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Understanding Eggs: All About Your Favorite Breakfast Ingredient

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I’ve been surprised at the number of people who aren’t exactly sure how to classify eggs, whether from their home flock or from the supermarket. Are eggs dairy? Are eggs meat? Just where do eggs fit into the different dietary requirements our fearless leaders at the USDA have calculated?  

No matter how you classify them, you’ll also want to read up on how long eggs last.

multi-colored eggs in a bowl with a pink flower, held by human hands

Are eggs dairy?

The short answer is no, eggs are not dairy products.

Dairy products refers to milk or food produced from (or including) the milk of mammals.

I’ve actually had people argue with me about this, insisting that eggs are a dairy product. I suspect the confusion lies in how eggs are marketed at the grocery store. Because where are they often stocked? Right there under the big sign that says “dairy.”

But in spite of that placement, eggs are dairy free. People who are eating a dairy free diet do not have to avoid eggs!

Another thing that might add to the confusion about this? Eggs are off-limits on a vegan diet, which eliminates all animal byproducts.

Are eggs meat?

Again, the short answer is no. But this gets into a bit of semantics.

Meat is defined as the flesh of an animal.

Eggs are obviously not animal flesh. But given the chance to incubate, a fertile egg will grow and hatch into a chick — which is meat that can eventually be butchered for the table. At which point it will be meat. But I don’t think I’d qualify eggs as meat.

fried farmer's breakfast with canadian bacon and asparagus in a cast iron pan

If not dairy or meat, what food group are eggs in??

According to the USDA, eggs fall into their protein food group. Eggs are a good source of protein for people who opt to include eggs in their diet. (Again, eggs — like dairy — do not qualify for a vegan diet.)

  • One large chicken egg has about 6 grams of protein
  • One duck egg has about 9 grams of protein

But herein lies another reason people might be confused about eggs. The protein food group — both the current one and the old food pyramid — features items like milk, cheese, and meat along with the incredible, edible egg. No wonder people aren’t sure if eggs are dairy or meat or what!

Related: Duck Eggs vs. Chicken Eggs

brown eggs stacked in a small wooden box

What about special diets?

  • Vegans do not eat eggs; they opt not to eat any animal products whatsoever.
  • Vegetarians can eat eggs, as they are avoiding only meat products rather than all animal products.
  • People with an egg allergy should not eat eggs.
  • People with a dairy allergy can eat eggs.
  • Eggs are acceptable on both a Keto and Paleo diet.

In a nutshell, eggs are not meat or dairy. If you want to incorporate more eggs into your meals, be sure to check out this post with 100+ recipes to use up lots of eggs!

3 whole brown eggs, egg cracked into a white bowl

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle. She's a certified Master Food Preserver and longtime gardener who loves to turn the harvest into pantry staples.

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