Are eggs healthy? This is one of those questions that can’t exactly be answered with a simple yes or no. The answer depends on the health of the chicken that laid the egg. But, before we talk about the chickens let’s talk first about cholesterol…
Are Eggs Healthy? Getting to the Bottom of the Cholesterol Conundrum
Although “Clean Cuisine” is not an animal-rich diet, eggs are one animal food well deserving of special focus, especially for all those egg-white omelet enthusiasts.
When it comes to eggs, throwing out the yolk is equivalent to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes, egg yolks have cholesterol but the cholesterol in your food is not exactly to blame for high serum (blood) cholesterol. Eating eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods such as shrimp does not necessarily increase the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Nor does it increase the risk of heart disease (1)
It is not so much the cholesterol in food responsible for the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream, but instead, high cholesterol is mostly brought about by eating either too much animal-based saturated fat or trans fats or eating too many overly processed, empty carbohydrates. Your liver can actually manufacture cholesterol from the saturated fats and trans fats you eat (for the record, eggs are extremely low in saturated fat and contain zero trans fats.) And, because empty carbohydrates can be converted by your body into saturated fat, cholesterol can also be indirectly produced from any excess intake of empty carbohydrates. That means eating too many bagels, pretzels and regular pasta can all increase cholesterol. Excess empty carbohydrate consumption also stimulates your body to produce large amounts of insulin, and insulin activates the main enzyme responsible for manufacturing cholesterol in your liver. The bottom line is, the actual cholesterol you eat—or the cholesterol in your eggs—has minimal effect on your blood cholesterol.
It’s also worth noting a study on real people and egg consumption. We’re not just talking a study with 10 or 12 people, but rather a studyinvolving 188,000 people that showed those who ate five or six whole eggs a week actually had less heart disease than those who ate less than one egg per week (2)This study was published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999. In the Framingham Study, researchers analyzed 912 subjects over a number of years and found there was no significant relationship between egg consumption, blood cholesterol levels and coronary heart disease (3) Besides this, your body actually needs a certain amount of cholesterol to function optimally and maintain good health. Your sex hormones and neurotransmitters can both be disrupted if your cholesterol is too low. In fact, cholesterol is a vital ingredient in proper brain function and low blood cholesterol has actually been linked to depression and severe mood disorders. This is not surprising since the brain is the most cholesterol-rich organ in our bodies. Cholesterol is also the substance that forms a protective coating around the myelin sheath of the nerves, thus helping the brain send signals to the rest of the body. Cholesterol is important stuff.
Consider the Health of The Chicken Before You Ask “Are Eggs Healthy?”
Once you can get past the cholesterol concerns you can focus on the good stuff found in eggs. And there’s plenty to focus on! However, all eggs are not created equal.
The quality and nutritional value of an egg varies widely depending on what the chicken ate. The natural chicken diet is one that contains fresh pasture, worms and bugs. If the chicken eats a deviant diet from what a wild chicken would eat then it won’t be as healthy, and neither will her eggs. Eggs from pastured hens are far superior to those from hens raised indoors. It doesn’t matter whether the chicken ate organic food or not, if the organic chicken lived indoors and did not have access to pasture then its eggs will never ever be as healthy as the eggs from a non-organic pastured chicken. Period.
Free Range Eggs are Not the Same (And Not As Good) As Pastured Eggs
It is important to note that “free range” eggs are not at all the same as pastured eggs. Free range poultry and eggs from free range hens means the birds were not kept in cages, but most likely kept in barns or on bare dirt—it is highly unlikely they are on pasture because otherwise the label would proudly say so! Fresh pasture is the best source of nutrition for the hens and direct sunlight is essential for a healthy chicken and healthy eggs. So, “free range” isn’t ideal.
Vegetarian Eggs Are Not The Best Either
You also need to beware of the eggs advertised as “vegetarian”; chickens are not supposed to be vegetarians. The term vegetarian for chickens means the chickens were not fed other ground up chickens—and that’s good! But, a natural chicken diet includes bugs and worms and other insects that they forage for out in open pasture. Again, any deviant diet from the natural chicken diet is not going result in the healthiest eggs.
Pastured Eggs Are the Gold Standard
Compared with the official nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture have less cholesterol, less saturated fat, more vitamin A, more vitamin E, more beta-carotene, more folic acid, more B12 and more vitamin D. Pastured eggs also have significantly more omega-3 fats and a much more desirable and anti-inflammatory ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fat compared to hens raised indoors. Besides all this, any foodie will tell you pastured eggs taste a jillion times better.
What you need to know when buying eggs is simple: you want to buy eggs from hens raised on pasture. It is doubtful you will be able to find these organic and that’s ok, what is most important is that the hens were raised on pasture. Look for pastured eggs. You can buy pastured eggs from a local farmer or look for Vital Farms (VitalFarms.com) pastured eggs at your natural foods store.
