Come lunch time, you're probably at the salad bar or in line to assemble your signature bowl, from the bed of lettuce (mixed greens, kale or romaine?) to your go-to assortment of colorful toppings.
But somewhere in between the edamame and shredded carrots sits one particular ingredient that scientists say you should absolutely pile right on top: egg.
In a recent study from Purdue University, researchers divided 16 healthy individuals into categories and had them noshing on three-different versions of a salad with tomatoes, carrots, baby spinach, romaine lettuce and Chinese wolfberry: one had no egg, one had 1.5 scrambled whole eggs, and another had three scrambled whole eggs on top.
The takeaway: Individuals who paired whole eggs (hold the egg whites for now!) with raw vegetables increased their absorption of carotenoids by 3-9 fold.
But what are carotenoids, and why are they so important? According to Keri Gans, MS, RD, author of The Small Change Diet, carotenoids are a class of those all-important antioxidants, which help fight free radicals in the body. "It's a specific type, which research has shown may decrease the risk of certain cancers and eye disease, specifically macular degeneration," she says.
An egg-topped salad offers beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lycopene, along with lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in the egg yolks, as well. "What's key here is they're not found in too many foods," Gans says. "They're there, but not in large amounts."
That's why this emerging research is so important. We can maximize disease-fighting powers of the salad's carotenoids by simply, uh, putting an egg on it, to potentially help the body absorb and utilize those nutrients.
Gans says it's important not to skip the fats at the salad bar, either. "To get more from your veggies, add a fat like an oil dressing, avocado or slivered almonds," she says. "The fat will increase the nutrient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like E and K."
So, remember: Top your romaine, spinach, tomatoes and carrots with some yummy eggs, and a little healthy fat, too. Science says it's a super-powered lunch.
More: 6 Easy Egg Recipes
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