Cracking news: eggs are good for you
It’s the controversy that won’t go away: do eggs increase your risk of heart disease?
Eggsperts at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, US, recently conducted a meta-analysis of health data in an attempt to lay the debate to rest. Their findings suggest that eating up to one egg a day does not appear to be associated with cardiovascular disease.
“Recent studies reignited the debate on this topic, but our study provides compelling evidence supporting the lack of an appreciable association between moderate egg consumption and cardiovascular disease,” says study author Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier.
This backs up the findings of another recent large-scale study from McMaster University, Canada, which also found that “moderate” egg intake – around one a day – did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers also found no association between eating eggs and increased blood cholesterol.
So why does the debate around eggs and cholesterol continue to ruffle people’s feathers?
“We’ve kind of got stuck in the 1980s with that advice,” says nutritionist Rick Hay. “It’s all down to cholesterol and cholesterol levels – because eggs are high in cholesterol, everyone just jumped on the bandwagon and said you can’t eat anything that has cholesterol in it. But the cholesterol we find in foods may not affect our blood cholesterol levels as much as the saturated fat that we eat.”
While it might surprise you, we actually do need cholesterol in our bodies. It’s needed for many of the body’s metabolic processes, including the production of hormones and vitamin D, and it also helps to maintain the membrane structure of every cell in the body.
A clucking good food
Of course, it’s not the cholesterol in eggs that makes them so good for you. They’re packed with more nutrients than you could poke a pullet at.
“The good thing about eggs is that they have decent levels of vitamin D, and vitamin D is good for the immune system as well as for regulating mood,” says Hay. “Eggs are actually one of the few food sources of vitamin D. In the winter, when you’re not getting much sunshine, you’re going to be low in D. So, eggs are a good way to get more D into your diet.”
Eggs also contain essential fatty acids, which are good for your hair, skin and nails. They also contain vitamins A, B2, B5, B12 and E, as well as antioxidants and choline, which is needed for a variety of bodily functions, including maintaining the structural integrity of cells and producing neurotransmitters needed for muscle control, memory and heartbeat regulation.
“Mineral-wise, eggs also contain zinc,” says Hay. “Zinc works together with vitamin C to help with anti-viral and general immunity-boosting properties in the body.”
But where eggs really stand out is in their protein quality. Eggs are a fantastic source of protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. In fact, when it comes to biological value (a measurement of protein quality), eggs score at almost 100. In comparison, beef scores at 74.3, fish at 76 and milk at 84.5.
Sunny side up
When you’re cooking your eggs, don’t just use the egg white. As Hay points out, while the yolk contains more calories, most of the nutrients are to be found in the yolk. And this is where free-range, organic eggs really shine.
“With cage eggs, hens are being fed a lot of grain products,” Hay explains. “When you’ve got a hen that’s allowed to roam free, they get to eat things like grasses and insects. When you eat free-range eggs, you’ll notice that the yolk is more yellow. There are antioxidants in the yolk, and the brighter yellow your yolk is, the higher the level of antioxidants. You’ll often notice that cage eggs have a lighter-coloured yolk for that reason.”
Not only are free-range eggs the more nutritious choice, they’re also the more ethical one. But how do you know if your eggs are really free range, or if you’re being tricked by a picture on a label? Consumer watchdog Choice has released an app called CluckAR, which you can use to scan the label on egg cartons to find out their free-range rating.
So, go forth and eat eggs (in moderation). You’d be hard-pressed to find a more nutritious food, and it’s already been wrapped up for you in one perfect package.