain zero dietary fiber which most people could use a lot more of. The biggest problem, though, is the huge load of cholesterol: 213 milligrams in an average-sized egg.
Any dietary cholesterol is too much cholesterol for us, we already produce all we need. Especially people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease should consume fewer than 200 milligrams of cholesterol each day – and one egg is already above this limit. Not to mention all the dairy and meat people usually consume. Each egg holds every piece of the puzzle needed to produce a new life: the capacity to make feathers, eyes, a beak, heart, brain and so much more. No wonder it is so rich!
3. Heart Disease and Diabetes
Eggs raise your risk for getting detrimental chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. A review of fourteen studies published in the journal Atherosclerosis showed that people who consumed the most eggs increased their risk for getting diabetes by 69 percent, compared with those who ate the fewest. And the risk of death for participants of the Physicians’ Healthy Study I who already had diabetes and ate one egg per day was twice as high compared to those eating the least amount of eggs.
Where cholesterol levels are concerned, the risk of getting or dying from heart disease is just around the corner, too. Untainted research from high-quality studies shows that adding one egg to the daily diet of the average “healthy” person, already eating 200 mg of cholesterol from other sources, will increase their serum cholesterol by about 4%, which translates into an 8% increase in their risk of heart disease¹. Two eggs would mean 12% more heart disease over the next 5 to 10 years or 30% more coronary heart disease over the course of a lifetime².
And when 11,000 people were studied over the course of 13 years, those eating eggs more than 6 times per week had a 2.47 times greater risk of dying³ of heart disease compared to those eating less than one egg a week. And then, there's this 2012 study which found that people who ate at least 3 eggs per week had as much as two-thirds the risk for atherosclerosis as those who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 40 years or more. There's just no getting around this one.
4. Protein & Methionine
You might understand the problem with cholesterol and saturated fat, both of which are mainly found in the egg yolk. But aren’t eggs a good source of protein? Should you even skip the egg whites? Yes, even they are trouble, because they are essentially 100% animal-based protein. Egg protein is a common source of allergy in infants, children, and adults, producing problems from hives to asthma.
Since adults don’t need more than 10% of their calories coming from protein, you are in for quite some excess of this macronutrient here. It places burdens on your liver, kidneys, and metabolism. Egg whites are also high in the troublesome sulfur-containing amino acid methionine. It gets metabolized into homocysteine which is a risk factor associated with heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s, and depression⁴. Unfortunately, the sulfur also feeds cancerous tumors and is known to be toxic to the tissues of the intestines⁵.
5. Baby Chicks are being Killed
Male chicks are useless to the egg industry since they cannot lay eggs. It wouldn’t be worth the money to provide them with food, shelter and water, letting them grow into full-sized chickens. The breeds that are used in the egg industry don’t provide much meat, so they just get killed right after they are born. This comes down to 200,000,000 (yes, two hundred million) male chicks every year in the United States alone. They are either thrown in a dumpster and left to die, tossed in garbage bags and suffocated, being ground up alive in meat grinders, or killed in little gas chambers.
6. Higher Cancer Risk
In addition to other chronic diseases, egg consumption can increase the risk for developing cancer. According to a 1992 analysis published in the International Journal of Cancer, people who just consume 1.5 eggs per week were found to have nearly five times the risk for colon cancer compared with those who consumed hardly any (meaning fewer than 11 per year).
And in 2011, the National Institutes of Health could show that men who ate 2.5 eggs per week increased their risk for a deadly form of prostate cancer by more than 80%. This is in part due to the methionine in eggs, which is beneficial to cancer cell metabolism and accelerates their growth⁵.
7. Laying Hens are Slaughtered
After just 2 miserable years of being confined, starved, and exploited, the female chickens are being sent to slaughter. During transport, chickens are roughly stuffed into crates and suffer broken legs and wings, lacerations, hemorrhage, dehydration, heat stroke, hypothermia, and heart failure; millions die before reaching the slaughterhouse.
And their death in the slaughterhouse isn’t quick or painless, either – most are still conscious when their throats are slit or when plunged into the scalding tank for feather removal. After a lifetime of abuse, their bodies are so wasted and emaciated that they can only be “used” in soups or as pet food. If you don’t like or support the meat industry, you have to step away from dairy and eggs, as well. They are one and the same.
