What came first, the chicken or the egg? While this controversy seems to have been answered by scientists (a proto-chicken), eggs still seem to be quite misunderstood.
What’s the beef? Eggs are cheap, readily available (even during a pandemic), versatile and packed with protein, but some people still question their healthfulness.
Are eggs really all they’re cracked up to be?
We unscramble some egg-citing facts about eggs, boil down egg labels and other marketing jargon and share egg-cellent tips to remember before you get crackin’.
(And, we promise not too many more egg puns!)
Facts About Eggs
They raise HDL, the good cholesterol
For decades, many people were concerned about eggs having a high cholesterol content. Having a high cholesterol level (LDL) is associated with a risk of heart disease, while having a high cholesterol level (HDL) is associated with a lower risk.
While it’s true that one large egg has between 185-200 mg of cholesterol, a solid body of research shows – both current and some findings nearly 20 years ago—that moderate egg consumption (that’s about one egg per day/seven per week) is not associated with cardiovascular disease and stroke. In fact, studies have shown eggs consistently raise HDL (the good) cholesterol.
“Dietary cholesterol (found in food) does not contribute to our blood cholesterol levels (what our liver naturally produces) as much as saturated fat and trans fat,” said Nicole Hahn, a registered dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “High blood cholesterol levels or LDL are a risk factor for heart disease."
Although some foods contain high amounts of cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat have a higher impact on blood cholesterol levels than our dietary cholesterol. It may be easy to blame eggs on your high cholesterol, but if you have high blood cholesterol it’s more likely caused by combination of genetics, body weight and a fatty diet.
“A small subset of individuals may need to really monitor dietary cholesterol intake,” Hahn said. “If you have chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes, it’s always good to monitor your intake of total fat, cholesterol and limit calories in excess.”
Eggs are nutritious
They say an apple a day, may keep the doctor away—the same may be true for eggs too (of course, in moderation).
This is because eggs are nutrient packed. The egg yolk alone has Vitamins A, D, E and B12, riboflavin, selenium and folate, while egg whites provide a good source of protein. Some eggs even have omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect against heart disease. With just about 5 grams of fat per egg—with minimal fat coming from saturated fatty acids—eggs can easily fit into your daily diet.
“Depending on a person’s goals for weight loss and fitness (muscle mass gain), more egg white’s may be desired to meet higher protein intake goals while not exceeding caloric goals—since they are so low in calories,” Hahn said. “If you’re looking to up your protein but lower fat, consume more egg whites versus whole eggs.”
Just don’t overdo it
As famous author, Ray Bradbury, once famously said, “Too much of anything isn’t good for anyone.” Ain’t that the truth?
Even if you have been given a clean bill of health, don’t start downing the egg omelets just yet. While an egg a day may keep the doctor away, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
“Eat everything in moderation, and just remember to limit the amount of added fats used when you prepare your eggs,” Hahn said. “Scrambled eggs with salsa on a whole wheat toast is much different than scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon and white toast.”
Why Are There So Many Different Types of Eggs?!
Now that you know the healthfulness of eggs, what’s up with the plethora of egg choices, colors and marketing claims? Although you like your eggs scrambled, the limitless amount of choices may scramble your brain up a bit too.
Hahn helps us break through the minutia—rather chicken feed—to help guide your decision on what eggs to buy and which to say buh-bye too.
The color of the egg
Your teacher said don’t judge a book by its cover, and the same goes for eggs. Brown, white or blue—unless it’s cracked, unpasteurized or have been left out unrefrigerated—all eggs are game to be eaten. The color is determined by the breed of hen who lays it.
Farm fresh and natural
These terms are unregulated and are basically meaningless—they just sound good.
Conventional vs. free-range vs. cage-free
Conventional eggs are laid by hens typically in a full hen house, cage-free eggs are from chickens who usually are housed in an open barn but may still have little space to roam and free-range eggs come from chickens who are able to roam free outside.
While it’s clear free-range offers the most humane conditions for birds, there is no clear evidence that free-range or cage-free eggs have better nutritional value than conventional. When it comes to picking which type, it will simply come down to how much more you’re willing to pay and how important it is to you that your eggs come from humane farming practices.
Organic eggs are laid by chickens who are provided organic feed and do not receive vaccines or antibiotics. They are also raised either cage-free or free-range. While some studies have compared the different benefits of organic versus conventional and other methods, there is no clear evidence that one is better than the other—they're just different.
The bottom line when buying eggs: If you want to save money, go with the conventional. If you have concerns about farming practices, go with non-conventional eggs. No matter the egg, you’ll still reap the same health benefits.
Integrate Eggs into Your Diet
Whether hard-boiled, scrambled or over easy, eggs are a versatile way to spice up any breakfast, lunch, dinner or afternoon snack.
Hahn provides the following helpful tips to remember before you get a crackin’!
- Refrigerate commercially produced eggs as soon as you get home from the store as bacteria can penetrate the shell if they are left out too long.
- Cooked eggs are generally safer to eat as some foodborne illnesses come from raw animal foods. When cooked, the protein of the egg is also better digested.
- Avoid cooking them at high temperatures though, especially for extended periods of time, as you may lose nutrients and damage some of the healthy properties of the eggs.
- Limit the amount of added fats (cheese, bacon, sausage) to your egg dish, and consider swapping out with sautéed vegetables of your choice. Your dish will come out looking colorful and flavorful.
While we still have more to learn about “the incredible, edible egg,” the vast majority of research suggests they don’t pose a risk to health. Just remember to not overdo them.
Are you interested in other healthy eating tips? Check out our Banner Health blog that is packed full of healthy recipes and expert advice to get you moving and feeling your best.