By Dr. Mercola
The idea that eggs, as a source of saturated fats, are unhealthy and promote heart disease is a complete myth. While it's true that fats from animal sources contain cholesterol, this is not necessarily something that will harm you. On the contrary, the evidence clearly shows that eggs are one of the most healthful foods you can eat, and can actually help prevent disease, including heart disease.
For example, one 2009 study discovered that the proteins in cooked eggs are converted by gastrointestinal enzymes, producing peptides that act as ACE inhibitors (common prescription medications for lowering blood pressure). This certainly flies in the face of 'conventional wisdom,' and the latest findings support the stance that eggs are in fact part of a heart-healthy diet.
Although egg yolks are relatively high in cholesterol, numerous studies have confirmed that eggs have virtually nothing to do with raising your cholesterol. For instance, research published in the International Journal of Cardiology showed that, in healthy adults, eating eggs every day did not produce a negative effect on endothelial function (an aggregate measure of cardiac risk); nor did it increase cholesterol levels.
A number of people have cholesterol levels that are too low. While eating egg yolks is a great idea for a number of reasons, it will not increase your cholesterol level. If you need to do that a fairly reliable method is to use coconut oil. Usually about 2-4 tablespoons a day are required to increase your cholesterol.
The Egg—A Source of Health Promoting Antioxidants!
In the featured study, the researchers examined the nutrient content of egg yolks from hens fed primarily wheat or corn. They determined that the yolks from these conventional chickens contain two amino acids with potent antioxidant properties, which is important for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer:
Below, I will discuss the nutrient content of organic, pastured eggs, which is far superior to conventional eggs. What's really interesting is that conventional eggs, despite their inferior nutritional content still were found to be such a potent source of heart healthy antioxidants! The analysis showed that two raw egg yolks have antioxidant properties equivalent to half a serving of cranberries (25 grams), and almost twice as many as an apple.
The research also illustrates just how destructive cooking is. The antioxidant properties were reduced by about 50 percent when the eggs were fried or boiled, followed by microwaving, which resulted in an even greater reduction.
Although not specifically mentioned in the featured study, egg yolks are also a rich source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which belong to the class of carotenoids known as xanthophylls. These two are powerful prevention elements of age-related macular degeneration; the most common cause of blindness.
Additionally, as a side note, the amino acid tryptophan is also an important precursor to the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate your mood, and tyrosine synthesizes two key neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine, which promote alertness and mental activity. I mention this to remind you that the potential health benefits of eggs certainly go far beyond heart health...
Not All Eggs are Created Equal
Eggs are also an incredible source of high-quality protein and fat—nutrients that many are deficient in. And I believe eggs are a nearly ideal fuel source for most of us.
However, there are two caveats:
- Free-range or “pastured” organic eggs are far superior when it comes to nutrient content, and
- Cooking destroys many of these nutrients, so ideally, you’ll want to consume your eggs raw (but ONLY if they’re pastured organic, as conventionally-raised eggs are far more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as salmonella)
An egg is considered organic if the chicken was only fed organic food, which means it will not have accumulated high levels of pesticides from the grains (mostly GM corn) fed to typical chickens.
Additionally, testing has confirmed that true free-range eggs are far more nutritious than commercially raised eggs. In a 2007 egg-testing project, Mother Earth News compared the official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs with eggs from hens raised on pasture and found that the latter typically contains:
- 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
The dramatically superior nutrient levels are most likely the result of the differences in diet between free ranging, pastured hens and commercially farmed hens.
Should You Refrigerate Your Eggs?
Before we get into the issue of eating raw versus cooked eggs, let's review the ideal storage method for your eggs. Contrary to popular belief, fresh pastured eggs that have an intact cuticle do not require refrigeration, as long as you are going to consume them within a relatively short period of time.
