The humble egg has been the subject of controversy for many years with our fears of high cholesterol, salmonella etc. being fuelled by various reports in the media. We have been warned for a long time to cut down on our intake of cholesterol and within the last 40 years the consumption of eggs was called into question. Why was this? One egg has 200mg or more of cholesterol which takes up most of our 300mg daily limit. However, in a large meta-analysis of 16 major studies which had between 1,600-90,000 participants in each, eggs were found to NOT be linked with heart disease! In fact, in the Physicians’ Health Study, NO link could be found between eggs and heart disease.
What are we to believe? One minute butter is bad for us, then it’s a healthy saturated fat. One minute alcohol can increase our risk of disease, and in the next report it can reduce it. One minute eggs are bad, the next minute they are the latest superfood. Confused? What is missing in all the media reports is context. Without context, you end up with confusion. It’s the same when learning a new language. Context, context, context my tutors used to say to me! The word may be correct but out of context it makes no sense.
Eggs are known as a ‘complete protein’ or ‘first class protein’ because they contain all the 8 essential amino acids that we require daily. Proteins are made from 25 amino acids, 8 of which are essential because they cannot be manufactured by the body. The other 17 are naturally made in the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of all our cells, muscles and bones, as well as the hair, skin and nails. They also make enzymes which are vital catalysts of daily processes in the body. Research has shown that leucine, one of these essential amino acids found in eggs, can help with weight loss by stabilising blood sugar levels and encouraging the body to shed fat. A good reason to have eggs for breakfast!
When buying eggs, avoid those that are from hens raised in commercial operations or on an industrial scale. Look for eggs raised on farms where hens are allowed to roam freely and to forage naturally. Their eggs will have far higher levels of nutrients. Egg yolks should be dark, deeply coloured orange or yellow. Avoid eggs with pale yellow yolks. Egg whites contain all the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12) whilst the yolks contain the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K. Eggs are also an excellent source of choline, essential for brain health, cell formation and detoxification. The yellow colour in the yolks comes from lutein and zeaxanthin (nutrients known to be beneficial for the eyes, especially in those with macular degeneration).
Regarding cholesterol, it is an essential substance in the body as our steroid hormones are made from it and it maintains the integrity of our cell membranes. It is also vital for brain health, being a component of the myelin sheath (think of the plastic coating which surrounds an electrical wire to protect it). Your liver makes cholesterol and monitors the levels within the body, reducing production if there is too much and vice versa. A cholesterol test will tell you your total cholesterol, LDL & HDL levels and non-HDL ratio. Aim for good levels of HDL (obtained from nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish).
Eggs prevent LDL oxidation (damage) and increase LDL and HDL particle size, so they protect against heart disease. More accurate cholesterol testing is available privately these days and can measure the size of these LDL and HDL particles. These tests test for Apolipoprotein A1 and B, LDL, HDL and Lp(a) and the results show whether small or large particle LDL & HDL are present. Smaller LDL particles are believed to carry a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than larger ones, and larger HDL particles may be more protective.
In cases of conflicting advice I like to remember the following: KISS (Keep It Simple Sue). So, if you don’t like eggs, don’t eat them! If you are vegan you can use ground flaxseeds in baking as a substitute. For each egg in the recipe, whisk one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons of water until the mixture becomes gooey. ‘Flax eggs’ are cholesterol free and packed with soluble fibre to bring your cholesterol down instead of up. ** When using ground flax seeds only grind what you need, as after a couple of days in the fridge ground flax seeds can become rancid and harmful.
Eggs are back in favour . . . so here are a few ideas to incorporate them:
- Slice a sweet potato (like toast) and put in the toaster until cooked (yes really!). Serve with a couple of poached eggs on top and a handful of watercress.
- Quickly fry some chopped up veg in coconut oil and stir in a couple of beaten eggs. Just before they are completely scrambled throw in a handful of baby spinach. Serve with a handful of rocket.
- Make breakfast egg muffins (email me if you want the recipe)