“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
“He’s a bad egg.”
“Make sure to have a nest egg for retirement!”
Since time immemorial, the humble egg has been the subject of metaphors, proverbs, Shakespearean insults, and metaphysical questions about causality and the nature of existence (Which came first? The chicken or the egg?). And the one fact about eggs that we have in common with our forebears over the course of centuries: eggs are yummy.
But it isn’t just that eggs are delicious that has made per capita egg consumption increase by nearly 20% over the last 20 years. Nor is it simply the fact that there are seemingly endless ways to prepare them found in virtually every cuisine and style anywhere in the world. What makes eggs especially appealing to so many are their health benefits.
Are Eggs Actually Good for You?
But are eggs actually healthy? Anyone would be forgiven for asking the question, especially given how many often contradictory reports come out about the dangers or virtues of any given food. Products of all kinds, from red wine to avocados to bread, have at one time or another found fans and detractors who are eager to make their case.
This confusing phenomenon happens because nutritional science has continued to evolve over the years. Over time, new research has been done to study the relationships between diet and health, and the methods and underlying assumptions can vary based on the aim of the study or even the funding source of the study. So it isn’t surprising that conventional wisdom about the relative value of eggs has morphed.
Prior to the 1980s, eggs were regularly consumed in the United States as part of a “balanced” breakfast that included classic items like bacon, sausage, and buttered toast. By the early 90s, however, when the number of obese Americans began to increase precipitously, nutritional scientists had already begun to focus on fat and cholesterol content in foods as a primary cause.
It was during this time that consumption of eggs (with their 186mg of cholesterol) began to drop over fears of their effect on heart disease and weight gain. This focus on fat content led to an explosion of low-fat or non-fat versions of almost every kind of food. Eggs were no exception; products like “Egg Beaters,” an egg white-based alternative to regular eggs, became increasingly popular.
In recent years, though, research has shifted the attention away from fat and cholesterol and towards added sugar and other carbohydrates as the likely culprits of the obesity epidemic. Indeed, an increasing number of nutrition studies have found little evidence that erstwhile ‘villains’ like dietary cholesterol are the actual cause of an increase in blood cholesterol.
The new prevailing wisdom is that eating eggs in moderation (up to one egg per day) really is a healthy addition to a balanced diet. In only 78 calories, an extra-large egg (also sometimes referred to as a jumbo egg) has 6 grams of protein and a host of other essential vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin B12, and riboflavin. Additionally, eggs also have amino acids and a nutrient called choline, which is thought to improve metabolism and liver function.
Eggs and Cholesterol: What to Know About Their Relationship
For those who watch what they eat and are concerned about the content of their food, it can still be difficult to discern what to do when it comes to food like eggs. Overall, whole eggs are an extremely efficient vehicle for a wide variety of beneficial nutrients; for example, one large egg contains 12% of the protein and 20% of the riboflavin recommended by the FDA (daily values based on a 2,000 calorie diet).
Yet eggs also have 60-70% of the recommended daily intake of cholesterol (mostly in the egg yolks), a concerning number for anyone worried about his or her cholesterol levels. As perhaps an indicator of the uncertainty about whether that is a “bad thing,” in 2013 a joint task force from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association removed a cholesterol cap from their heart health-related dietary recommendations.
The unfortunate truth is that scientists aren’t totally sure whether dietary cholesterol will actually increase your levels of LDL (the “bad” kind of cholesterol that leads to arterial plaque buildup). What scientists are reasonably confident about is that foods with high cholesterol content are also usually high in saturated fat, and the link between saturated fat consumption and high LDL in the blood is more established.
This distinction between cholesterol and saturated fat is part of what has led many scientists and agencies like the USDA and FDA to change their tune on whether or not eggs are healthy. Though an egg has a considerable amount of cholesterol for its size, it only has 8% of the recommended daily values of saturated fat (1.5g out of 5g total fat). The bottom line is that the potential health benefits of eggs outweigh any negative effect that comes from the relatively low saturated fat content.
Adding Eggs to Your Diet
Armed with the knowledge that eggs aren’t going to kill you—and in fact, have tons of beneficial nutrients at the same time as providing a feeling of fullness after eating. The next important question is: how do I incorporate eggs into my diet? Unless you have type 2 diabetes or heart disease or another condition that is sensitive to the consumption of saturated fat, a safe serving size is approximately 1 egg per day or 7 eggs per week.
How to cook them? As an extremely versatile food, there are almost endless possibilities. The basic ways to prepare eggs include scrambled, hard-boiled, soft boiled, poached, or fried. Eggs can of course also be made into an omelet, frittata or quiche. There are countless amazing recipes, but to get you started, here are some healthy and delicious ideas:
- Spinach and mushroom scrambled eggs
- Green veggie frittata (can include spinach, zucchini, kale, etc.)
- Broccoli and cheese omelet
- Jalapeno egg salad
- Poached eggs with asparagus
- Southwest hash with sweet potato and avocado
- Chicken and veggie egg casserole
Besides these dishes that traditionally feature eggs, there are also many different ways to incorporate eggs into other dishes that don’t typically feature eggs:
- As a binding agent in casseroles or crab cakes (also increases protein content)
- Fried egg on a sandwich
- Baked into an avocado
- On a “breakfast pizza”
- Quinoa salad
- With lentils
- With brussels sprouts
- Hard-boiled egg in soup
- On a bagel
The key to keeping these options healthy is to forego some of the add-ons that people traditionally associate with eggs like butter, bacon, or cheese. While anything in moderation is OK, your healthy egg dish can become very unhealthy in a hurry if you’re not mindful of the other ingredients.
Eggs as Part of a Healthy Diet Towards Weight Loss
As wonderful as eggs are, they aren’t magically going to make you more healthy. However, eggs can become an integral part of anyone’s journey towards a healthier (and trimmer body). The biggest benefit of eggs in your diet is that they pack a lot of protein and good fatty acids into a very calorically low package. Because of their low number of calories, when prepared properly, eggs can be part of a diet geared towards weight loss (and just general health).
One of the related benefits is the feeling of fullness that can come from eggs being a good source of protein. Our bodies process proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in different ways. Carbs are the easiest to digest and break down, so that’s why you might feel hungrier sooner after eating a carb-intensive meal. Protein, on the other hand, requires more time to be broken down, so it stays in your system longer and makes you feel full longer. And it’s this feeling of fullness that can help you avoid hunger cravings, especially the kind of cravings that might send you right back to higher calorie options that are often within easy reach.
As with any diet, it’s important to regularly read the nutrition facts on labels in order to make sure you’re finding balance. Fully eliminating fat isn’t actually healthy, particularly since our bodies need some fat to function. Eggs are a great choice to add to your diet because they have fewer calories vs the amount of protein as well as containing other important nutrients.
If you’re looking for help in developing a weight loss plan or would like more information about how to select healthy foods, contact NEW You Weight Loss to learn about their personalized weight loss solutions.