Updated: Jan 9, 2022
The Wellness of Eggs
By: Pam Smith, RDN
Following years of dietary exile, the word is finally getting out that eggs should be on the nutritional “A” list, thanks to recent research showing that saturated fat is a far greater health risk than the cholesterol in eggs. Like nuts, they are one of nature’s healthiest creations. They possess a powerhouse of nutritional benefits – particularly the yolks, which supply high-quality protein, iron, zinc, B vitamins (including folate and B-12), vitamins E and A, and even a little vitamin D. In addition, they are a rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two relatives of beta carotene that promote good vision and healthy eyes – protecting against age-related macular degeneration. They also contain choline (important for fetal brain development and our memory recall) and other beneficial substances as well, including Omega-3 fatty acids (in “enhanced” eggs). And a large egg has only about 75 calories.
Relatively inexpensive and very easy to prepare, eggs are once more rising in popularity – and certainly so at this time of year! But even with the vigorous PR campaign for “the incredible edible egg” the health questions about eggs continue! Here are the most common “egg” questions we get… and my answers:
“What about cholesterol in eggs?”
The cholesterol concerns about eggs have always been incorrect. Dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol in food) doesn’t necessarily raise serum cholesterol (the cholesterol in our bodies). It is saturated fat that clogs arteries… and eggs are very low in saturated fat. Of an egg’s five grams of fat, only 1.5 grams are saturated. It’s the breakfast eggs “bad boy” friends that are the culprits: butter, bacon, sausage, hash browns, biscuits, gravy, etc. that get one into cholesterol trouble. Of course, all this doesn’t mean that you should start having a three-egg omelet for breakfast every morning. An egg still has a high cholesterol content (about 215 mg, about two-thirds of the recommended daily maximum of 300 milligrams) – which is why you don’t hear the drum beating to eat two or three eggs a day.
“Should I be eating eggs at all?”
Eggs in moderation are fine. If you already have high cholesterol, you should limit yourself to three to four egg yolks per week (in cooking or as parts of meals) – otherwise enjoy eggs. There is no limit on egg whites, however, which are cholesterol-free and contain highly absorbable albumin, an important protein source for a number of body functions.
“What about organic or hormone-free eggs?”
A producer making this claim must feed their hens certified organic feed (grown without pesticides, antibiotics, herbicides, fungicides, and commercial fertilizers), the hens must have outdoor access and conditions must comply with strict humane practice codes. These eggs tend to be naturally richer in many nutrients, including omega-3 fats and vitamin E, due to the high quality of feed used. They are usually more expensive as a result. In regard to hormone-free eggs, no egg-laying hen is fed hormones or treated with them, so this claim makes no sense.
“What about cage-free eggs, and eggs from free-range hens?”
Most egg-laying hens are kept in cages, partly for sanitary reasons, partly for the convenience of the grower. Non-caged or so-called “free-roaming” birds are kept on a hen-house floor. A “free-range” hen would be allowed to graze outdoors for at least five minutes a day. Sadly, “free-range” claims on eggs aren’t regulated at all. However, free-range eggs may have a healthier fat profile than cage eggs. One study compared the nutrient profile of eggs from a US supermarket (from battery hens fed a commercial feed) with those from a Greek village (free-range hens fed a traditional grain diet) and they found a phenomenal difference in the type of fats present. The Greek eggs contained less saturated fat and far more of the healthy fats, especially omega-3 fats. These are known to reduce risk of heart attack, are important in maintaining healthy blood and essential for brain development and function. The feed given to the hens is clearly a crucial factor and as discussed next, you can now purchase cage eggs high in omega-3s. However, since we also know that animal exercise affects the fat levels in meat, this may also make a difference to the fats found in eggs. Free-range hens are clearly more active than caged. This subject is hotly debated by egg producers, with some arguing that an egg is an egg. And yet, common sense says that free-range hens must be happier and this is reason enough to buy their eggs. If we also get better nutrition from them, so much the better!
“What are High Vitamin E or High Omega-3 Eggs?”
Eggs today are often enhanced with omega-3 fatty acids – substances that increase heart health, reduce hypertension and improve autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Plant foods and cold-water fish (such as salmon and sardines) are natural sources of omega-3s, but few of us consume a sufficient amount of them. Our relative consumption of omega-3 fatty acids compared with foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids – also essential for good health, but plentiful in Western diets and found in such foods as cereal and baked goods – results in a poor omega-3/omega-6 ratio. By increasing your intake of omega-3 and reducing your intake of omega-6, you will bring the ratio back to a healthy balance. Hens fed large amounts of flaxseed, algae, and canola oil will lay eggs containing heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil itself is sometimes added to chicken feed. But even so, eggs that are supposed to be rich in omega-3s still contain only a small amount, compared with salmon.
“Are brown eggs more nutritious than white?”
No, this is a myth. Brown eggs come from hens with red or brown feathers, such as Rhode Island Reds. White eggs come from white hens, such as Leghorns. Brown eggs often cost more – in part because they are usually larger and have a “healthier” image.
“Is a darker yellow yolk more nutritious?”
Not necessarily. Yolk color depends on the chicken feed - wheat and barley produce a light yolk, corn a medium-yellow yolk, and marigold petals a deep yellow, and maybe more carotenoids. Eggs with omega-3s may have a deep yellow yolk.
And finally, “What’s The Best Way to Boil an Egg?”
Making hard-cooked eggs is almost as easy as boiling water, once you know the pitfalls. Cooking eggs too long or too vigorously can result in cracked shells, tough whites, and green gray, sulfury-smelling yolks. This gentle method is consistently effective - and the trick of pricking the egg’s end makes removing the shell nearly as easy as peeling a banana.
Gently prick the wide end of each egg with a pin. Prick just through the shell without piercing the membrane.
Place the eggs in a single layer in a saucepan. Add enough water to submerge the eggs 1 inch, then bring the pot, uncovered, to a boil. As soon as the water boils, remove the pot from the heat, place the lid on top, and let the eggs sit for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a bowl with very cold tap water. Once the 10 minutes have passed, use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to the water.
When the eggs are cool enough to handle (after about 5 minutes), they are ready to eat. To peel, tap the wide end of the egg against a hard surface to crack the shell, then roll the egg to break the shell all over. Peel away enough of the shell from the wide end so that you can get your fingers underneath what remains. Remove it in large pieces, then rinse any bits of shell off the egg and pat dry.
More than just edible, eggs are indeed incredible!
Learn more about eggs on my IGTV channel – Wellness Wednesday Episode 1: Better Breakfast
See below for some of my favorite recipes that feature the delicious wellness of eggs: