The United States is currently producing around 75 billion eggs per year to satisfy our nation’s craving for this ubiquitous breakfast staple. We’ve been cooking up eggs for generations and it’s no surprise why.
What more could you ask for from such a small source of food?
However, not everyone believes in these astonishing little guys. Eggs have a bad reputation for being unhealthy due to their high amount of cholesterol. But by digging a little deeper, you’ll discover that eggs are quite healthy for you and shouldn’t be shunned from your diet.
What is cholesterol?
Let’s discuss cholesterol for a minute before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the great egg debate. It’s important to understand what cholesterol is and how it works in our bodies.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute describes cholesterol as a “waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body.”
Sounds pretty gross, but stay with me for a second.
Our bodies naturally produce cholesterol in order to survive. From hormone production to helping us digest food, our bodies use cholesterol for a multitude of internal functions on a daily basis. In fact, we produce about one to two grams of cholesterol on our own.
Cholesterol is then transported through the body in tiny packages known as lipoproteins. You may have heard the term lipoproteins as it relates to “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
Essentially, we have two types of lipoproteins inside our bodies: low-density lipoproteins known as LDL, and high-density lipoproteins known as HDL. The LDL are considered “bad” since elevated levels in the body can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries. This buildup impedes the flow of blood from your heart and can eventually lead to heart disease.
The high-density lipoproteins are considered “good” due to the fact that they act like small messengers carrying cholesterol from many parts of the body to the liver where it is then removed.
The biggest concern when it comes to cholesterol is having too much of it in your body.
When you consume foods high in cholesterol, your body automatically produces less of it in an effort to compensate for the influx. Depending on factors like genetics, diet, and lifestyle, our bodies start autocorrecting for this flood of outside cholesterol and produce more LDLs than HDLs. This imbalance could mean trouble.
So how did eggs get to be the poster child for high cholesterol foods?
According to Medical News Today, an average large egg contains about 164mg of cholesterol. Since the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests a daily amount of 300mg of cholesterol, eating two eggs for breakfast exceeds your entire daily limit.
I know that sounds bad, but there’s also some good news.
Eggs are essential
Eggs are extremely rich in protein.
A single egg contains around 5.53g of protein and supplies you with all eight essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of our biological processes and play a crucial role in our body’s functioning.
On top of that, Medical News Today reports 15 more reasons to eat eggs. Every time you eat an egg you’re also consuming:
- Vitamins A, B2, B12, B5, D, E
- Folic Acid
This combination of nutrients and vitamins will have you feeling energized plus helps to speed up your metabolism.
“The protein within eggs helps keep muscles working well while slowing the rate at which they are lost,” according to Medical News Today.
Why would anyone want to turn down all of those benefits?
So let’s say you’re finally ready to start enjoying eggs again. Before you build that chicken coop in the backyard, let’s set some limits.
Should you eat eggs every day?
However, I don’t believe you should eat the same thing every day no matter how healthy it is for you.
Dr. Susan Roberts puts it perfectly in this Time article, “No one food has all the nutrients we need in the optimum amounts, so eating a variety of foods means you are much more likely to get enough of each one.”
So besides getting bored with the same menu every day, your body will also end up missing out on the assortment of nutrients it needs in order to operate efficiently.
You can but shouldn’t eat eggs, or anything else for that matter, every day.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to a healthful diet is moderation.
Now that you put eggs back on your shopping list, you’ll need to determine which type of eggs to buy.
Which eggs are right for you?
You’re at the grocery store standing in front of a wall of Styrofoam, plastic, and cardboard egg cartons trying to figure out which ones you should buy.
You may compare the varieties based on brand, price, color, size, or even what’s been commercially advertised to you.
But do you know which eggs are really better for you? All eggs are not created equally and some are better for your health than others.
Here’s what you need to know:
Egg cartons labeled with Omega-3s means that the hens were fed a diet mixed with flaxseed, algae, or fish oil. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are necessary for any healthy diet. But since our bodies don’t produce Omega-3s on their own, we need to supplement our diets with outside sources from fish and plants.
Choosing to eat eggs with Omega-3s is like supercharging your food to the healthiest extreme. Plus, eggs with Omega-3s are way tastier than the tuna omelet alternative.
