Eggs – To Feed or Not to Feed to Our Parrots?
Machelle Pacion - Avian Nutrition Specialist
We have all heard and read the debates surrounding feeding eggs to our birds. Some of us believe eggs contain some of the best overall nutrition, for just about any living creature to consume. Others of us believe eggs are too high in cholesterol to feed to our birds or consume ourselves.
Let’s look into the nutrition eggs have to offer and whether the good nutrition overrides the bad.
First of all, I have to admit; I’m biased when it comes to eggs. I personally believe eggs contain some of the best nutrition around. I personally eat at least one egg, sometimes two every morning. Starting the morning off with a reliable source of protein is always a good idea. Protein helps stave off hunger cravings that eventually lead to mid-morning binge eating of high sugar and high Omega 6 foods. Those foods lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, blood glucose irregularities, systemic inflammation and more. Protein, on the other hand, supports the feeling of hunger versus hunger-satiation (satisfaction). A body that starts the day with a reliable protein source is less likely to experience that mid-morning craving for sweets. If the carbohydrates are going to be consumed at breakfast time, then a reliable source of protein is necessary to balance those carbs.
Birds have been observed in the wild consuming eggs from their own nest as well as the nest of other birds.(1) Obviously, these eggs are raw. Now, I’m not advocating you feed raw eggs to your birds unless you raise your own laying hens and can feed those eggs straight from the nest without the “bloom” of the egg removed. The “bloom” is invisible covering around the outside of the eggshell that keeps pathogens out. Once the bloom is removed by washing, eggshells become permeable and eggs become susceptible to bacteria, and this is why most of us refrigerate eggs we buy from the store – the bloom is removed from commercially produced eggs. In the wild, the bloom remains intact so birds can eat eggs found in the wild without concern of pathogens entering their system.
Besides the obvious nutritional protein we all know eggs contain, there is a lot more when we begin to look deeply into the nutritional aspects of eggs. (2)
Eggs contain choline which acts as a liver cleanser.
Eggs also contain Leucine which helps synthesize cholesterol. Cholesterol is not the bad guy we have been led to believe it is. Cholesterol is actually a hormone necessary for various body functions, including aiding in proper brain function and uptake of Vitamin D. Without adequate cholesterol the brain becomes sluggish, foggy and lethargic. Leucine helps cholesterol synthesize into a nutrient the brain can utilize. It’s only when cholesterol cannot be synthesized correctly and efficiently, this fat-soluble hormone becomes sticky, and then becomes a problem to the overall blood system, potentially adding to cardiovascular disease. If co-nutrients are present to help cholesterol metabolism, the body functions better and more efficiently in the presence, not the absence of cholesterol. (3) It is not cholesterol we need to remove from our birds’ diets. Instead, we need to make sure all of the co-nutrients are present to synthesize and utilize cholesterol so that our birds enjoy proper brain function and absorption of any Vitamin D they may be internally synthesizing from UV rays, or from dietary foodstuffs such as alfalfa.
Back to Leucine. During clinical research, Leucine was found to actually reverse atherosclerosis by synthesizing cholesterol into a form the body can use. It is also very important in the regeneration of hair and skin. (4)
“Leucine is being touted as a key player in this newly uncovered ‘communications hub’ in the brain that controls blood pressure and appears to affect weight gain and blood sugar homeostasis.” (5)
Sprouted sesame seeds and sprouted sunflower seeds are also very good sources of Leucine. And we keep debating the subject of feeding sunflower seeds to our birds? I have found only good reasons to feed sprouted sunflower seed to my flock, as long as I feed in moderation and do not make them the major part of their diets.
Aspartic Acid and Glutamic Acid are very important to our birds’ overall health, and both are high in eggs.
Aspartic Acid helps regulate hormones, regulate growth, is a luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. It also aids in cognitive function balancing depression and anxiety. If a diet is too low in Aspartic Acid one might see malnutrition, loss of weight, failure to thrive. (6)
Glutamic Acid is an especially important nutrient for our birds. (Not to be confused with "free" glutamic acid or monosodium glutamate found in MSG as a laboratory-produced chemical salt) It is one of the most important amino acids in the absorption and metabolizing of dietary proteins. Also, it supplies the nervous system with nutrients by breaking down dietary carbohydrates. Glutamic Acid depends on Aspartic Acid to synthesize. Furthermore, Glutamic Acid is important for the synthesizing of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which is necessary for balancing Glutamic Acid within the nervous system. (7)
Another nutrient found in eggs is squalene. This nutrient is responsible for lowering cholesterol. (8) Squalene is normally derived from shark oil, there is a very good source of squalene that comes from a plant source. That plant source is amaranth and amaranth seed oil. While everyone is debating if sprouting amaranth is healthy, I can find no reliable studies indicating it is not. Now, we have another reason, besides the obvious why we should be feeding sprouted amaranth to our birds; its squalene content.
Eggs contain more Lysine than Arginine which is very important for birds. Exotic birds in the wild overall consume more Lysine than Arginine from their native, indigenous foods. We should do our best to ensure their captive cousins receive similar nutrition by feeding similar nutrient-containing foods and balance thereof.
Selenium: Eggs also contain a high amount of the trace mineral known as “Selenium.” This mineral is vital to reducing oxidative stress and free radicals that can potentially lead to autoimmune disorders and/or cancer. Selenium also promotes a healthy thyroid and therefore healthy adrenals.
