Reassessing the egg: New research challenges our fears

Photo illustration courtesy Thinkstock
Story by Jamie Lampros
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Mar 4, 2013
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Over the years, we’ve been told eggs are bad for us, eggs are good for us, eggs have too much cholesterol, eggs are a great source of protein. With all of those conflicting messages, we asked the experts to set the record straight.

According to Consumer Reports on Health, one large egg contains 186 milligrams of cholesterol in the yolk. The egg white has zero cholesterol. As long as you ate the whites and tossed the yolk, you would be free from plaque buildup and the risk of heart disease, experts said.

But tossing the egg yolk denies you of most of its nutrients, said Kathleen Nielsen, McKay-Dee Hospital’s director of food and nutrition.

“Eggs are excellent for us because of all the nutrients they provide,” she said. “Vitamins and minerals — and they contain the highest-quality protein of all foods. In the past, the yolk has been vilified, however ... most of the nutrients are found in the yolk, so the whole egg must be eaten to gain the nutritional value found in one egg.”

Laura Holtrop-Kohl, Harmons grocery dietitian, said eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help prevent cancer and age-related eye degeneration.

“Eggs contain a higher concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin than dark green leafy vegetables,” she said. “They are also relatively low in fat, especially saturated fat.”

In addition, Holtrop-Kohl said, current research is challenging our fear of eggs. A 2004 study in the Journal of Nutrition, found that a high-cholesterol diet is less connected to increased risk of heart disease than once thought and that a low-cholesterol diet only slightly decreases our blood cholesterol levels.

“A recent study found that people who consumed less than one egg a week had no less risk of heart disease than those who consumed more than one egg a day over a 14-year period,” she said.

Your daily egg

So have an egg a day, the experts say. Just don’t have more than that.

Even though the studies are reassuring, people with heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes should still limit their egg consumption, said Rosalyn Warner, clinical dietitian at Davis Hospital and Medical Center.

“If you do have any of these conditions, you should limit your intake to about two whole eggs per week, along with a diet lower in cholesterol and saturated and trans fat,” she said.

One egg contains 72 calories, 5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein, Warner and Nielsen said. Inside the yolk, you’ll find vitamins A, D, E and B12, riboflavin, selenium, folate and choline, an essential nutrient important for brain and nerve function.

“Starting your day off with an egg may help curb your appetite better than cereal and you may not show signs of hunger as quickly,” Warner said. “To cut down on fat, eat eggs with low-fat foods like yogurt, milk and fruit, and save the high-fat meats and heavily buttered carbohydrates for occasional meals.”

Nutritional differences

So now that we know most of us are pretty safe to consume an egg a day, how do we know which is best for us? If you take a look at the egg shelf in the grocery store, you’ll find a plethora of varieties ranging from pasteurized, vegetarian, omega-3, organic and free-range or cage-free.

“I asked my chef if he noticed any difference when using different eggs in cooking. He said there is no difference between the eggs,” Nielsen said. “The flavor and texture is the same. He cannot tell a difference.”

Nutrients in the egg can be changed only by altering feed given to the hens, Nielsen said. Changing the environment, like the free-range or cage-free eggs. doesn’t change the nutrition.

Warner agreed and said the price for free-range and cage-free eggs is higher.

Organic eggs come from chicken feed that is lower in pesticides and herbicides, Warner said.

“It has not been shown that pesticides and herbicides make their way into eggs,” she said. “If you want to support organic farming practices, choose organic eggs, but organic does not produce a more nutritious egg.”

Holtrop-Kohl said omega-3 eggs may help meet the recommended intake of 1.1 gram per day.

“Eggs with omega-3 fatty acids are produced by feeding chickens more omega-3 rich foods,” she said. “This is most often flaxseed. Pasture-raised chickens also lay eggs with increased omega-3. The amount of omega-3 fatty acids in an enriched egg ranges from 225 milligrams to 350 milligrams.”

White vs. brown

And if you’re wondering whether to purchase white or brown eggs, it makes no difference. White eggs are produced by hens with white feathers and ear lobes. Brown eggs are produces by hens with red feathers and red ear lobes.

The bottom line is, you don’t have to avoid eggs, especially if you’re not at risk for heart disease. Eat them in moderation and experiment with creative recipes.

Warner, Nielsen and Holtrop-Kohl said some options include egg drop soup, egg salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, frittatas, omelets and egg burritos with plenty of fresh vegetables.

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