This is well known in many other countries, including parts of Europe, and many organic farmers will not refrigerate their eggs. In the U.S., refrigeration of eggs became the cultural norm when mass production caused eggs to travel long distances and sit in storage for weeks to months before arriving at your local supermarket. Additionally, the general lack of cleanliness of factory farms increases the likelihood that your eggs have come into contact with pathogens, amplifying the need for both disinfection and refrigeration.
So, if your eggs are fresh from the organic farm, with intact cuticles, and will be consumed within a few days, you can simply leave them on the counter or in a cool cupboard. The shelf life for an unrefrigerated egg is around 7 to 10 days.
When refrigerated, they'll stay fresh for 30-45 days. Keep this in mind when purchasing eggs from your grocery store, as by the time they hit the shelf, they may already be three weeks old, or older... USDA certified eggs will have a pack date and a sell-by date on the carton, so check the label. For more information about the date codes on your egg carton, see this link.
How to Eat Your Eggs for Maximum Health Benefits
Quite a few people are allergic to eggs, but I believe this is because they are cooked. When you heat the egg, the protein changes its chemical shape, and this type of distortion can easily lead to allergies. When consumed in their raw state, the incidence of egg allergy virtually disappears.
This distortion may be further magnified depending on the manner in which it's cooked. Microwaves heat food by causing water molecules in it to resonate at very high frequencies and eventually turn to steam, which heats your food. But it also changes your food's chemical structure in ways that regular cooking does not.
It is my belief that eating eggs raw helps preserve many of the highly perishable nutrients, and the results in the featured study confirms this as raw egg yolk lost about half of its antioxidant potential when boiled, fried, or worse, microwaved.
Remember that most of the nutrition in an egg is in the yolk, not the white which is merely protein and many have a texture problem when eating them raw. The yolk on the other hand is loaded with nutrients, like bioflavonoids, brain fats like phosphatidyl choline, powerful antioxidants and sulfur. I have four raw egg yolks almost every day and throw away the whites as I don't need the extra protein, but one can soft boil or poach them I personally put my raw egg yolks over a bed of dehydrated kale and cucumber pulp left over from juicing, along with a whole avocado and some chopped red onions.
If you choose not to eat your eggs raw, poached or soft-boiled is your next best option. Aside from microwaving, scrambling your eggs is one of the worst ways to cook them as it oxidizes the cholesterol in the egg yolk, which may in fact harm your health.
What about the Risk of Salmonella?
The CDC and other public health organizations advise you to thoroughly cook your eggs to lower your risk of salmonella, but as long as they're pastured and organic, eating your eggs raw is actually the best in terms of your health.
The salmonella risk is primarily heightened when the hens are raised in unsanitary conditions, which is extremely rare for small organic farms where the chickens are raised in clean, spacious coops, have access to sunlight, and forage for their natural food. The salmonella risk can be high in conventional eggs, however, which is why I advise against eating conventional eggs raw. One study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over 4 percent in organic flocks and 6.5 percent in free-range flocks.
How to Find Fresh Pastured Organic Eggs
The key to getting high quality eggs is to buy them locally, either from an organic farm or farmers market. Fortunately, finding organic eggs locally is far easier than finding raw milk as virtually every rural area has individuals with chickens. Farmers markets are a great way to meet the people who produce your food. With face-to-face contact, you can get your questions answered and know exactly what you're buying. Better yet, visit the farm and ask for a tour.
To locate a free-range pasture farm, try asking your local health food store, or check out the following web listings:
If you absolutely must purchase your eggs from a commercial grocery store, look for ones that are marked free-range organic. They're still going to originate from a mass-production facility (so you'll want to be careful about eating them raw), but it's about as good as it gets if you can't find a local source.
I would strongly encourage you to AVOID ALL omega-3 eggs, as they are some of the least healthy for you. These eggs typically come from chickens that are fed poor-quality sources of omega-3 fats that are already oxidized. Also, omega-3 eggs perish much faster than non-omega-3 eggs.
For more tips on eggs, including how to identify fresh, high-quality eggs, please read Raw Eggs for Your Health.