Can eggs be part of a heart healthy diet?
Posted in Health & Wellness on June 18, 2011. Last modified on April 15, 2020. Read disclaimer.
Most Popular Topics:
- Aren't eggs high in cholesterol?
- Should eggs be refrigerated?
- What's best -- free-range, cage-free or organic?
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.
Why Don't Europeans Refrigerate Eggs?
Large egg producers in the United States are required to wash, sanitize and dry eggs and then immediately refrigerate them in order to minimize the threat of salmonella and other bacteria passing from feces into the egg through its porous shell. And this makes sense since, in the US, large producers often stack hen cages on top of one another.
This cleaning process, however, removes the shell's natural, protein-rich cuticle which 1) provides bacteria protection and 2) locks in protective moisture and gases.
European EU law, on the other hand, prohibits producers from washing eggs, which means that growers must make hygiene a top priority. In fact, European health experts feel that improperly washed eggs become even more vulnerable to bacterial contamination.
Also, EU law discourages growers and retailers from refrigerating eggs before sale. This is because refrigerated eggs can easily accumulate condensation as they move from the supermarket to the hot car and into your home. This shell moisture (sweat) can then encourage bacterial growth on the shell.
What about eggs purchased from local farmers here in the US? Assuming the farmer follows good hygiene practices and holds the eggs at room temperature (pretty much according to the practices required by law in Europe), you should be OK leaving those eggs on the kitchen counter at room temperature (68°-77°). Just be sure to consume them within 2-3 weeks since an egg's natural defenses get weaker as it ages.
Forbes: Why American Eggs Would Be Illegal In A British Supermarket, And Vice Versa
NY Times: Why Do Americans Refrigerate Their Eggs?
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.):
Phrases with very little, or no meaning:
- 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.
An interesting thing to note about omega-3 is that there are 3 types and the type is as important as the amounts. For instance, I see that the label on Organic Valley Large Omega-3 eggs says that 60mg of the 225mg you mentioned comes in the form of DHA. The label on Dream Almond Beverage says it contains 1,300mg of ALA fats but it makes no mention of DHA. ALA (which is plentiful in nuts and seeds) is primarily used by the body for energy... though we have a limited ability to convert it to DHA and EPA (which we most commonly get from eating cold-water fish). And, according to USNews, the research confirming heart-health benefits of DHA and EPA is more convincing than that of ALA. I've submitted the comment form on the Dream website, asking for the DHA and EPA content. I hope to post their reply.
Perhaps one of the reasons that people who eat eggs regularly have a greater chance of developing narrowing of the arteries is that they are also more likely to also be eating bacon, sausage and biscuits with gravy.