Do you feel sick after eating eggs, but not all eggs? I may have cracked the code on why some eggs leave me feeling nauseous and achy, while others leave me feeling fine.
Why do eggs make me sick?
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time. Someone other than me must be suffering from this and not know it. It took me months to figure out that eggs were making me sick to my stomach. Maybe I can help someone else figure it out quicker than I did.
About fifteen months ago, I started feeling sick to my stomach. Not always nauseous, more like how you feel when you know you’re going to have diarrhea. And my back was killing me all the time. Sometimes I felt feverish. I felt like this all day, every day, for the summer of 2013. It really sucked. I slept a lot, and was in fog much of the time.
Ruling Out Wheat
My big fear, at first, was that I was having a problem with wheat. I live on bread and pasta. Take away my carbs and you might as well take away my soul as well. But I was feeling so terrible that I actually tried giving up wheat.
My plan was to do it for a week and see if things got better. But I quit after four days because there was no change. On the one hand I was glad – I could still eat bread! But on the other, I still had no clue what was going on.
Blood and stool tests
After about a month I really started to get worried. Did I have some kind of horrible intestinal disease? Were the amoebas that had hitch-hiked back home with me after a trip to South America in 1998 making a comeback tour? Did I have some kind of cancer?Do some eggs make you sick, while other eggs leave you feeling fine? #eggs #health
I went to my doctor, who checked me out and ordered some blood tests and stool tests (man, was that an experience, let me tell you…on second thought, I’m not going to, because it was a really really really gross process). I was afraid of what the tests would find, but whatever it was would be better than not knowing and just feeling sick all the time.
The tests showed nothing.
Then, after about three months of feeling like that (it was beginning to feel normal – I have no idea how I was functioning), I took the kids to my mom’s house in Buffalo for a six-day visit.
One of the reasons I love visiting my mom is that my favorite fast food restaurant, Mighty Taco, is on her corner. Usually, when I’m staying with her I just wait to eat until Mighty Taco opens up at 10:30 and have a nice healthy breakfast of burritos and nachos.
Despite how I was feeling, I kept to my usual Might Taco breakfast schedule (I mean, it wasn’t going to make my stomach worse). And by day three I realized that I was feeling better! Not just better, but good. By the time I left my mom’s house to head back to Brooklyn, I felt totally normal.
And on the drive back it hit me. It hit me like a ton of bricks falling on my head. I hadn’t had a single egg in six days.
At home I start pretty much every single day off with an egg or two, scrambled or in an omelet. I’ve been doing this for decades. And now, suddenly, eggs appeared to be making me sick.
Was it an egg allergy?
I started reading everything I could about egg allergies, and at first it seemed like that was what I had. It was weird, though, to develop an egg allergy as an adult. Everything I read said that it was most common in kids, and that they usually outgrew it. Also, allergy symptoms usually happen immediately, not several hours later. And I didn’t have any kind of respiratory or skin symptoms, which usually go with allergies.
Was it an egg intolerance?
Doing more reading, I discovered that there is such a thing as egg intolerance, which is different from an allergy. I seemed to match the most common symptoms perfectly:
- stomach cramps
- acid reflux
- achy feeling
- brain fog
- joint pain
- feverish feeling
When I got home I started experimenting. First, I made some cookies using eggs as an ingredient, and ate a couple. I was fine. I could still eat baked goods! Yay!
Then I hard-boiled an egg and ate that. Again, no reaction. Eggs cooked very well seemed to be OK. Egg salad and deviled eggs were still a go!
Then, just to make sure, I scrambled an egg on my third morning back and ate it. And within three or four hours, that sick feeling came back. Bingo. It took almost two days until I felt OK again.
I was glad (dancing-in-the-streets thrilled, actually) that I’d found the culprit. I would miss eating scrambled eggs, but at least I knew what to avoid.
Fresh brown eggs didn’t make me sick!
A couple of months later I was back at my doctor’s office for something routine and I mentioned what I’d discovered. She suggested that I try a really fresh egg. Like, right out of the chicken fresh. Hmm.
I figured that Fresh Direct was my best shot. I bought the freshest, most expensive eggs they carried. And I ate one scrambled. And I was fine!!!
Then the next time I bought them, I felt sick again. What the heck was going on?
