Written By: Geri Wohl, CNC
Have you been staring at the egg cartons and wondering which carton you should buy? Should you buy cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, omega 3-enriched or organic? Should eggs be part of your diet especially if you are worried about high cholesterol?
Eggs have been consumed around the globe since the earliest days of human civilization. Not only have they been an integral part of our diet, they have also played a symbolic role in many religions. Eggs symbolize birth, rebirth, longevity and immortality. For example, in both the Christian and Jewish faiths, eggs play a symbolic role in the Easter and Passover holidays. Since both are spring holidays, the rebirth of the land comes into play. But let’s go over some questions that may be forefront in your mind about these oval wonders.
Should eggs be consumed as part of the diet?
Eggs are an easy to way to incorporate protein into one’s diet. And the protein is complete meaning that it has all the essential amino acids that the body needs. For more about the importance of protein, see my article, “Benefits of Breakfast.” In fact, eggs are used as the reference against other proteins because of their nutritional properties. One egg has about 70 calories. Eggs are also high in all the B vitamins especially choline. They contain iodine, selenium and vitamin A as well.
What’s the difference between white and brown eggs? And why do brown eggs cost more?
There is no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs. The shell color is based on the type of hens laying the eggs. Those hens with white ear lobes and typically white feathers lay white-shelled eggs. Hens with red ear lobes usually have brown feathers and lay brown-shelled eggs. The higher cost of brown eggs is due to the hens being larger and consuming more food and needing more maintenance.
Do eggs have more cholesterol and cause heart disease?
The general public has shunned eggs for many years due to the belief that eggs would elevate one’s overall cholesterol numbers. However, some current research is finding that the cholesterol in eggs does not increase one’s overall serum (blood) cholesterol. Another study found that egg consumption actually raised HDL, our “good cholesterol”. Also noteworthy is the importance of cholesterol throughout the body. This much-maligned compound is the precursor substance in manufacturing all the sex and steroid hormones, bile and vitamin D. It is also a key component of every cell membrane in the body ensuring that nutrients flow efficiently into and out of the cells.
Are egg yolks or egg whites better for you?
Egg yolks are one of the richest sources of B vitamins, especially choline. Choline is one of the key structural components of the cell membrane. Thus, you can understand why cholesterol is so important for the membrane integrity. Choline also is an essential player in the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which is responsible for heart, muscular and intestinal communications. One egg yolk provides 25% to 33% of the daily intake of choline. Quite impressive for one egg yolk! The yolk also contains the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, both important in eye health. Egg whites are low in calories and possess most of the protein found in eggs. The whites also are high in vitamins B2 and B3, selenium and to a lesser degree manganese, magnesium and potassium. Better to have the complete egg.
What about the omega 3 content in eggs?
Omega 3 fats are found in virtually all egg yolks. The amount of omega 3s varies by the hen’s diet. When eggs are labeled “omega 3-enriched”, it indicates that the feed has been supplemented with additional omega 3s in the form of flaxseed. Flaxseed is fairly expensive so you will find these eggs will be more costly. When eggs are pastured, the omega 3 fats are from foraged foods such as alfalfa and clover. For more about omega 3 fats, see my article, “Fearful Fats.”
What are pastured eggs and what are their benefits?
Pastured eggs are from hens that are outdoors eating their natural diet of seeds, grasses, legumes, insects and worms. Pastured eggs typically have less cholesterol in their yolks, 25% less saturated fat, 66% more vitamin A (as seen in the intense orange colored yolk), two times more omega 3 fats, three times more vitamin E and seven times more beta-carotene than conventionally-raised eggs. Pastured eggs will provide more nutritional benefits. You can become one of the growing number of people raising their own chickens and know exactly what is going into your eggs. Or, typically these eggs can be purchased at farmers’ markets or specialty markets. Sigona’s Farmers Market exclusively has local Wattle & Comb pastured eggs from Pescadero.
What do the different labels mean?
- Cage-free: The hens are un-caged inside and rarely go outdoors for their normal activities. With no sunshine, their vitamin D levels will probably be reduced.
- Free range: The hens have access to the outdoors although they stay mostly indoors.
- Vegetarian-fed: The hens are fed a vegetarian diet of mainly soy and corn, typically GM (genetically modified). This diet is not the natural hen’s diet.
- Natural: This is meaningless as all eggs are natural.
- Hormone-free: This is also meaningless as all hens are prohibited from receiving any hormones.
- Certified organic: The hens cannot be caged and must have access outdoors. Their feed must be certified organic and antibiotics are prohibited.
- Omega-3 enriched: The feed is enriched with omega 3s resulting in the eggs containing twice the amount of omega 3s than conventional eggs.
- Pastured: Hens range and forage outside eating their typical diet. The result is a more nutritionally dense egg.
What does the grade of eggs mean?
The grade of eggs is based on their cleanliness, firmness and thickness of the whites, the absence of yolk defects and the size of the air sac inside the shell. The best score is AA. The shelf life is related to the egg grade. Typically, refrigerated eggs will last for three weeks. If eggs have a foul odor, throw them out.
What is best way to store eggs?
Store bought eggs should always be refrigerated as soon as possible. The fresher the eggs, the better. Eggs should be stored in their original carton to prevent loss of moisture and to prevent picking up any odors. Eggs should not be stored in the refrigerator door since the eggs will be exposed to heat loss. Store eggs with the pointed end down to preserve the air sac.
Eggs are a great addition to one’s overall diet and can be prepared in many ways. For a delicious egg recipe, try my vegetable frittata on my recipes page. Bon Appetit!
© Geri Wohl, CNC