In the 1980s, people treated foods that contained cholesterol as if they carried a disease, not realizing that trans and saturated fats were more harmful to their bodies than cholesterol itself. Eggs are one of the best and most affordable sources of high quality protein available to us. This protein-rich, satisfying food can also help you lose weight by keeping you full at only 70 calories per egg.
Some foods, like the egg for example, provide a host of other benefits that supersede their cholesterol content. Eggs have been linked to aiding health from head to toe. Macular degeneration, the main cause of blindness, and cataracts, both diseases of the eye, may be prevented through eggs' rich content of lutein and zeaxanthin. Eggs are also a strong source of choline, a nutrient that plays a key role in brain and nervous system regulation.
It used to be easy to buy eggs, but now it might take you longer to read an egg carton than a short novel. Not all eggs are alike, so here's what you can eggs-pect to see in the supermarket:
• Eggs classified according to a grading system: AA represents a superior rating indicating higher quality.
• The most common size, large, is the size typically referred to in recipes.
• Inspect eggs for cracks or breaks, and store them in the refrigerator in their original container with the pointed end facing downward. They will stay fresh for about one month.
• Brown eggs come from chickens with brown feathers; the color does not say anything about nutritional profile, taste or how the hen was raised.
• Omega-3 enriched eggs are higher in these brain-boosting and heart-healthy fats, and they come from chickens that have been fed a diet rich in algae, ground flaxseeds or fish oil. Some brands contain unique profiles, like Eggland's Best eggs, producing eggs that contain more than double the amount of omega-3s, two times more vitamin D, 10 times more vitamin E, 35 percent more lutein and 25 percent less saturated fat when compared to other eggs.
• If your carton says "cage-free" or "free-range/free-roaming," don't assume these hens are having fun, high-fiving each other in the great outdoors. Although they're not confined to cages, thousands of these hens may crowd the barn or warehouse floor.
• A "certified humane raised and handled" label speaks to how the hens are treated—but not necessarily what they're fed.
• Organic eggs come from hens whose feed is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and commercial fertilizers. These hens have never been given antibiotics, and are cage-free with access to the outdoors. Organic chicken feed contains no animal by-products.
• Vegetarian-fed chickens are fed a diet containing no animal by-products, but chickens are omnivores and their diets may include insects and worms as a side dish to the vegetarian feed provided by farmers.
So should eggs be back on your menu? Unless you're allergic, there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy them. Some people eat an egg a day and have healthy hearts, while others feel better when they eat egg whites, or even mostly whites mixed with a whole egg several times a week. Egg whites are an excellent source of protein, even without the yolks, and two eggs whites can be swapped for one whole egg in most recipes. In any event, if you're one of those people who have been avoiding eggs, there are lots of egg-citing dishes you can start serving your family.
Eggs are incredibly versatile. Whether it's eggs for breakfast (scrambled), lunch (egg salad), snack (hard-boiled egg and whole grain crackers) or dinner (frittata with veggies), eggs can be woven throughout your daily diet. An omelet, for example, is also a great carrier for other important nutrients that we lack, such as veggies. They're quick and easy to prepare and can be conveniently incorporated into our busy lives.
Although coloring and hunting for eggs are popular this time of year—be sure to eat a few, too!
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.