Monday, July 20, 2009

Don't Chuck the Yolks!

By Alison

I love eggs. Deviled eggs, egg salad, eggs on a bagel or English muffin, frittatas, French toast... I can go on and on.

Eggs have been praised as a superior source of protein. Equally, they have been chastised for contributing to high blood cholesterol levels. Supermarkets carry them in various sizes, varieties and price ranges. Varieties include organic, cage-free, added omega-3s and white or brown shell colors. They are also available as packaged liquid eggs, containing all egg whites or the whole egg.

Confused on the best pick?

First let's talk size and nutrition information for the whole egg (yolk and white):
  • Medium - 63 calories, 4g fat (1g saturated fat), 186mg cholesterol, 6g protein
  • Large - 71 calories, 5g fat (2g sat fat), 211mg cholesterol, 6g protein
  • Extra Large - 80 calories, 6g fat (2g sat fat), 237mg cholesterol, 7g protein
  • Jumbo - 90 calories, 6g fat (2g sat fat), 266mg cholesterol, 8g protein
Whole eggs are also a good source of selenium, iodine, vitamin B12, B2, and some vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin many of us lack. What other hidden gems do eggs provide? Unfortunately, those who toss the yolks are missing out on some of the greatest egg attributes, not to mention wasting food and money. Here's what anti-yolk folks are missing:

Eggstra Protein
The white of a large egg has 4g of protein. A whole large egg has 6g of protein. So if 4g are in the white, guess where the other 2g are? In the yolk.

Yolks contain choline, which plays an important role in brain and memory function. Some studies show choline is a very important prenatal nutrient for expecting mothers; it aids in developing parts of the brain responsible for learning and memory. A large egg contains 125mg of choline, approximately 22% of an adult's daily needs. More than 90 percent of American adults are deficient in choline. Older Americans are the most deficient. My guess is that the older we get, the more health problems we encounter, such as high cholesterol. The doctor puts you on lipid-lowering meds, tells you to "stop eating so much cholesterol" and sends you on your merry way. So what do you do? Start throwing out yolks or avoiding eggs altogether, thus missing out on a great source of choline.

Lutein & Zeaxanthin
These are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to help decrease the risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults.

So that's what you get if you hold on to them yolks! But what about all these fancy eggs on the market? Are they a better bet?

Once upon a time, you went to the local market and picked up a dozen eggs. There was no thought process involved. Now the egg industry has thoroughly confused us with organic, cage-free, omega-3 enhanced and cholesterol-free packaged eggs (e.g., Egg Beaters or Better 'n Eggs).

Organic eggs come from hens that are fed certified organic grains. No pesticides or fertilizers are used, and growth hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. Cage-free eggs were produced by hens able to run around the barn floor vs. being locked up in a cage. Omega-3 eggs may suggest an image of eggs injected with an omega-3 serum, but these are eggs produced by hens fed a diet rich in flax seed, yielding eggs rich in not only anti-inflammatory omega-3s, but in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. In all cases, you will get the same nutrition and health benefits from these fancy eggs as you would from a regular egg. The only exception is that regular eggs do not have omega-3s, so this is the added bonus you get from omega-3 enhanced eggs (and you will pay for it too, but it may be worth it if you're not a fish eater).

And what about brown or white? Ever since nutrition news has been singing the praises of complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread, suddenly everyone thinks any food that is brown is better. Not true. Brown eggs and white eggs have the same nutritional value. The only difference is brown vs. white eggs come from different breeds of hen. Brown does not equal a healthier egg.

Finally, I must address the cholesterol issue. The major culprit in high blood cholesterol is saturated fat in the diet. Foods high in saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, the skin on chicken, whole and 2% milk, cream sauces, ice cream, cheese and butter. Cholesterol from the diet, found in food such as egg yolks and shellfish, do not effect blood cholesterol levels as much as saturated fats. Patients with high cholesterol should keep dietary cholesterol intakes to no more than 300mg per day, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

So where do eggs fit in? If you suffer from high cholesterol, try keeping egg yolk intake to 2-3 yolks per week maximum. This way, you will reap all the benefits the yolk has to offer without consuming too much saturated fat and cholesterol. Also keep in mind the way your eggs are prepared. Fried eggs, omelets with cheese, eggs served with hash browns or bacon will significantly increase the amount of saturated fat in your diet. So don't always blame the poor, defenseless yolk when it's accompanied by a side dish of fat-laden grease!

To decrease yolk intake, but not cut them out entirely, try making an omelet or egg salad using one whole egg combined with a few egg whites. Also, try alternating between whole eggs and packaged eggs such as Egg Beaters. They are made from real eggs, mostly whites, and get the yellow-orange coloring from beta carotene, not dye. Some packaged egg substitutes are all whites, others have yolks. The all white varieties contain no cholesterol.

Eggs are a great way to start your day, as the high protein content will keep you full longer. You could make deviled eggs as appetizers, egg salad with hummus instead of mayo for lunch, frittatas loaded with veggies, French toast with whole wheat bread, and even an omelet for dinner.

I'm making a frittata tonight for dinner with chopped peppers, scallions, green beans and some low fat cheese. What about you?

Eggs. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from The World's Healthiest Foods Web site:

Nutrition Facts. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from Nutrition Data Web site:

Tsang, Gloria (2008, February). Eggs Nutrition: Are some eggs healthier than others?. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from Web site:

Zelman, K.M. (2005, March 1). Good Eggs: For Nutrition, They're Hard to Beat. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from WebMD Web site:

Image from: Whole Foods Market

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