Easter – the perfect time for a nutritionist like me to talk about eggs – and I don’t mean the chocolate kind! Eggs are a nutrition powerhouse that have acquired something of a bad rap recently, mainly due to unfounded reports that they contribute to raised cholesterol. But avoiding eggs is bad advice, as they are unique in their health benefits and very few foods share the same diverse nutrients available in a single egg.
The topic of cholesterol is complex. Dietary advice on the subject is often so misleading that you can actually hurt your health by trying to avoid it. Most of us have been conditioned to think of cholesterol as something bad. But this is not true. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found not only in your bloodstream but in every cell in your body, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps form memories and is vital for neurological function.
Your body needs balance when it comes to cholesterol consumption. Through the years, all fats have become public enemies, often blamed for an increased risk of heart disease, despite there being no evidence to support these claims. As eggs fell out of favour, people gravitated toward egg whites as a substitute. However, the yolk is where many of the vitamins and nutrients are found.
The important thing to remember is that fat from healthy sources is vital for your body, while fat from margarine, foods fried in vegetable oil and processed foods are very dangerous. Eggs are a beneficial source of healthy fat. Moreover, many nutrients, such as vitamin A, are better absorbed with fat, making eggs a very good source of this vital nutrient, along with potassium and many B vitamins like folic acid, choline and biotin.
Eggs are good source of complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids needed to help support your immune system. They are also a good source of Sulphur, selenium and iron; all potent immune boosting nutrients.
Egg yolks are rich in essential but hard-to-get nutrients, including choline, which is linked to lower rates of breast cancer (one yolk supplies 25% of your daily need) and antioxidants that may help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
A relatively low-calorie food, eggs are an excellent option if you’re watching your weight. Because of their satiating properties (the ability to make you feel full longer), eating eggs for breakfast can start the day off on the right foot and promote healthy, long-term weight loss. A boiled egg also makes a perfect snack when cravings strike.
A few caveats
For most individuals, eggs are a nutritional breakfast choice. Diabetics may be one of the only groups that should avoid averaging more than one egg a day, as it might increase their cholesterol levels. But even in diabetics, eggs can be very helpful. Many standard breakfasts these days are laden with sugar. Pancakes, pastries, cookies, gourmet coffees and most breakfast cereals offer little or no nutritional value and are often loaded with sugar. These foods are poor choices for diabetics, and the rest of us.
It goes without saying that everyone should pay attention to the trimmings that come with eggs. Cheese, ham, bacon, white toast and other favorites can add lots of calories and saturated fats.
It is also possible to be allergic to eggs. Some studies suggest that up to 2 percent of children develop egg allergies, although most outgrow it by age 16 or 17. Those with egg allergies may experience skin rashes or hives, trouble breathing or stomach pain after eating eggs.
- Always make sure your eggs are free range and organic as these have more immune-boosting nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids and beta-carotene (and come from happier chickens!
- Better yet, purchase eggs directly from a farmer who produces eggs in a healthy, stress-free environment. Studies show that chickens packaged tightly in cages undergo stress, which lowers their immune systems, making them more prone to infection and necessitating the use of antibiotics.
- If cholesterol is a problem in your healthy diet, make your scrambled eggs or omelets with two whites, but only one yolk.
- Eggs can be poached, scrambled (cooked in a little butter and oil) boiled or made into an omelet (cooked in a little butter and oil – with added vegetables such as red pepper and onion)
- Don’t always scramble your eggs. When the yolk of the egg is broken (when the eggs are scrambled) and exposed to high heat, the proteins and fat of the eggs are damaged. In this case, the fat does become unhealthy. Eating scrambled eggs occasionally is not a problem, just don’t make it your routine.
The bottom line
Though many of us have shunned whole eggs because of their link to heart disease risk, there’s actually substantial evidence that for most of us, eggs are not harmful but healthy. People with heart disease should limit egg yolks to two a week, but the rest of us can have one whole egg daily, without raising your risk of heart attack or stroke.
Happy, healthy Easter!
For nutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues, contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114 or visit www.foodwise.life for your personalized nutritional program!