Sometimes, in the midst of protein shakes, special nutritional drinks and food bars, we lose sight of a treasure found right beneath our noses (or, in our refrigerators). It can be to easy to get jazzed up by a new product, or a newly “discovered” exotic berry ( brought half way around the world for our convenience), but it is also easy to forget that we have foods in our culture, easily obtained, that also can be a powerhouse of nutrition.
Eggs are one such food. Because we are so familiar with eggs, we can miss the significance of their impact on our health. Other cultures who do not have as much access to meat, depend highly on eggs. It provides not only protein but key nutrients as well. Eggs also have the great benefit of being a cheap protein! Let me tell you a little what I have been finding out about eggs.
Eggs are good for your eyes.
In particular, egg yolks are rich in the pigment zeaxanthin, which seems to help protect eyes from macular degeneration — a deterioration of a key part of the retina at the back of the eye — a leading cause of blindness in people over 65.
Phil Lempert “Today” Food Editor
Studies have shown that people eating two eggs at breakfast will feel full longer (and, therefore, not need to snack) than someone eating equal calories of another breakfast food. Eggs aren’t high in calories anyway at 75-80 calories per egg, but they provide satisfaction. My guess would be this is because they are so dense in nutrients and nourishing fats.
Eggs are high in Vitamins and Minerals
Rich in Choline-for brain development
One large egg contains 251 milligrams of choline—more than half of a woman’s daily requirements. An essential nutrient especially for pregnant women and women of childbearing age, choline plays a key role in the brain development of unborn babies and even affects their memory later in life.
Rich in Vit K, for blood clotting
Eggs are also a rich source of vitamin K. One large egg contains 25 micrograms about one-third of the daily recommended amount for women. Vitamin K is a key nutrient in blood clotting.
Heidi Reichenberger McIndoo, MS, RD
Rich in a wide spectrum of essential nutrients
“Eggs are packed with a range of nutrients including protein, essential vitamins A, D, E, and B group as well as minerals iron, phosphorus and zinc…
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods money can buy. They contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals and protein. In particular, they contain B vitamins that perform many vital functions in the body and are especially rich in vitamin B2 riboflavin, important in the release of energy in the body, and vitamin B12 needed for normal blood formation.
Eggs are a source of vitamin D, which is involved in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and is necessary for bone health. They also contain vitamin A – essential for normal growth and development and vitamin E that is necessary for cell protection from the damage caused by free radicals.
Eggs contain many essential minerals, in particular phosphorus, essential for healthy teeth and bones, as well as iron, which is essential for red blood cell formation and zinc, for the normal function of the immune system.
Trace elements are also present in eggs, especially iodine, required to make thyroid hormones, and selenium, an important antioxidant. Antioxidants work by preventing the damage caused by uncontrolled oxidation in the body and are believed to help protect against diseases such as heart disease and some cancers.”
Eat “Pastured” Eggs
However, do keep in mind that not all eggs are equal. It is no surprise that chickens kept in confined space and given nutritionally inferior food have inferior eggs compared to chickens allowed to scratch around outside and eat the grubs, worms, and insects they were designed to eat.
At Mother Earth News, they tested “pastured” or free range eggs, and found a big difference in cholesterol, fat, and vitamin content. It’s also of interest to note that pastured eggs have a much better balance of omega 3 to 6 fats, which is very important for our health.
A few things to keep in mind about the difference between eggs in the stores. Organic eggs are chickens who have been feed organic feed, but that doesn’t mean they are free range chickens. They can be just as confined as other chickens, but are given better feed. Vegetarian eggs means that the chickens were feed no animal products, but it also means that they weren’t eating any grubs and insects and are also not free-range eggs. Cage free eggs indicates that the chickens have better living quarters and aren’t jammed into small cages, but they are usually cage free and running around in a warehouse. Once again, not necessarily a huge advantage nutritionally for their eggs. Even eggs labeled “free range” aren’t necessarily benefiting from abundant feeding on insects and other natural food, because they are free “ranging” in a outside yard that no longer contains anything of value for them to eat (they live off of feed instead). Omega 3 eggs are given feed (including, often, flax seeds) that increase the omega 3’s in the eggs. These may be the best choice in the store, though that’s up for debate.
However, the best source would be getting eggs from a local farmer who allows them to “free range” or “pastures” his chickens. These chickens will often be moved around in a portable wire cage that allows them to eat bugs (which, believe it not, is what makes these eggs so nutritionally superior). I have found that my eggs from one such egg farmer are so different than even the expensive eggs in the store. The yolk is so much more orange in color, instead of a pale yellow. They even cook differently (they won’t dry out as quickly).
You can try to find such farmers by visiting farmer’s markets, looking out for signs while driving through the countryside, or word of mouth. Make sure you ask your farmer questions as to how they are raised, however. Or you can raise them yourself!
But just do the best you can. I have often had to eat eggs that weren’t the ideal. I think trying to find the best source possible is worth your time, but don’t avoid them, if you have to eat second best.
What about Cholesterol?
And finally, I can’t end this post without at least mentioning cholesterol. It would take a few posts to really explain why I am not very concerned about the cholesterol content of eggs. If you are interesting in finding out more about this topic, I recommend reading Real Food: What to eat and why, by Nina Planck . But let me give you a few thoughts (of the many out there) that will hopefully spur you on to further study.
Reasons I eat eggs even though they have cholesterol. 1-There are a large amount of doctors, cardiologists, and researchers who do not agree that cholesterol causes heart disease 2- A study showed that eating two eggs a day didn’t effect blood cholesterol anyway. 3- Eggs have been traditionally thought of as a nourishing, healthy food. It has only been in recent years that they have gotten a bad rap. It’s the wisdom of many years past against the wisdom of new fangled ideas (do we really think those cartons of egg whites are better for our health?).
In closing, and upcoming posts
Eggs, a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients, can be an important part of a nourishing diet.
To celebrate the egg, this week I will be sharing some of my favorite egg recipes. I love the recipes I have to share with you. They all show a different method of preparation and use for this wonderful food. French, Indian, and Greek flavors will be showcased, as well. Eggs are not only nutritionally dense, but they can also be a cornerstone to good cooking!