I am often asked questions about specific food groups when it comes to skin conditions such as eczema. There are indeed certain foods that can be particularly problematic for many dermatitis sufferers. Eggs unfortunately fall into that category.
First let's bust this myth - eggs are not dairy. Whilst I recommend excluding both dairy and eggs as part of an eczema elimination diet, they are very definitely two different food groups. Eggs are considered poultry, whilst dairy products are made from the milk of mammals.
ARE EGGS VEGAN
Eggs are not vegan. They are a food derived from animals. If you want to get picky, the official term for a vegan who eats eggs is an 'ovo-vegetarian' or .. wait for it .. 'veggan'! I kid you not! The primary motivator for avoiding eggs in a vegan diet is usually a concern for animal welfare. Ethics and health play a role, as does the impact of the animal farming industry on the environment.
The beauty of having so many diverse dietary options available to us these days, is that we can tailor our preferences to suit us as individuals. If you find eggs aren't a trigger food for your skin, it might be that you'd like to go 'veggan!'. Veggans usually opt for the least exploitative eggs - while this might sound like an oxymoron to strict vegans, I think we can agree that some conditions are worse than others when it comes to animal welfare. I personally believe you can have the best interests of animals at heart and choose a diet that best suits your needs.
FOODS TO AVOID FOR ECZEMA
There are several food sources I suggest avoiding when it comes to naturally treating eczema, they are; dairy, eggs, peanuts, seafood, soy and wheat. Studies such as this one share insight into the connection between eggs and atopic dermatitis in adults. And according to research, egg allergies are six times more common in infants with eczema.
So, why are eggs potentially problematic if you're struggling with your skin? Well, they contain a protein called 'ovalbumin' (the irony of that title - considering the shape of an egg and it's location - is not lost on me!) when you or your child come in to contact with egg proteins, immune system cells (antibodies) recognise them as an invader and signal the immune system to release histamine and other chemicals that simultaneously trigger allergic signs and symptoms.
Reactions are not limited to dermal flares. Whilst skin inflammation is the most common response, other reactions can include;
- Nasal congestion, sneezing and nose running
- Digestive cramps, nausea or even vomiting
- Asthma, coughing, wheezing, tightness of the chest or shortness of breath
In severe cases an allergic reaction to eggs can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening emergency that requires an immediate adrenaline shot to counter it.
DO I PERSONALLY EAT EGGS?
I include recipes containing egg in my first book Radiant. At the time my diet was vegetarian and I excluded dairy because it triggered my skin. Eggs were never really a problem for me. By the time I published my second book Skin Healing Expert, I'd learned so much more about the benefits of a vegan diet, not to mention the worrying treatment of supposed 'free range' chickens.
Three years ago I made a decision based on health and ethics to only purchase truly free range eggs from local farms where I could literally see the chickens roaming wild! Fortunately, living in the Peak District, it's not hard to find many such smallholdings, usually with an honesty box attached to the front gate.
As time has gone on I've used eggs less and less in my recipes. I actually prefer tofu scramble and besides the very occasional poached variety, there aren't any other favourite recipes where I'd really find use for them. Now Freddie and I only eat eggs a few times a year; in France at our friends Madeleine and Jo's farm. Their chickens run wild and usually grace us with a couple of eggs during our stay. And when we visit my friend Gemma and her little ones on their farm. They have lots of chickens, so she often sends us home with a basket full of beautifully coloured eggs. Here's Freddie holding the latest addition to her coop.
EGGS AND ANTIBIOTICS
Besides the awful treatment of apparently 'free range' hens supplying eggs to supermarkets (this PETA report - TRIGGER WARNING: ANIMAL CRUELTY - was my catalyst for vowing never to eat shop bought eggs again) one of the main reasons I worry about what I'm eating is the prophylactic use of antibiotics, given to animals by farmers to prevent them getting sick. Hens live in such close quarters, illness is not uncommon. By feeding them antibiotics as a preventative, farmers have less chance of their chickens becoming unwell.
Giving antibiotics to animals has become increasingly controversial, as scientists warn us of the potential risks of antibiotic resistance - meaning drugs may no longer work to treat human infections. These “superbugs” are a rising threat to human health, and led to an estimated 1.2 million deaths globally in 2019.
Whilst many supermarkets deny approving antibiotics for their suppliers to use as a preventive measure, reports such as this one in The Guardian reveal the use of drugs critical for human health on farms in Poland (Europe’s biggest producer of poultry meat) have soared in recent years. Sales of fluoroquinolones have increased by more than 70% in the country.
SHOULD YOU EAT EGGS IF YOU HAVE ECZEMA
This is a personal call and there are many factors to take into consideration. I would certainly recommend excluding eggs for 30 days as part of an elimination diet to see if your skin responds positively. Thereafter it really depends on how much you miss them and whether concerns over antibiotics and unethical practices play a role in your food choices.
I'd certainly suggest sourcing eggs from as local a supplier as possible. That might mean forgoing the convenience of adding them to your weekly Asda shop, but if you're able to find a farm close by, or fresh box supplier, you can speak directly to the farmer for assurance that the chickens are well cared for and not routinely dosed up on meds. Whilst that won't completely eliminate the chances of your skin responding negatively to eggs, it does ensure you're buying as healthy a food source as possible.