Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Box Without Hinges,

key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid."  The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

I am happy many of you can find solace in having eggs every day for breakfast. I know I can.  They are a highlight of my day!  They come in all varieties and with many accouterments.  On the go?  Have them hard-boiled or as convenient muffins!  Sick of plain?  Have them with other meats and veggies in omelets, frittatas, or even as Sausage and Egg Muffins!

But Aren't Eggs Bad For You?

Eggs have been maligned by the media and FDA for years for their high cholesterol and saturated fat, which supposedly make them contributory to heart disease.  We already confronted the saturated fat myth in a previous post.  Remember, it isn't the cholesterol that is the big deal, its the LDL particle size that seems more relevant to heart disease.  Carbohydrates are what actually lead to high triglicerides, which certainly do correlate with increased risk of heart disease.  This study reviews the literature and finds no correlation between eggs and higher cholesterol or higher incidence of heart disease, as does this study and this one, aptly titled "Regular egg consumption does not increase the risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases."  Another study shows that even amongst the elderly, three eggs a day did not increase their risk of heart disease.  Have we put the myth to rest?

The Incredible Edible Egg

Eggs are nutritional powerhouses.  They contain fat and protein along with all the constituent vitamins in a convenient serving size.  Eggs are rich in choline, a B vitamin.  Choline has a slew of healthy properties, namely: cell membrane structure and function, especially in the brain;  being a vital component in cellular processes (methylation); serving as a key component of a neurotransmitter (acetylcholine); reducing inflammation; and protecting against cardiovascular disease (say what?!).  The B vitamins in eggs are responsible for converting a dangerous molecule (homocysteine) that can damage blood vessels into more benign substances.  Eggs also contain proteins that inhibit blood clots, which can lead to stroke and heart attack.  Eggs may even improve your cholesterol: an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that children eating eggs actually increased their LDL particle size!  Eggs are also beneficial for weight loss.  One study found that those eating eggs instead of bagels with the same caloric load lost almost twice as much weight and greatly reduced their waist circumferences.  Almost more importantly, no differences were seen between triglicerides, total cholesterol, or HDL and LDL counts, which provides more evidence against the cholesterol myth.  Another study also found that egg breakfasts provided more satiety and reduced snacking than bagel breakfasts, which would give credence to eggs as a component of weight loss plans.  Finally, eggs are good for your eyesight: they contain more eye-protecting carotenoids than supplements or green veggies, which protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.  Whew, what a list!

The Dark Side of the Egg

Now that we have poked holes in the cholesterol and saturated fat arguments, let's move on to other claims.  Scared of Salmonella poisoning?  Wash your hands and cook your eggs thoroughly.  Also, don't eat factory farmed eggs.  Numerous studies cited by this article from The Humane Society of the United States have found that Salmonella is significantly higher among high density, caged hens responsible for conventional eggs than uncaged hens.  Wow, what a surprise!  After reading that article on inhumane treatment, want to get even more angry?  Read up on the opposition to Proposition 2 in California, which passed (thankfully) in 2008 to set standards for animal confinement.  Now you know why I buy 100% grass-fed beef and farmer's market eggs...


