Welcome back to another post on the It’s OK! Series!
Today we are talking about eggs: the good, the bad, the huh? And everything else.
Most of us grew up eating eggs, usually as a breakfast item. We ate them with bread, milk, perhaps some bacon and sausage among other things. All in all a pretty normal breakfast for a first world country.
In the 1980s when the fat-free craze took over, eggs were soon demonized for their fat content and cholesterol. These days, many still have a fear of eggs. Most dieters eat only the egg whites and discard the yolk to avoid fat and keep the higher protein content. While this is up to each person, I hope that by the end of this article you will know why you should eat the whole egg and not just part of it, because...it's ok!
Me and eggs
As a child I grew up very poor and subsisted on eggs and porridge for breakfast. We ate scrambled eggs stretched with milk or water to save money. The eggs turned out rubbery and watery. They were also cooked in huge iron pans, leaving parts of the egg stained with a greenish gray tint because of scrapings from the iron pot. I stopped eating eggs altogether for years because of how disgusted I was of them. I couldn't stand the sight or smell.
In my mid 20s I tried eating eggs again but couldn't. So I jumped on the fat-free craze and ate only the egg whites. At the time I was deathly afraid of fat, but also the only part I could stomach were the whites. The yolks were too much for me, it gave me bad memories from childhood.
These days in my 30s, I will have fresh eggs from the farmer's market 2-3 times a week. I eat them mostly for breakfast, and I eat the yolk soft (there is a lot of debate as to runny vs hard for optimum protein intake, but a good rule of thumb is to have a soft-boiled yolk consistency), cooked on low heat to retain its nutrients.
I also use eggs to cook with. I have an entire recipe site filled with egg recipes, both as meal or part of an ingredient for a dish. All in I'm a big fan of eggs now, as long as you get them from the proper sources.
To understand eggs, their nutritional content and why we have such a fear of them, let’s take a look at the egg history.
The History of eggs
Side note: Eggs are a popular breakfast item because chickens lay eggs in the morning. It was easy for our ancestors to go out in the morning early and collect eggs to have fresh food in the morning. Hence, the eggs for breakfast tradition began, somewhere around the 1600s.
Eggs have been a source of human consumption since 1400 BC. Records show that Egyptian and Chinese fowl were laying eggs for man way back then. The strains of chickens made for egg production originated in Asia. They were brought to the USA during the time of Christoper Columbus and bred for humans to use as a food source.
Initially, eggs were used as a family food staple. Each family raised chickens and used some of the eggs for food, let some of the eggs hatch for more chickens, and sold the rest. Because eggs are such a filling food and fairly cheap to produce, people noticed its profitability and the egg farm business emerged in the early 1900s.
By the 1950s keeping chickens in cages rather than outdoor pastures began, mostly to protect the livestock from uncontrollable weather, predators and disease. Of course, once the invention of keeping hens in cages stacked indoors, one of top of the other developed, this the business of raising hens far more economical. And so, modern industrial egg farming began.
In the 1980s the low-fat everything craze emerged, continuing into the 1990s and early 2000s. Because eggs are a leading source of dietary cholesterol, studies suggested that consuming more than 300 milligrams of eggs a day (approx more than 2 eggs a day) lead to elevated blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. This study led many to reconsider their egg intake.
To remedy the fat and cholesterol fears, many either cut eggs out of their diet completely or began separating the yolk from the egg white, as the yolk contained most of the fat. This went on for years, and only recently started to decline now that certain fats are back in popularity.
All in all, most agree that it’s safe to eat eggs again.
Nutritional value of eggs
For a deeper understanding of eggs and their nutritional components, let’s take a closer look:
According to the National Institute of Health, 1 medium-sized egg contains:
186 milligrams of cholesterol
6.29 grams protein
5.3 grams total fat (to read more about fat and its purpose in the body, see this link)
1.633 saturated fat
2.038 monounsaturated fat
0.707 polyunsaturated fat
.56 grams carbs
86 mg phosphorus
25 mg calcium
63 mg potassium
62 mg sodium
In regard to the difference between the egg yolk and egg white, the egg yolk actually has far more nutritional components than the egg white. It contains more calcium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, folate and more.
The issue for most is that it also contains more fat and cholesterol, which is why many people shy away from it. The egg white itself has more protein, about 4 grams of protein compared to 2.7 in the yolk. It also has less fat, cholesterol, and still contains some vitamins. This is why many will still just consume egg whites.
These days, eggs are no longer the enemy. Countless health professionals and experts are strong proponents of eggs. Even nutritional guidelines from the federal government removed the strict daily cholesterol limit and agreed that eggs should be included as part of a healthy diet.
Now, if that's the case, why still all the talk around eggs?
Modern-day egg production
The main issue with eggs these days--like most modern food practices-- is that the mass production of our food and rise of the industrial agriculture food industry created unhealthy conditions both for our food and the animals producing it.
The US produces about 75 billion eggs a year, 75 billion! That’s 10% of the world’s supply. Out of those 75 billion eggs, 60% of the eggs are sold to consumers like us, and about 9% are used by the food service industry. For such a huge market, of course, ways to increase egg production have to be met, hence the creation of industrial farming.
Chickens kept in industrial egg farms are some of the most abused animals on the planet. They are stuffed into slanted cages or barns, no room to walk around, living on top of their dead confined to sheds with no sunlight. They are fed a poor grain-filled diet and given medicine and antibiotics to combat rampant disease, and steroids to enhance their growth and stimulate egg production.
The eggs they lay roll out from under them via the slanted cages and are automatically collected on a conveyor belt. They are then processed and sent to stores, or sent for further processing. Eggs usually reach a consumer within four days of collection.
These conditions plus the processing means generic eggs from the store not only have far less nutritional content, but came from extremely inhumane, unethical and unhealthy practices. So, why even bother with eggs?
Luckily, thanks to health gurus like Dave Asprey, Dr. Mark Hyman, Max Lugavere and more, the increase of healthy, ethical farming practices are becoming more popular. This means more organic, pastured egg farms, with chickens raised in humane conditions, allowed to wander outside in sunlight, eat grass, worms and more as nature intended.
If you’ve ever gone to a farmer’s market, picked up fresh eggs from a farm or perhaps a neighbor, you will notice the extreme difference in taste and color. Organic, pastured eggs will have a darker yolk with a thicker egg white and richer taste, while industrially farmed eggs will be pale with a more watery yolk and a bit tasteless.
Additionally, research has found that pasture-raised eggs have twice as much omega 3, three times more vitamin D, four times more vitamin E and seven time more beta-carotene than conventional industrial farmed eggs. That is a huge difference in nutritional content!
Benefits of eggs
Apart from their nutritional value, eggs are extremely affordable and make a perfect meal option for everyone! They serve low-income families and individuals, breakfast for billions of people, and snack options for those needing some extra protein and fat.
Eggs are a wonderful staple to eat on their own as well as to add in recipes. If you think about it, there aren’t many single-ingredient items that can be consumed on their own as a meal and added to a recipe such as cakes, cookies or sauces for example. Milk would be its closet companion, though most wouldn’t have milk for a meal.
Eggs are also extremely versatile. You can fry, boil, scramble, poach or bake them, cook them in bread, avocados, etc. You can even put them in the microwave! All in all, eggs are a great staple to add to your diet! They are a good source of protein and fat, and no, you don’t need to be afraid of the fat or cholesterol in the eggs. Cholesterol, both in LDL and HDL forms are good for you! You need it in the body to survive!
So now that we know eggs are not bad for us and great to eat, I hereby give you permission to go forth, find your farmer's market or pastured eggs at the store, and eat them because...IT’s OK!