I kept experimenting with different brands, and found one that never makes me sick. They’re expensive, brown eggs from pastured chickens. Maybe it’s what the chickens are eating, or maybe this farm gets its eggs to the store quickly. I have no idea! All I know is that I can even eat runny eggs with this brand and I feel fine.
Is it the egg whites?
A bunch of things that I read said that for most people with an egg sensitivity, it’s usually the whites that are causing the problem. I don’t think that’s what happened with me. I can eat those liquid egg whites no problem.
I also have no problem with egg sandwiches from Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts, which both use a pasteurized liquid egg product, the kind you pour out of a carton.
But oddly enough, I also don’t have a problem eating egg sandwiches from McDonald’s, and I know that they don’t use liquid eggs (I was a grill cook at McDonald’s and personally cracked thousands of white eggs).
As eggs age, they develop sulfur, and I’m guessing that that’s the key here for me (and it’s only a guess—I am very much not a doctor!). Really really old, rotten eggs smell overwhelmingly like sulfur, but it takes a long time for an egg to get to that point. There’s an in-between point where they don’t smell like sulfur yet, but they’re no longer fresh.
You can get a clue as to how old an egg is based on whether it floats, stands, or sinks in water. As an egg ages, its protective membrane gets weaker, and air gets inside. A fresh egg will sink, an older egg will stand on end, and a really old egg will float (doesn’t mean that that egg isn’t safe, it’s just old).
According to the USDA, which regulates eggs, the “use by” date can be as long as 45 days after the egg was packed (and they don’t seem to define how long the egg can hang around the farm before being packed, either!):
Terminology such as “Use by”, “Use before”, “Best before” indicates a period that the eggs should be consumed before overall quality diminishes. Code dating using these terms may not exceed 45 days including the day the eggs were packed into the carton.
But here is a factory egg on the left and an expensive farm-fresh egg on the right. Both sank. So if age really is the culprit, we’re talking about an amount of time that’s a lot smaller than this test can determine.
If I had the patience, I would buy several dozen eggs with the same dates and eat one a day until I got sick, to determine how old an egg could be before it affected me. But I don’t see myself doing that any time soon. I buy a dozen eggs from pastured hens each week, and I use the leftovers from the week before for hard-boiled eggs or baking.
I can no longer eat eggs at any old restaurant. Diner and coffee shop eggs have made me sick.
Sometimes if I’m at a really nice restaurant I’ll grill my server on how fresh the eggs are (yes, I’ve had to become that person) and get some, but usually, I just skip them.
As for why I’m fine with McDonald’s eggs, I have to guess that it’s a volume thing. They use so many eggs, and get deliveries so frequently, that those eggs must be pretty darn fresh! But really, any fast-food chain breakfast sandwich seems to be OK.
I cannot, however, eat breakfast sandwiches from our local bagel place, which really bums me out, because we order from there almost every weekend. I tried it twice, and felt sick both times.
Why Write Now?
So why am I writing about this today of all days? Because I’m still getting tripped up by this and did it to myself again yesterday. I made fresh pasta the way I always make fresh pasta: one egg per person. And since I was making a large amount of pasta and meatballs, I had to send my husband to the store for a couple cartons of eggs. Cheap, factory eggs, because that’s what he buys. And since I wasn’t cracking the eggs into a pan and eating them right away, it totally didn’t occur to me that I needed to use the good eggs!!!
I had two big bowls of pasta last night and then went to bed. I woke up several times last night with reflux and I felt terrible. Feverish and crampy and nauseous. I woke up this morning thinking it was just the red sauce, which always gives me trouble if I eat it too late. But as the day wore on I felt worse and worse. I asked my husband if he felt OK. I was scared to ask our dinner guests from the night before if they felt sick. Had I poisoned our friends somehow?
And then my back started to hurt and I realized what was going on. Crap.
The good news is (besides the fact that I didn’t sicken my friends and family with a pasta dinner somehow), I know that I should feel fine by this time tomorrow.
So what can you do?
If you suspect that you have an intolerance to eggs, I suggest you do on purpose what I did accidentally: stop eating them and see how you feel. If you feel better, try eating them very well cooked, like in baked goods and hard-boiled eggs. Try liquid eggs. Find really fresh eggs and see if those are OK. Try brown eggs. Try white eggs. Try eggs from pastured chickens that eat grubs all day. See what happens. Just make sure you give it enough time between so that you know for sure what is affecting you.