No, not spiders this time but a very real threat indeed, giving rise to why we probably shouldn't eat eggs as our primary protein for every meal.  Give this brief post from The Whole Health Source a read (the author of which is a doctor of neurobiology).  Here are some important points:
Eggs are an exceptionally nutritious food, as are all foods destined to nourish a growing animal. However, one concern lies in eggs' high concentration of arachidonic acid (AA), a long-chain omega-6 fat that is the precursor to many eicosanoids. Omega-6 derived eicosanoids are essential molecules that are involved in healing, development and defense. Some of them are inflammatory mediators that can contribute to disease when present in excess. Eggs are one of the main sources of AA in the modern diet.
Barry Sears, Zone diet founder, also has a beef with AA (heh).  He wants zoners to limit arachidonic acid sources like eggs, red meat, and organ meats since they elevate "bad" eicosanoids.  While a balance of "good" and "bad" eicosanoids is necessary for hormonal balance, overbalanced "bad" eicosanoids lead to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.  Note: don't you kinda feel like you are being talked down to when you see the terms "good" and "bad"?  I know I do.  But then, I am not a biochemist...  Anyway, here is his take from an interview with Smart Publications author David Brown:
Eicosanoids are really your master hormones. They control inflammation, but they also control so much more. They virtually control the release and synthesis of all other hormones. So, in many ways, they're kind of the "Intel® computer chip" running both our bodies and every aspect of our physiology because of that very profound dietary control. With our diet, we control the balance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, and the better we maintain that balance the more well we become. Conversely, the more we let that balance get out of whack, making more pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, the more rapidly we move toward chronic disease. 
I guess I am still on the "good" and "bad" level if all of this seems a little over my head on the biochemical level.  I need to do more research to fully understand his caution against eggs.  Even the Paleo Diet cautions against egg quantity advising only six a week.  Cordain's concerns parrot the cholesterol and saturated fat argument, but also add an interesting claim that high heat cooking increases cholesterol oxidation, leading to the production of dangerous cholesterol (small, dense LDL particles?).  The articles on heart-healthy eggs didn't encounter this aspect.  Surprisingly, I did find that undercooking methods like the poaching Cordain recommends actually leave intact an anti-nutrient called avidin, which makes his recommendation surprising given that anti-nutrients are the rationale for most paleo diet restrictions.  Despite Cordain's caution, Robb Wolf who has brought paleo to the CrossFitting masses doesn't see a reason to limit eggs, but like Cordain suggests omega-3 enriched eggs for their better fatty acid profile.   Bottom line: I think the "good" outweigh the "bad" in this case, although I won't be eating eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Live Earth Farm pasture-raised chicken egg

Which Eggs Are Best?

One valid concern with purchasing eggs is that it is difficult to determine which aren't factory farmed.  The best bet: buy them from the farmer's market.  A small, scale independent farmer's chickens get a healthy variety of food from the land they live on, which leads to healthier eggs.  Mark's Daily Apple does a good job of cutting to the chase with the different terms on the egg cartons.  Basically, "free range" and "all natural" are meaningless terms that don't mean healthier or humanely raised chickens and even "cage free" can just mean overcrowded hen houses.  "Organic" is better with restrictions on food, flock size, and indoor living.  "Omega-3 enriched eggs" are usually organic and cage-free with a diet that includes supplementation to increase their omega-3 ratio.  We'll tackle the omega-3 topic in another post, but suffice to say, they are freakin' healthy fats.  Pasture-raised eggs are ideal, but Mark suggests you look into your egg producers to make sure the chickens are actually living their lives on the land.  This study compared pasture-raised to factory-farmed conventional eggs and found pasture-raised may contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol

• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E

• 7 times more beta carotene

Omega-3 enriched eggs or pasture-raised eggs are also the answer to reduce harmful arachidonic acid.   According to this study, omega-3 enriched eggs have 39% reduction in arachidonic acid compared to "barn-laid" eggs.

Practically speaking, they just taste better.  Omega eggs and pasture-raised eggs have tall, orange yolks that stand up to casual mixing (see the picture above).  Don't settle for runny, yellow eggs!  And their taste?  Well, they taste like eggs!  Their eggy flavor is unsurpassed and noticeably absent from conventional eggs.  I can tell the difference when a restaurant serves me sub-par eggs.

Here are some links to help you find pasture-raised eggs:
Local Harvest

After all this, perhaps you too can find the humor in the Center for Science in the Public Interest running around like a chicken with--well, you know--trying to get the FDA to ban companies from making claims about the heart-healthy nature of omega eggs.  Hmmmm, I wonder if factory farms are funding this sentiment?  It is also nice to see the American Heart Association is still feeding us the cholesterol and saturated fat misinformation by the carton-ful.  Their stance:  sure, you can have eggs, but since one egg accounts for 71% of your daily cholesterol allowance for a normal adult, you can only have one and good luck eating within the cholesterol limit if you have any other meat or dairy that day.  But sure, according to them "an egg can fit within heart-healthy guidelines," emphasis mine.  I think they should actually take a look at the current cholesterol research and re-evaluate their stance.