8. Salmonella & other Contamination
Not only are the saturated fat and cholesterol content pretty awful to human health, there’s also a bunch of bacteria and environmental chemical contamination found in eggs. All animal products accumulate the toxins from herbicides and pesticides they have eaten over the course of their lives, which means that animal products have a higher concentration of these harmful chemicals.
There’s also salmonella, and anyone who has eaten raw cookie dough made with eggs in the past, probably knows what that means. The food poisoning called salmonellosis gives rise to cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, chills, and fever. This is one of the reasons why the egg industry isn’t allowed to market their products as “safe”, since more than 100,000 Americans are poisoned by salmonella from eggs each year.
It’s the leading cause of food poisoning in the U.S. And then, there’s also dioxin, a highly poisonous chemical that is oftentimes discovered in poultry and eggs. It can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, diabetes, and much more.
9. Backyard Chickens Issue
The ethical issue with confinement and exploitation isn’t really solved just because chickens are being kept in smaller numbers in your own personal backyard. Though this sounds very nice and romantic to some people, please think again. When you consider that hens in good conditions can live for around 8-10 years, and that they will be more likely to get sick when they are older, racking up medical expenses… it’s highly unlikely that anyone would look after a hen into old age, let alone once she has stopped laying eggs.
They will probably be killed at some point, too. There is no ethical way to run an egg business because it requires interfering with the bird’s natural cycle of birth, reproduction, and death. The more ethical you want this to be, the less profitable it becomes. If you only want to consume these eggs yourself, without selling them, this won’t be too much of an issue. But where exactly did you get these hens?
You probably bought them from a farm, giving money to the egg industry. And if you have a rescued chicken at home, your relationship is probably not very symbiotic. In exchange for good treatment, people expect eggs as a reward, the animal is defined by what it produces. Many hens would actually pick and eat their own eggs to replace all the nutrients lost while producing it! You should even encourage them to do so.
Living vegan “except for backyard hen’s eggs” opens a door to more exceptions. You identify as an egg eater and are more likely to consume eggs when eating out or switch over to organic eggs. If your backyard chicken really doesn’t want to eat its own egg, give it away to someone who would otherwise buy eggs at the store in order to reduce at least some harm.
10. Free-Range & Organic Labels are Myths
Most chickens in these types of operations go through almost the same standard procedures. The labels exist to give the consumer a better feeling about buying these products (along with the happy, free chicken on the package). They are still debeaked, kept in filthy conditions, often not able to see or be in the sun, often fed the same food conventionally raised chickens eat (a feed that has disturbing ingredients that include rendered chickens), and they are still sent to the same slaughterhouses at the end of their short miserable lives.
The food part doesn’t apply to “organic eggs”, of course, but this only very slightly improves the quality of the end result. It doesn’t mean anything to the laying hen. Cage free operations allow producers to confine thousands of birds inside crowded sheds and “free range” chickens only have to have potential access to a small outdoor area, which is often as small as a back porch.
11. Chickens are Sentient & Intelligent
According to recent scientific studies, newborn chicks are more intelligent, alert, and aware of their environment than human toddlers. Many traits that were previously thought to be exclusive to human communication, cognition and social behavior have now been discovered in chickens.
It might be the case that people can sympathize more with a cow than a chicken because these animals are more closely related to the human species, but that doesn’t say a thing about a chicken’s ability to suffer or feel pain. Chickens can feel one another’s pain, showing a clear physiological and behavioral response when their chicks are mildly distressed. They also possess underestimated cognitive complexity, have distinct personalities, and social relationships.
¹ Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Manson JE, Ascherio A, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Spiegelman D, Speizer FE, Sacks FM, Hennekens CH, Willett WC.A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA. 1999 Apr 21;281(15):1387-94.
² Stamler J, Greenland P, Van Horn L, Grundy SM. Dietary cholesterol, serum cholesterol, and risks of cardiovascular and noncardiovascular diseases. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Mar;67(3):488-92.
³ Appleby PN, Thorogood M, Mann JI, Key TJ. The Oxford Vegetarian Study: an overview. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):525S-531S.
⁴ Troen AM. The atherogenic effect of excess methionine intake. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Dec 9; 100(25): 15089-94.
⁵ Cellarier E. Methionine dependency and cancer treatment. Cancer Treat Rev. 2003 Dec; 29(6): 489-99.
Are you still eating eggs? What are your reasons for doing so and are you willing to cut them out now? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.