Egg white Omelets are not all they have cracked up to be…
Back to egg nutrition and the question, “Are eggs healthy?” The thing is, eggs – yolk and all – are a very nutrient-dense food. One whole egg is only 70 calories with just 1.5 grams of saturated fat. And for those 70 calories you get a lot of bang for your paltry calorie buck. Much more bang we might add than if you ate 70 calories from egg whites or 70 calories from the “mother of all eggs”, chicken. Compared to egg whites and chicken “whole” eggs steal the nutritional show.
Here are just a select few of the eggs-ceptionally important nutrients you get in a “whole” egg with the yolk:
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is an important anti-inflammatory nutrient that has recently been associated with decreased risk of cancer and heart disease. Additional research suggests vitamin D provides protection from hypertension, psoriasis, and several autoimmune diseases (including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.) Vitamin D also assists with the absorption of calcium and boosts your body’s natural healing response. This super vitamin even acts like an antioxidant, both internally and externally. In fact, getting enough vitamin D is an essential component for healthy, younger-looking and smoother skin. Some preliminary research even links vitamin D deficiency to weight gain. Importantly, vitamin D is not readily available naturally in very many foods other than eggs and fish. Note: Dairy foods are fortified with vitamin D but vitamin D is not found naturally in dairy.
- Omega-3 Essential Fats: The pastured eggs we recommend are a good source of anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting omega-3 essential fats. These fats are particularly important for heart health, protection against cancer, reduced inflammation, improved sensitivity to insulin and smooth, supple skin.
- Lutein: Lutein is an incredible antioxidant (especially for eye health and the prevention of age-related eye diseases including macular degeneration) and a gold-star member of the carotenoid family. While lutein is found in dark leafy greens (such as spinach and collards), a human study published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition shows that lutein is much better absorbed from egg yolks than lutein supplements or even spinach. This is probably because carotenoids are always better absorbed with fat, and lutein is a carotenoid—so even though there is slightly less lutein in eggs than in fat-free spinach, the lutein from the eggs is absorbed by your body better (4) Additionally, the “whole” egg comes packaged with another antioxidant, zeaxanthin, which works synergistically to boost the bioavailability of lutein.
- Choline: Eggs are one of nature’s richest sources of choline (soybeans, wheat germ and salmon are also good sources), an essential micronutrient that supports cardiovascular health and brain function in addition to reducing inflammation. In fact, people whose diets supplied the highest average intake of choline have levels of inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor alpha) at least 20% lower than those with the lowest average intakes. Most interestingly, choline actually helps to transport fat and cholesterol to your cells thereby preventing the accumulation of fat and cholesterol in your liver. Additionally, choline converts to trimethylglycine, which helps to reduce your homocyesteine level, thus lowering your risk of stroke, heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, and many degenerative diseases.
- Lecithin: This nutrient actually helps the body digest fat and cholesterol.
- Vitamin A: This fat-soluble vitamin is well known for the role it plays in vision, but it is also essential for healthy skin, immune system, fertility, and cancer prevention. Less well known is the importance vitamin A plays in keeping bones and teeth strong. Importantly, vitamin A works in synergy with vitamins D and K2. Unfortunately vitamin A is not abundant in the food supply and it is not found in plant-based foods. Pastured eggs are one of the healthiest and most widely available sources (cod liver oil is also a good source as is chicken liver, but we personally can’t stomach chicken liver.)
- Vitamin K2: Pastured eggs are among the very few readily available sources of the vitally important vitamin K2. Although vitamin K2 doesn’t get a lot of media buzz, it plays a critical role in bone health and heart health. Vitamin K2 funnels calcium into bones and teeth where it is needed and away from arteries where it can cause dangerous arterial calcification. Additionally, vitamin K2 has important antioxidant-like actions and contributes to the production of myelin, the protective coating that surrounds brain cells and nerves. (5) Note: K2 is different than the K1 you get from dark leafy greens.
In the end, when asking “Are eggs healthy?” all you really need to know is that as long as you buy pastured eggs and eat the “whole” egg (with the yolk) then the answer is yes. No more egg white omelets. Please.
If you are interested in healthy egg recipes we have the link for you. The Egg Cookbook is a great and delicious place to start making eggs part of your Clean Cuisine way of life:
1. McNamara DJ. “The Impact of Egg Limitations on Coronary Heart Disease Risk: Do the Numbers Add Up.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Oct; 19 (Suppl): 540S-548S.
2. F.B. Hu, M.J. Stampfer et al., “A Prospective Study of Egg Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Men and Women.” Journal of the American Medical Association 281, no. 15 (1999): 1387-94.
3. Dawber TR, et al. “Eggs, Serum Cholesterol, and Coronary Heart Disease.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1982 Oct;36(4):617-25.
4. M.L. Slattery et al. “Carotenoids and Colon Cancer,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71 (2000): 575-82.
5. Thijssen HH, et al. “Vitamin K status in human tissues: tissue-specific accumulation of phylloquinone and menaquinone-4.” Br J Nutr 1996 Jan;75(1):121-27.