Eggs, cholesterol, egg safety, egg-cetera.
It seems like every few years eggs flop between the good and bad for you list. Find out the facts below so you can decide what is best for your health.
It seems like depending on the person you are talking to, the day of the week, or which way the wind blows we are hearing a varied story about eggs, our heart health, and cholesterol. There is always research being done on eggs, so we will continue to hear about them for years to come!
What do all of the different ways the chickens are raised mean?
Conventional: Laid by hens in enclosures that also serve as their nesting space.
Cage Free: Hens roam in a building, room or open area that includes nest space and perches.
Pastured Raised: Laid by hens who roam and forage on a maintained pasture area. The USDA does not recognize a labeling definition for pastured eggs as no standards are established.
Free Range: Laid by hens not housed in enclosures and with access to the outdoors. In addition to eating grains, these hens may forage for wild plants and insects.
Certified Organic: Laid by cage-free or free-range hens raised on certified organic feed and have access to the outdoors. The feed is grown without most synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers and 100% of the agricultural ingredients must be certified organic.
'Brown': The color of the egg shell has nothing to do with the egg's nutritional value, quality or flavor. Hens with white feathers and white ear lobes lay white eggs; hens with red feathers and red ear lobes lay brown eggs.
Pasteurized: Eggs heated to a temperature just below the coagulation point to destroy pathogens.
Omega-3 Enriched: Laid by hens fed a special diet rich in omega-3s. These eggs provide more omega-3 fatty acids, from 100 mg to over 600 mg per egg.
Are eggs good for me?
Do eggs have too much cholesterol? How many eggs can I have a day?
I get asked these questions often, especially when I am talking with someone about heart health. The average medium sized egg has approximately 60 calories, 4 grams of fat, 165 mg of cholesterol, 60 mg of sodium, and 6 grams of protein.
In the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they dropped the 300 mg recommendation for cholesterol in favor of a more healthful diet and increased exercise, and focuses more on reducing saturated fats as there is a lack of evidence for a specific amount of cholesterol that may negatively impact your health.
Eating a balanced, varied diet with various lean animal protein and plant protein sources, minimal saturated fat, heart healthy fats, reduced sodium, adequate non-starchy vegetables, and minimal added sugars is always the best option if you have that available. Understanding that even if we eat well, stay hydrated with water, exercise at least 30 minutes every day, have a healthy weight, and no additional comorbidities; we still have out genetics that also come into play. If high cholesterol runs in your family, then we want to be aware of our cholesterol sources. This does not mean no eggs and no red meat. It means watch your portions and frequency.
The American Heart Association, and general consensus recommend no more than 2 eggs per day (including the egg yolk). I talk with my patients about egg use and when needing volume, say for an omelet, use two eggs with the yolk and then add in egg whites for extra volume and protein but no added cholesterol. We also need to think about how we are preparing out eggs and what the toppings are. If we are cooking our eggs in butter, topping it with cheese and salt, we can easily take a high quality protein (13 essential vitamins, several minerals, and all 9 essential amino acids) and make it a heavy-saturated fat-salty flavor bomb that now may have more risks than benefits. To your cardiovascular system, scrambled eggs, salsa, and a 100% whole-wheat English muffin is a far different meal than scrambled eggs with cheese, sausages, home fries, and white toast.
The Harvard School of Public Health states that "to truly assess eggs and heart health, we need to examine how they stack-up to foods we might choose in their place—the classic nutrition substitution analysis. Using some common breakfast options as an example: While eggs may be a much better choice than sugary, refined grain-based options like sweetened breakfast cereals, pancakes with syrup, muffins, or bagels, they may fall short of other options. A bowl of steel-cut oats with nuts and berries, for example, will be a much better choice for heart health than an egg-centric breakfast. Consumption of whole grains and fruit predict lower risk of heart disease, and when it comes to protein, plant sources like nuts and seeds are related to lower cardiovascular and overall mortality, especially when compared to red meat or eggs."
Eggs are a nutrient dense (they are the only food that naturally contains Vitamin D), and cheap option when thinking about budget. On average 1 large egg is $0.16 each, or about $1.93 per dozen. Eggs are abundant and available all year round which help keep the cost low and stable.
Salmonella can effect eggs because the egg exits the hen's body through the same passageway as feces is excreted. That's why eggs are required to be washed at the processing plant. All USDA graded eggs and most large volume processors follow the washing step with a sanitizing rinse at the processing plant. It is also possible for eggs to become infected by Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) fecal contamination through the pores of the shells after they're laid. SE also can be inside an un-cracked, whole egg. Contamination of eggs may be due to bacteria within the hen's reproductive tract before the shell forms around the yolk and white. SE doesn't make the hen sick.
Temperature fluctuation is critical to safety. With the concern about Salmonella, eggs gathered from laying hens should be refrigerated as soon as possible. After eggs are refrigerated, they need to stay that way. A cold egg left out at room temperature can sweat, facilitating the movement of bacteria into the egg and increasing the growth of bacteria. Refrigerated eggs should not be left out more than 2 hours.
1. United States Department of Agriculture. Shell eggs from farm to table. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/egg-products-preparation/shell-eggs-from-farm-to-table/ct_index. Updated 2016. Accessed April 20, 2019.
2. Egg Nutrition Center. Egg nutrition facts label. https://www.eggnutritioncenter.org/egg-nutrition-facts-panels/. Accessed April 20, 2019.
3. American Heart Association. Are eggs good for you or not? https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/08/15/are-eggs-good-for-you-or-not?s=q%253Deggs%2526sort%253Drelevancy. Published August 16, 2018. Updated 2018. Accessed April 20, 2019.
4. Harvard School of Public Health. Eggs. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/eggs/. Accessed April 20, 2019.