If you can afford it, buy organic eggs. You’ll notice a slight increase in price when it comes to these, but the additional cost is well worth it. The hens producing organic eggs eat a diet free of pesticides and fertilizers. The hens also abstain from antibiotics and hormones.
Organic eggs will surprise you if you’ve never had them before. Besides their amazing flavor, organic eggs also look different.
“The first thing I noticed [about organic eggs] is that the yolks were a darker orange,” Matthews admitted.
Most of the egg yolks we’re used to are bright yellow. While it may come across as strange at first, a dark orange yolk is about as nutrient rich as you’re going to get.
Free-range versus Cage-free
Eggs labeled free-range or cage-free at your local store may sound similar, but their slight differences are enough to take note of.
Free-range hens have the pleasure of exploring the great outdoors (or more likely, their small farm). Unlike traditional hens, these guys don’t have the misfortune of living in a crammed commercial chicken coop trying to fend off diseases. They have the option of shelter and can move around as they please.
Buying cage-free eggs can be somewhat tricky. Technically, cage-free hens cannot live in typical commercial cages, but the hens are still packed in tightly close quarters indoors. They can roam around their small corner of the farm and lay their eggs in a prebuilt nesting perch system. The size of this area is completely different at each farm.
Egg varieties depend completely on your personal preferences. I tend to taste a noticeable difference between organic, free-range eggs when compared to conventional ones, but that’s only my opinion.
Now that you’ve mastered purchasing your eggs, you may be wondering how to prepare them the healthiest way.
How should I cook my eggs?
Whenever I’m asked how to prepare eggs, I always revert to an answer from Jillian Michaels.
Michaels could not have said it better when she pointed out that “if you’re frying your eggs in saturated-fat-laden butter and serving them with saturated-fat-laden bacon— they will have a negative impact on your cholesterol levels. Instead, heat olive oil on low heat in a cast-iron skillet to cook your egg the healthiest way.”
Trust me, cooking eggs in olive oil may seem like a weird combination, but since olive oil is packed with heart healthy fats and antioxidants, it’s a powerful and delicious combination. (keep it light on the oil)
Now that we’ve covered eggs inside and out, I think it’s worth mentioning that eggs are not the only cholesterol raising foods out there.
Foods that raise cholesterol
Some high cholesterol items you’ll want to limit your intake of include:
- Cheddar cheese
- Half and half
When it comes to cheese and dairy, opting for low fat versions instead of the full fat ones is a tiny change that will make a significant impact on your health.
Cholesterol lowering foods
A healthy way to counteract high cholesterol foods is to consume foods that help lower your cholesterol as well.
For example, if you know that you’ll be cooking shrimp for dinner, plan to have oatmeal for breakfast. These heart healthy oats are known to lower LDL levels by as much as 5.3% in a six week span.
You can also lower your cholesterol levels by eating walnuts. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition via Prevention, by consuming around 1.5 oz of walnuts for six days each week for an entire month, participants in the study lowered their total cholesterol by 5.4%. Even better, the participants’ LDL levels dropped roughly 9.3%.
When you’re ready to take a break from walnuts and oatmeal, you can also reach for a serving of beans. By adding half a cup of beans to your diet each week, you may see a drop as high as 8% in your LDL levels.
Lastly, you can also drink your way to lower cholesterol levels thanks to the lipids found in black tea. The USDA proved that by consuming black tea for about three weeks, there might be up to a 10% reduction in blood lipids.
Eating conscientiously is not for the lazy. You should always try to research the food you’re going to eat to learn how it will affect your body’s performance. While there’s no perceivable harm from a diet filled with eggs, try to eat them in moderation like anything else. Following a mindful diet takes planning – it’s ok to consume high cholesterol food as long as you balance it out with a food known to lower cholesterol as well.
Our bodies need cholesterol to function so don’t be scared of cooking with eggs. As we’ve learned, eggs are an egg-cellent source of essential vitamins, nutrients, and amino acids that help our bodies complete complex tasks properly, build strong muscles, and give us energy to get us through the day.
Let’s hear from you. How many eggs do you eat each week?