The poor, misunderstood “incredible, edible egg”. Over the years, this nutrition powerhouse has acquired a bruised reputation from reports they contribute to raised cholesterol. Like other pieces of information associated with cholesterol, avoiding eggs is off the mark. Eggs stand alone in beneficial elements.
Eggs are a great source of protein. Numerous vitamins, including vitamin A, potassium and many B vitamins like folic acid, choline and biotin, are also packed into this oval-shaped staple [Source: USDA]. In fact, very few foods share the same diverse nutrient makeup available in a single egg. Many of these are specifically needed for the health of the nerves and the brain. Through the years, all fats have become public enemies, often blamed for an increased risk of heart disease. Eggs fell out of favor and people gravitated toward egg whites as a substitute. In truth, the yolk is where many of the vitamins and nutrients are found.
The topic of cholesterol has become very confusing. Dietary advice on the subject is often so far off that consumers actually hurt their health by trying to avoid cholesterol. The body needs to achieve a balance when it comes to cholesterol consumption. Fat from healthy sources is vital to the body, while fat from poor choices, such as margarine or foods fried in vegetable oil, are very dangerous. Eggs remain a beneficial source of healthy fat. Many nutrients, such as vitamin A, are better absorbed with fat, making eggs a very good source of vitamin A. Research has documented that eggs do not appear to promote heart disease risk [Source: Kritchevsky, Djousse].
Diabetics may be one of the only groups that should avoid averaging more than one egg a day, as they might show some increases in cholesterol with higher egg consumption. But even in diabetics, eggs can be very helpful. Much of the standard breakfast for Americans is laden with sugar. Waffles, pancakes, pastries, gourmet coffees and most breakfast cereals offer little or no nutritional value and are often loaded with sugar. These foods are poor choices for diabetics, and the rest of us. For most individuals, eggs are a nutritional breakfast choice.
But every egg is not created equal. It's best to buy any source of protein from an environment that is as natural as possible, meaning the animal was able to feed on foods that its body could tolerate, in conditions that were not overly stressful. For egg-producing chickens, this environment is often called “cage-free” or “free-range.” This means the chicken was allowed to roam, picking what it wanted to eat. Research has shown that cage-free hens have produced eggs higher in various vitamins [Source: Pappas]. Chickens packaged tightly in cages undergo stress, lowering their immune systems and raising their likelihood of infection. Frequent infections are a common problem for animals raised in cramped quarters. Many times, chickens are given regular antibiotics to help keep down infection rates. These antibiotics may lead to stronger, more resistant bacteria in the feces of the chicken and even in that of the farmer who raises them. This presents two big potential problems for the consumer: 1) antibiotics like sulfa in the chicken that could aggravate drug allergies, and 2) super resistant bugs. Free-range eggs actually show greater resistance to bugs like salmonella [Source: Messens]. When purchasing eggs, choose those that were grown in a free-range or cage-free environment, or better yet, purchase eggs directly from a farmer who focuses on growing eggs in a healthy environment. Eggs that say "organic" or "omega-3" have the right idea, but will still not be as good as cage-free.
Like nearly all foods, eggs lose some nutritional value when cooked [Source: Ramalho]. Regular egg eaters should choose not to scramble their eggs every time. When the yolk of the egg is broken (when the eggs are scrambled) and exposed to high heat, the proteins and fat of the eggs are damaged. In this case, the fat does become unhealthy. Eating scrambled eggs occasionally is not a major problem, just don't make it your routine.
- 1989 Supplement-Agriculture Handbook No. 8, Human Nutrition Information Service, USDA. From the American Egg Board Web site.
- Kritchevsky, SB., Kritchevsky, D. (2000). Egg consumption and coronary heart disease: an epidemiologic overview. J Am Coll Nutr, (5 Suppl):5492-555S.
- Djousse, L., Gaziano, JM. Egg Consumption in Relation to Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality: The Physicians' Health Study. 964-969.
- Pappas, AC., Karadas, F., Surai, PF., et al. (2006). Interspecies variation in yolk selenium concentrations among eggs of free-living birds: The effect of phylogeny. J Trace Elem Med Biol, 20(3):155-60. Epub 2006 Jun 16.
- Ramalho, HM. (2006). Effect of thermal processing on retinol levels of free-range and caged hen eggs. Int J Food Sci Nutr, 57(3-4):244-8.
- Messens, W., Griispeerdt, K., De Reu, K., et al. (2007). Eggshell penetration of various types of hens’ eggs by Salmonell enterica serovar Enteritidis. J Fod Prot, 70(3):623-8.