The Bottom Line: despite this fear-mongering, the data points to eggs as a healthy part of your diet, not as a harbinger of coronary heart disease.  So go ahead and eat your eggs and try to find local, organic, pasture-raised sources for your precious eggsesses.

Here is a great recipe for egg muffins.  I was inspired by this recipe I found at Norcal Strength and Conditioning.  I just simplified it and tightened it up Zone-wise to fit my needs.  Give them a try!  They're delicious!

Sausage and Egg Muffins
Crunchy crisp sausage suspended inside a light, airy egg muffin.  Convenience to die for!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: about 20 minutes depending upon muffin cup size

eggs (see Calculations for quantity)
sausage (I use Aidells chicken apple sausage) (see Calculations for quantity)
1T coconut oil

Zone Blocks: figure out how many blocks you want to eat or just be reasonable with portions.  I have found that large muffin cups can hold 1/2 a sausage (1 block of Protein) and 1.5 eggs (1.5 blocks of Protein and Fat) without overflowing, so 2.5 blocks total of Protein and 1.5 of Fat, plus the coconut oil rounds out the Fat blocks.  Each would be half a meal for my 5 block husband, but not a bad portion for a child or me, if I am having one for a snack or light meal.  You can play around with the egg and sausage portion to get what you need.  If I make the same recipe using regular-sized muffin cups, it takes 2 muffins to get that 2.5 block portion.  Egg is very sticky, though, and like cement when it dries, so please use silicone cups or line your muffin tin--even if it's nonstick!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut squares of parchment paper to stuff inside large muffin tin cups or use silicone muffin cups if you have them and whatever size muffin tin fits your calculations.  Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add coconut oil.  Chop up the sausage (I know, chopping is a pain--at least cut the disks in half).   Once the coconut oil has melted, add the sausage and brown it on all sides.  I am not sure if it is true of every sausage, but for the Aidells: the more brownage, the better.  I have blackened them and they are delicious--but I bet the carbon isn't all that healthy.  Anyway, in the meantime,  crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk them.  Once the sausage is done, divide it up into portions and place in the muffin cups.  If you desire, add the remaining coconut oil from the pan to the eggs, but whisk constantly to avoid curdling.  Some of this oil will moisten the muffin cup bottoms, but I figure a little more healthy fat isn't a bad thing.  Scoop the egg mixture into the muffin cups using a measuring cup for more accuracy.  Just keep distributing evenly until your bowl is empty.  Now, if you filled your cups really high, you might want to take out some insurance and place a sheet pan beneath them to catch any overflow.  Egg is a nasty thing to spill.  Believe me.  Place your muffins in the middle of your oven and let 'em bake.  How long depends on the size of your muffins and oven peculiarities.  Large muffins take longer, up to 25 minutes, while regular-sized muffins can take half that time.  Look for puffed-up muffins, light golden brown tops, and a fully-set middle (no wiggle).   Once done, allow them to cool (they'll deflate and look wrinkly, but taste is what matters!) and then store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight bag in the refrigerator for about a week.  Easy!

Serving Suggestion:
Have this all protein and fat muffin with some carb to balance it out.  Usually a piece of fruit is great for an on-the-go breakfast!
Egg on FoodistaEgg


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    Would indicate that it lacks an inflamation response in healthy individuals but effects individuals already suffering from imflamatory diseases.

  4. Hi Johnnyv,
    Thank you for pointing us to that link about arachidonic acid. I found another source (British Journal of Nutrition) that describes the background of our fear of AA and what evidence there is to support it.

    It looks like the jury is still out on AA--whether it is harmful, harmless, or actually beneficial. I definitely wouldn't supplement with AA, but I also won't hold back on eating meat and eggs.

  5. Your blog is definitely worth a read if anyone comes across it. Im lucky I did because now Ive got a whole new view of this.