Now that we have been educated about the health benefits of eggs, how cholesterol functions in the body given it occurs naturally due to a balanced diet and many of the nutrients found in high amounts in eggs, doesn’t it make sense to offer organic, free-range hardboiled eggs every so often to our birds? I believe so.
Now, all of the positives mentioned, it is only fair of me to inform you about the possible negatives of eggs.
Eggs are very high in purines. Too many purines in the diet can potentially lead to kidney stones, gout, and/or arthritis. However, legumes are extremely high in purines as well. The magic nutritional balancing act here would be to lower the amount of legumes you feed, increasing the levels of egg nutrition fed thus providing better, overall species-specific nutrition. Legumes are not a food source that birds consume in large amounts in the wild; when they do they are alive, not dead and dried out and cooked. Legumes, while offering nutrition are extremely high in lectins (not leptin, a hormone), sticky proteins that attack Sialic Acid (not salicylic acid – salicylates) that triggers feather destruction) a sugar molecule. Eggs are very low in lectins. Sialic Acid is vital for the brain to function correctly and the digestive tract to make use of the nutrients which pass through. (9, 10)
Also, birds who may have or may begin to have food sensitivities should probably not consume eggs. Albumin and Ovalbumin are the allergy protagonists in eggs. These naturally occurring food constituents/chemicals are also found in meat, fish, dairy (yogurt), cheese, soy, peanuts. While these nutrients are necessary for normal bodily functions and biochemical processes to be carried out within the body, they can also be allergy-producing to a body that is immune-compromised.
It’s kind of a circle; without Albumin and Ovalbumin as contributing nutrients, the body begins to suffer failure-to-thrive or “ill-thrift” as known in veterinary terms. Soon auto-immune disorders begin to set in. Once the immune system has suffered a lack of nutrition, or the wrong kind of nutrition for an extended period of time, the body can become intolerant to the very nutrition sources it needs to maintain a healthy homeostasis. It’s like a dog chasing its own tail. This cannot be corrected until a thorough reduction of many foods takes place and detox is experienced. Only then real, raw balanced nutrition is reintroduced gradually.
The takeaway here regarding protein in the diet is that some amount, a good amount of animal protein needs to be fed from hatch and all through the lives’ of our birds. A diet consisting of a strict carbohydrate diet (herbs, fruits, vegetables, seed, legumes, and grains) is exactly what causes or adds to immunodeficiency resulting in extreme food sensitives to actual allergies. Too many carbohydrates contribute to “avian leaky gut syndrome.” Parrots consume a lot of animal protein in the wild. Up in the canopies of the forest, there are many varieties and an abundance of insects and larvae. Parrots consider these foodstuffs “delicacies” and eat them with fervor. Parrots who forage in the canopies, but also forage on the ground don’t hesitate to participate in eating meat off carcasses (never feed your bird raw meat), but some of their most favorite “meats” to eat are mollusks and snails. If truth be known we would most likely learn that parrots consume a lot more animal protein in the wild than we think. As mentioned above, birds have no difficulty in consuming their own eggs and their own young for the survival of the species to be maintained and increased. Leucine mentioned above aids in the production and proper balance of testosterone and fertility in hens. Birds also have no problem foraging eggs from the nests of other birds. Again, in redundancy, I strongly suggest you do not feed raw eggs to your bird unless you have your own hens and you do not wash the bloom of the egg off until just before feeding. If you do feed raw, organic eggs, your own hens produce, make absolutely sure your bird’s diet contains ample amounts of the B Vitamin known as Biotin. Raw eggs drastically reduce Biotin in the system practically eliminating all reserves. What does Biotin contribute to overall health? It helps maintain a healthy metabolism, helps in regulating blood glucose levels, helps produce feathers and keeps the skin healthy, protect brain function and reduces cognitive decline, helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system and supports thyroid and adrenal function. All very, very important aspects regarding our birds’ overall health. Also, if you are feeding eggs raised by you make sure your laying hens are eating a healthy diet consisting of lots of greens and sprouted seed as well as allowing them to naturally forage for insects they find on or near ground level. The nutrients your laying hens consume are synthesized into nutrients for the eggs they lay. Greens are naturally high in Omega 3s, and sprouted seed rather than dead, dried out seed contribute additional enzymes which aid in the absorption of all other nutrients.
What is the total takeaway here? Pragmatically speaking, we can feed our captive parrots those foods which would be similar to what they would consume provided by Nature in their indigenous wild regions. And, “balance of nutrients” to ensure an ongoing healthy homeostasis that may guarantee your feathered friend a long, happy and healthy life!
Ref: (1) http://www.livescience.com/2053-animals-eat-offspring.html; (2) http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/117/2; (3) http://themedicalbiochemistrypage.org/cholesterol.php; (4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753376; (5) http://www.naturallyhealthyheart.com/blog/Leucine-is-this-bcaa-raising-your-risk-of-heart-disease; (6) http://aminoacidstudies.org/aspartic-acid; (7) http://aminoacidstudies.org/glutamic-acid; (8) http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/dockets/80n0208/80n-0208-c000037-15-01-vol151.pdf; (9) https://selfhacked.com/2014/05/04/elimination-diet-safest-foods-people-sensitive-everything;(10) https://selfhacked.com/2014/05/04/elimination-diet-safest-foods-people-sensitive-everything/#What_Are_Lectins.
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