The Good, the Bad, and the Eggly
By Joe Wilkes
Now is the time when our attention turns to the humble
egg. A simple dietary staple the rest of the year, this is the week when it
gets all tarted up in pastel dyes and glitter and gets hidden throughout the
house, hopefully to be found by children on Easter instead of in June,
putrefying in that too-good-a-hiding-place. Boiled, fried, scrambled, poached,
or emulsified into decadent mayonnaises, hollandaises, and aiolis, the egg is
every cook's best friend. But these little chicken ova are not without
controversy. For years, nutrition experts have been debating whether the egg is
a great, affordable source of protein, or a cholesterol-raising killer. We'll
take a look at the pluses and minuses of adding eggs to your diet as well as
some preparation tips. Let's get cracking!
the best things about eggs is you don't have to shell (ha!) out much money.
Eggs can cost as little as eight cents apieceone of the least expensive sources
of protein around.
- A typical
whole egg contains only 75 calories and 6 grams of protein,
with only 5 grams of fat, 2 of which are saturated. It is full of vitamins and
minerals, including vitamins A, B6, B12, and E, thiamin, riboflavin, iron,
phosphorous, pantothenic acid, and zinc. And the protein is considered to be
the most complete and balanced for humans of any protein source other than
- It is one of the rare foods that contains vitamin D.
While the human body can produce vitamin D
itself from exposure to sunlight, egg yolks are one of the few dietary sources
for the vitamin.
- It also
contains choline, which is considered brain
food, and is important for pregnant women to ensure healthy brain development
in their children.
- It is high in lutein and zeaxanthin,
which help prevent diseases of the eye such as macular
degeneration. In a study conducted by the Agricultural Research Service on
behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was found that lutein from
eggs was absorbed into the body at a much higher rate than any other food
source, including spinach.
- Eggs contain
lecithin. Lecithin has been shown to
significantly inhibit cholesterol absorption, so although they have higher
levels of dietary cholesterol, eggs are something of a break-even
- Some eggs have omega-3s. Nowadays you can also find eggs where the farmer has let the
chickens roam free and fed them feeds which make for more nutritious eggs. For
example, you can buy eggs where the chickens were fed kelp and polyunsaturated
fats which produce eggs which are high in heart-smart omega-3s, like more
expensive seafood. Other feeds can produce chickens with much lower dietary
- Eggs are filling. Studies
have shown that people who eat high-protein breakfasts like eggs tend to be
less hungry during the day than people who eat high-carb breakfasts like
bagels. Generally the egg eaters averaged 300 fewer total calories a
- Don't be yoked to the yolks.
If you're worried about fat, calories, and dietary
cholesterol levels, you can stick to egg whites. One egg white has only 17
calories and it's all protein4 grams. Unfortunately, you'll lose most of
the nutrients that the yolk provides, but it's a great, easy way to add more
protein to your diet. Most supermarkets now sell egg whites already separated
for added convenience.
As you probably noticed in the "Good"
list, a common caveat with eggs is their high cholesterol levels. One large egg
contains over 200 milligrams of cholesterolover 70 percent of the U.S.
government's recommended daily allowance. But don't throw the eggs away yet,
there are some factors to consider.
- Dietary cholesterol is not the same as blood, or serum,
cholesterol. The same way that fat in olive oil
is not the same fat that ends up in your love handles, dietary cholesterol does
not automatically raise your blood cholesterol level. Cholesterol is necessary
for cell membrane growth and normal cell function and in the production of bile
which helps our body digest fats. Too much blood cholesterol, though, can cause
plaque buildup in our arteries, which could lead to a dangerous blockage and
contribute to stroke or heart attack.
- Eggs aren't perfect, but saturated and trans
fats are worse. While too much dietary
cholesterol can elevate blood cholesterol levels somewhat, it's saturated fats
and trans fats that are the real culprits. If you're skipping your morning eggs
because you're watching your cholesterol but having a bacon double cheeseburger
for lunch, you may be getting less dietary cholesterol overall, but the
saturated fats are going to be what really make your blood cholesterol scores
soar more than if you just had the eggs. If you want to lower your cholesterol
levels, you'll get the most bang for your buck by cutting out saturated and
trans fats, which our livers turn into the worst kind of LDL (low-density
lipoprotein) cholesterol in our bloodstream.
- You may have high cholesterol, but is it big
cholesterol? Speaking of LDL levels, there has
been some good news for eggs recently. Studies are beginning to show when it
comes to LDL and HDL (high-density lipoprotein), size matters. A 2006
University of Connecticut study showed that the livers of egg eaters produced
larger particles of both LDL and HDL. The bigger LDL particles were too big to
embed themselves in artery walls, contributing to plaque, and in fact, had
somewhat of a snowball effect sweeping up smaller particles on their way out of
the body. The good HDL particles also were bigger, and did an even better job
than usual moving cholesterol out. These findings supported a 2000 Michigan
State University study that sampled 27,000 people and found cholesterol
readings in those that ate four eggs a week to be lower than those that ate
- Not all people manufacture cholesterol in the same way.
Some are called "hyper-responders." Their livers
produce lots of cholesterol regardless of what they eat. Other lucky people can
eat eggs, shrimp, and foods high in saturated fat and not see their blood
cholesterol levels spike at all. The best way to see how certain foods affect
your cholesterol levels is to consult with your physician and try adding and
subtracting food items from your diet and see how it affects your levels.
They're cheap, delicious, high in protein and
nutrients, and the news about cholesterol is getting better all the time. The
American Heart Association has even recently allowed that one egg per day is
probably OKjust so long as you're not getting a ton of dietary cholesterol from
other sources. So if you decide to add eggs into your diet, here are some facts
to keep in mind.
- Forget Rocky
and his glass of raw eggs. Aside from the
salmonella concerns, according to a study published in The Journal of
Nutrition, protein from cooked eggs is believed to be almost twice as
absorbable as raw.
- Can't remember
which eggs are raw and which are boiled? Try
spinning the egg on its side. Boiled eggs will spin for some time. Raw eggs
will quickly stop spinning and begin to wobble.
- The fresher the eggs, the more difficult they are to
peel. Although we don't recommend boiling and
eating rotten eggs, the eggs that are closing in on their "use by" date might
be easier to peel for egg salad.
- Don't keep your eggs in the refrigerator door.
Even if your refrigerator comes with egg holders, eggs
should go in the main part of the fridge, which is colder.
hens tend to have less cholesterol than their caged counterparts.
Not all eggs are created equal. Check the nutrition labels
on the eggs at your store. The breed of the chicken, what they were fed, and
how they were raised, all play parts in the nutritional makeup of your egg.
- The perfect boiled egg. Cover the egg(s) in water in a saucepan. On medium heat, let the
water come to a boil. As soon as the water begins to boil, turn off the burner
and cover the saucepan. Let the eggs stand in the hot water for 10 minutes.
Then, rinse in cold water. This should result in perfect boiled eggs with firm
but creamy yolks.