One Simple Change: Embrace Eggs
06.19.14 One Simple Change: Embrace Eggs
Eggs are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. Though many people worry about the cholesterol in eggs, this concern is generally unfounded: eating eggs won't cause you to develop heart disease and there’s probably no reason for you to limit eggs in your diet, especially if you enjoy them. The key is to choose eggs of the highest quality in order to take advantage of all the nutritional benefits they offer.
Cholesterol was identified as a cause of heart disease back in the late 1950s by a researcher named Ancel Keys, but his hypothesis was later disproved. We now know that cholesterol is a normal and necessary part of the human body. (The cholesterol in foods like eggs is necessary for making hormones; it also plays a role in good digestion.) We also now know that the cholesterol in the foods you eat—including eggs—is rarely to blame if you have high cholesterol in your blood; in fact, the less cholesterol you eat, the more your liver will make.
In 1987, the Framingham Heart Study concluded that if you are less than fifty years old, high cholesterol may be a marker for heart disease. If you are over fifty, however, there’s no connection between cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease. In fact, high cholesterol in elderly people is generally associated with good health. A small percentage of people do carry a gene that makes them prone to familial hypercholesterolemia, however: these people may need to take cholesterol-lowering drugs.
It’s best to eat eggs from chickens that are raised humanely and that are able to run free and graze on grass; their eggs are extremely healthy. Be careful about the eggs in the supermarket, though: even organic eggs. They are generally from chickens that are “vegetarian” and “grain fed.” The eggs of organic grain-fed chickens don’t contain antibiotics, hormones, or chemical residues, which is good. But chickens are not meant to be vegetarians! So look for eggs from chickens that are allowed to range freely outside and eat grass (plus worms and bugs), along with organic grain. You are most likely to get the best free-range eggs from your backyard (if you keep chickens, that is), an organic farmer, a neighbor who keeps chickens, a farmers’ market, or a natural food store.
Eggs from free-range chickens are high in protein (one egg has about 7 grams) as well as vitamin B12 (a must for the proper function of the nervous system), vitamin E (a potent antioxidant), choline (a nutrient that supports brain function), and iodine (a trace element your thyroid requires to make hormones). Eggs also contain some vitamin A and vitamin D, two fat-soluble nutrients that are very hard, if not impossible, to come by if you don’t eat any animal foods.
Most eggs produced commercially, on the other hand, are very far from perfect. Since they come from chickens that are fed grains, not grass, their fatty acid profile isn’t as healthful. What’s more, the grains they eat often contain pesticides (and may be from genetically modified crops). And the chickens are often kept in dismal conditions that promote illness, so they are loaded up with antibiotics in an effort to prevent them from getting sick.
Another thing: We’ve been warned never to eat raw or undercooked eggs because of the potential for salmonella contamination, but it’s my understanding that if you choose very fresh eggs from pastured chickens kept in clean conditions, the likelihood you will contract salmonella is very, very low. I’ve kept my own backyard chickens for years and I eat raw egg yolks without fear; they are a wonderful way to add protein and nutrients to smoothies. Please note, however, that egg whites should not be consumed raw: they contain a substance called avidin that binds to the biotin, a B vitamin, in the yolks and makes it unavailable to your body.
As for cooking eggs, some sources state that you should not eat fried or scrambled eggs (and that you should only boil or poach them) because putting the yolk in direct contact with high heat damages the cholesterol. On the other hand, many health experts believe this simply isn’t true and say you should enjoy free-range farm-fresh eggs cooked any way you darn well please, so I do. In their book The Happiness Diet (2011), Tyler Graham and Drew Ramsey suggest pairing eggs with cheese because the vitamin D in the eggs increases the bioavailability of the calcium in the cheese. I don’t need an excuse to add cheese to my eggs, but I’ll take it.
Eggs are a familiar food in just about every culture in the world, so the ways in which they can be incorporated into recipes are almost infinite. I probably eat at least two eggs pretty much every day; I also use them in dessert recipes. The only reason I can think of not to eat eggs is if you have an egg allergy or sensitivity.
(Text adapted with permission from my book One Simple Change by Winnie Abramson. Copyright 2013 by Chronicle Books.)
One of the ways in which I include eggs in my diet is soft or hard-boiled and added to salads. I have a yummy salad recipe featuring soft-boiled eggs in my book, but lately I've been throwing together a different one with all the various greens from my garden. It's easy to make: I just chop everything up (generally all sorts of lettuces, plus purslane and herbs such as basil, cilantro, and chives), then add some boiled sliced new potatoes and then the sliced hard-boiled eggs. I am pretty generous with the sea salt and black pepper and then I dress the whole shebang with garlic-infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It's delicious!