Today is going to be EGGcellent! We’re going to explore one of the staple breakfast foods, and one of the most popular food item during this time of year: eggs!
First of all, we need to talk about eggs and your cholesterol, because a lot of people are confused about it. All animal products have cholesterol, so since eggs come from an animal, they also havecholesterol. What a lot of people don’t know is that foods that have cholesterol in them don’t actually do anything to your body; what will affect your body are actually these particles in your body called LDLs and HDLs. LDLs and HDLs are not cholesterol, but rather are what transports fat throughout your body. LDLs transport fat into bad places, like behind the walls of your heart (the fat back there can build up and cause blockage, leading to a heart attack), and HDLs transport fat out of bad places and bring that fat to good places, like the liver, where it is broken down and used for bodily functions. That’s what makes LDLs bad and HDLs good! Eggs are a food that shouldn’t have a negative impact on your LDLs and HDLs, so it’s safe to eat eggs when your cholesterol is high.
One last thing about cholesterol: when you have high cholesterol measured by your doctor, it’s important to know whether you have high LDLs or high HDLs. Some people who eat healthily will have high overall cholesterol (greater than 200 is considered high), but they actually have extremely high HDLs, which is not anything bad! Having high HDLs actually severely decreases your risk of developing heart disease, because it shuttles the fats stored behind your heart walls out of where they are and to the liver, where they’re used! So, make sure to eat lots of vegetables and fruits to keep your HDLs high: it might save you one day!
Now that you know a little bit more about cholesterol, you may understand why eggs do not affect your cholesterol levels (even though they themselves have cholesterol). So, we’re going to talk about how to get the most nutrition out of the eggs you buy at your local food store! I’m sure by now, you’ve gone down the egg aisle in the supermarket and seen a bunch of different labels on cartons of eggs: “cage free,” “organic,” “all natural,” “vegetarian-fed hens,” etc. I’m going to help you to debunk what these words all mean, and what’s actually best for you. Generally speaking, the best foods for your body are the ones that have been modified the least. The closer something is to the way you’d see it in nature, the better it is for you, and in nature, chickens run around. They definitely do not cram themselves together naturally. Here’s how to decide how good your eggs are for you (and how certain categories aren’t really much better for the few cents extra you might pay):
Antibiotic-free really doesn’t mean anything, because all eggs sold in the United States are required to be antibiotic free. Using this terminology is just a marketing ploy.
Cage-free/Free-roaming means that the chickens aren’t kept in cages and are allowed to roam. Unfortunately, many of them are stuffed into the same dark barn regardless of the lack of cages, and they’re still fed the same grain-heavy diet that regular chickens are fed.
Free-range means that the hens have outdoor access if the weather allows. This seems great, except that outdoor access may actually just be a small window or door in a large barn.
Natural/All-natural means nothing in the United States, because all eggs sold are required by law to be natural.
Organic means that the eggs are cage-free/free-roaming and are also fed an organic diet, which means that the plant-based part of their food was grown without the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or fertilizer.
Pasture-raised means that the chickens have access to a grassy bit of land and the space to walk around outdoors, and that they consume mainly a grass-based diet which is supplemented with grain. Right now, this is the closest an egg sold in supermarkets can get to nature.
Vegetarian-fed means that these hens were fed a vegetarian diet, which pretty much all chickens are, so it’s not much different than any other chicken feed. Grains are vegetarian, but they’re not vegetables!
All of these labels are determined by the USDA. If you want to find out more about egg labeling in the US, visit their website!
In summary, pasture-raised eggs are the healthiest type of egg you can buy at a supermarket right now. The other types of eggs are generally raised similarly, so cage-free eggs won’t be much better for you than regular eggs. Organic eggs have some benefits, since their feed is chemical-free, but generally won’t have too significant an effect on the nutritional value of eggs. All-natural/Hormone-free/Vegetarian-fed eggs are the same as regular eggs, so don’t pay more for those!
Happy Spring Break(fast)! Go get some eggs and cook ’em up for breakfast!