Can eggs be part of a heart healthy diet?
According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, eggs don't deserve the bad reputation they've received over past 40 years. In fact, eggs fit perfectly into an overall healthy diet.
"But aren't eggs loaded in cholesterol?" you may ask.
While it's true that one egg contains a bit more than 200 mg of cholesterol (which would be more than half of the suggested total daily amount for an average adult), eating eggs does not raise the blood cholesterol level in most humans. No link has been found between egg consumption and heart disease or stroke! On the contrary, eggs are rich in nutrients that may actually promote heart health. Other benefits of eating eggs include:
- For pregnant women, eggs provide nutrients that may support healthy fetal brain development and help prevent birth defects.
- For the rest of us, eggs contain nutrients that help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Eggs are also a good low-calorie source of protein for muscle development and, since the high protein content is good at satisfying hunger, eggs fit well into a weight-management diet.
For healthy people, including one or two eggs into their daily diet is a smart food choice. If you still have cholesterol concerns, the yolks can be removed since they contain all of the fat and cholesterol.
So, the next time you're planning a meal or just looking for something to prepare in a hurry -- whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner -- consider eggs. They are relatively inexpensive, delicious tasting, easy to chew and easy to digest. They store well in the refrigerator and are simple and fast to prepare. But best of all, they're healthy!
- Store eggs in their original container inside the refrigerator. When it comes to shelf life, they age as much in one day on the counter as they would in one week in the refrigerator. And storing them on a refrigerator shelf rather than on the door will minimize dramatic changes in temperature and opportunity for breakage. If an egg is cracked or dirty, it should be discarded since there is a chance that bacteria have penetrated the protective shell.
- Refrigerated eggs are normally safe to consume for even up to two to three weeks after the expiration date on the container.
- If you are curious about the freshness of an egg, one way to test it is to carefully drop the egg into a cold glass of water. A fresh egg will sit flat on its side at the bottom of the cup. A slightly older egg will stand on its point at the bottom of the cup. This means that it has a little more age on it, though it should still be safe for consumption. In fact, eggs that stand on the bottom of the cup of water work best for hard boiling since air has developed between the egg contents and the shell. This means that peeling the shell will be easier than if you used a fresher egg. If the egg floats, it's time for it to be discarded.
What's best... free-range eggs, all natural, organic, etc.?
When it comes to egg labeling, the phrases often mean very little and can even be misleading. Here's how to interpret some of the more common phrases you may see on egg cartons. (According to FDA regulations, descriptions printed on the egg carton labels must be complied with -- though the definitions in most cases are extremely loosely defined.):
- All Natural: May sound good but the phrase is unregulated and the chickens may still be raised in cages, debeaked and treated with antibiotics.
- Farm Fresh: Another marketing buzz-phrase with no regulated definition.
- No Hormones: Purely a marketing phrase: USDA regulations prohibit use of hormones for ANY egg-layers.
The following six phrases have at least some meaning or significance since FDA labeling law prohibit false labeling (though the definitions for each phrase are very open to interpretation):
- Fertile Eggs: This means that the flock includes roosters are included in the flock and have access to the hens. There is no guarantee that the hen has been mated, however, and the USDA says that there is no nutritional benefit for consumers to eat fertilized chicken eggs.
- Omega-3: An important component in the human diet, Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to support heart, brain, and eyes health and more. Often, you may also see it mentioned on egg cartons, since hens fed a mash that's supplemented with flaxseed, algae or fish oil can produce eggs with 10-12 times the typical levels of Omega-3 while hens that are merely pasture-raised produce eggs are 2-2.5 times higher than traditionally raised eggs. Unfortunately, even at these levels, eggs still pale in comparison to the levels of Omega-3 that we receive from eating cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. So, eggs boasting Omega-3 do not, most likely, justify their premium price.
- Vegetarian: Ironically, this is an indicator that the hens were raised indoors, since pasture-raised hens most likely have access to bugs and worms which do not fit into a vegetarian diet.
- Cage-Free: While this does mean that the birds may not be raised in a cage, it may not mean that they have outdoor access or that they are not tightly crowded in the laying facility. Interpretation can vary greatly. Compliance is verified by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.
- Free-Range: While this means that the birds have access to outdoors - the amount of time and space allowed to them outdoors are not defined. Compliance is verified by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.
- Pasture-Raised: Suggests that hens are raised outdoors and rotated to fresh fields periodically -- depending on season and age of birds. Compliance is not USDA regulated or verified. However, FDA regulations prohibit misleading claims on the packaging so the phrase does have some significance.
Phrase on egg cartons with the most significance:
- Certified Organic: Unlike most of the other phrases, organic does mean something and is strictly defined. According to USDA rules, "certified organic" eggs indicate that the hens were raised cage-free, with outdoor access and fed organic, vegetarian feed. Though this may mean what you probably think, large, industrial facilities do only the very minimum needed to meet the letter of the law.
Private certification organization labels may be the best indicators of an animal's welfare.
In order to give the above marketing phrase more clearly defined parameters, egg producers may choose to become certified by one of the following non-government entities add an extra layer of inspections on the farm and confidence to the consumer. Though, once again, their criteria for compliance vary quite a lot. Of these, United Egg Producers Certified appears to be the least demanding while Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, and Global Animal Partnership, American Humane Certified, Food Alliance place a range of restrictions on how the birds must be raised and cared for. You can learn more about the meaning behind each of these labels at http://www.aspca.org/take-action/help-farm-animals/meat-eggs-dairy-label-guide.