In this our second post about food myths, we discuss the humble egg. Eggs get a bad rap because they are "high" in cholesterol; I often have patients come see me with high blood levels of cholesterol who have been told by their allopathic doctor to avoid eggs. This unfortunate advice stems from the early 70's when the link was made (supposedly) between cholesterol and heart disease. Suddenly, we were being told to limit our daily intake of cholesterol to no more than 300 mg—alas, the egg contains 278 mg of cholesterol in its yolk. Because of this, the egg industry as a whole almost collapsed and people began avoiding egg yolks. Nina Planck, in her book Real Food, helps us understand how "real" eggs—pastured eggs, are almost a perfect food. To paraphrase, eggs are a source of protein with a balance of amino acids that is so close to the ideal for humans that eggs are the model for rating the quality of protein in all foods. Egg yolks are high in lecithin (a source of choline vital to fetal brain development), carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin (which prevent macular degeneration and may help fight colon cancer), biotin (which is essential for healthy hair, skin, and nerves and allows us to digest fat and protein), and betaine (which reduces homocysteine and thus protects from atherosclerosis). Egg yolks, particularly those from pastured eggs, are also high in vitamins A & E, folic acid, and omega 3 fatty acids. To quote Food Renegade, a blog I love:
"When compared to the USDA's nutrient data for conventional eggs coming from chickens confined in factory farms, the eggs of pastured hens usually contain:
- 1⁄3 less cholesterol
- 1⁄4 less saturated fat
- 2⁄3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4 to 6 times more vitamin D
In short, they're much more nutrient dense. And they're healthy. Rather than being loaded down with so-called "bad" cholesterol, they're actually rich in the cholesterol your body needs to keep your memory in tip-top shape, your mood serene, and all your organs and cells repaired."
Getting back to that cholesterol issue, a study of 118,000 people reported in JAMA in 1999 showed no significant association between egg consumption and heart disease and in fact that people who ate 5-6 eggs per week had a lower risk of heart disease than those who ate less than 1 egg per week! Furthermore, earlier studies linking egg consumption to heart disease used powdered eggs, which contains oxidized cholesterol—the kind that causes atherosclerosis. There is more information about the great cholesterol-heart disease debate in my first Food Myths Debunked post on coconut oil.
Supermarket eggs are NOT real eggs, despite labels like "organic," "free range," "all natural," or "cage free." All these labels mean is that the hens were fed organic food and were caged in a warehouse rather than in individual cages. It does not guarantee that these hens actually had exposure to the outdoors and a diet rich in insects that raise nutrient value. The only guarantee that you are getting "real eggs" is to raise hens yourself or get them from a trusted person who does. Luckily, this is fairly easy to do: most cities allow you to raise 3-4 chickens (no roosters), or else you can find eggs from people who are raising them (check your local craigslist and farmer's markets). I found a great website with info about raising city chickens with a great photo gallery of chicken tractors that just might inspire you to build one and raise your own eggs!
One last important note about eggs. Unfortunately, many people have allergies to chicken eggs. This may be in part due to the fact that several vaccines are grown in chicken eggs and, because children receive so many vaccines at an age before the immune system is fully developed, our bodies form an allergic response. If this is the case for you, consider trying some alternative eggs: duck eggs and quail eggs may be an option for you. Just this week, I had quail eggs for the first time: hard boiled with some sea salt and pepper and they were delicious! One of my favorite ways to eat eggs is fried in butter and eaten over quinoa and black beans and topped with sour cream, salsa, avocados, and fresh cilantro. I'll share that recipe in my next post about quinoa… (yeah, I know, it's a shameless plug but hopefully it will keep you reading!)