Originally published in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza (link), September 23, 2010. News of the recent recall makes eggs seem more dangerous than cancer, heart disease and car crashes put together. Although this gives us a good reason to reconsider the pros and cons, many people will find real health benefits in moderate consumption of safely prepared eggs.
We should choose foods not just for their safety profile, but because they taste good and fulfill our nutritional needs. Most people find a breakfast of eggs tossed with a variety of healthy veggies far more satisfying than processed food alternatives like cereal, toast or muffins.
Although we've been taught to fear eggs because they contain saturated fat and cholesterol, the refined carbohydrates in the new American diet appear to cause even greater harm to blood cholesterol levels. Add in the shelf-stable trans fats and other chemical additives found in many packaged breakfast foods and eggs start to look great. Eggs are also lower in calories than other breakfast options. A whole large egg contains only 72 calories, the protein-rich white, only 16. If you are watching your weight, a scramble will fill you up much more than a bowl of cereal that contains far more calories.
Eggs are also a cost-effective source of protein. One egg contains 6 grams: Half in the yolk, half in the white. The 5 grams of fat in an egg are in the yolk, so combining a whole egg with a few egg whites is a great idea. Eggs are also rich in antioxidants and vitamins including vitamin D, which most people don't get enough of in their diet.
Moderate egg consumption (up to six eggs per week) does not increase the risk of heart disease. High levels of dietary saturated fat can do so, but dietary cholesterol doesn't, except in a small number of people, mostly diabetics. However, response to diet is quite individual and if you really want to know what's best for you, not some random research group, you need to evaluate your own response to foods.
Have your baseline blood lipids checked. Try out a few months of reduced consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol, then recheck. Then test the same thing minimizing refined carbohydrates. This will give you valuable information that can guide your eating habits for the rest of your life. Many people are depriving themselves of a delicious palette of natural foods based on societal recommendations, not because their individual biochemistry requires it.
Preparing your eggs
Eggs are a major cause of salmonella outbreaks, so you need to be careful handling them. You can't spot a contaminated egg by looking at it — infected hens can pass bacteria to their eggs' interior before the shells form. To be safe, cook eggs until the yolk is fully solid. Over easy, sunny side-up and soft-cooked eggs are not heated enough to kill bacteria. If a recipe calls for raw eggs you can use pasteurized egg products. Use the pasteurized egg products for making cookies too especially if you like to eat batter as you go — and who doesn't? Once finished cooking, make sure to wash your hands and anything else that touched raw eggs.
It's your decision, but most people will find moderate egg consumption healthy and safe.
Dr. Rebecca Gelber is an Incline Village resident and graduate of The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is an adjunct professor with the UNR School of Medicine and practices locally at Tahoe Aesthetic and Integrative Medicine. She can be reached at www.tahoemedicalspa.com or 775-298-1750.