By Dr. Mercola
Eggs, organic and pastured, are among the healthiest foods you can eat, and discussing the definition of an egg seems, on the surface, to be a rather moot point. That is, until you learn a curious fact about the legal definition of an egg, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While the FDA wasn’t shy about legally defining egg whites, frozen egg yolks and liquid eggs, regular eggs — the kind in the shell (as though there were any other kind) — have no such definition.
Stranger still, the FDA has a rule on the books that forbids it, stating “no regulation shall be promulgated fixing and establishing a reasonable definition and standard of identity for the food commonly known as eggs.”1 One can only speculate why the FDA would go to such a length to avoid pinning down a definition for eggs, but one thing the lack thereof allows is for restaurants to pass off “eggish” products as real eggs, with no obvious distinctions to consumers.
So it’s not surprising that food chain Panera, which is launching a breakfast sandwich made from “100% real eggs,” submitted a petition to the FDA to eliminate the “no definition rule” and asking for eggs to be defined to “reflect a food made from a cracked shell egg without addition of additives or further processing” — the exception being pasteurization or other treatment to destroy salmonella.2
As the saying goes, truth really is stranger than fiction, and although Panera is clearly seeking to legally define eggs in order to bolster profits, it seems to be a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless. As Modern Farmer noted, “[I]t seems that Panera has actually stumbled on something bizarre and worth digging into. What possible reason could the FDA have for not only declining to define an egg, but for going a step further and actually passing a rule that specifically forbids anyone from defining one?”3
Egg Sandwiches Often Made From ‘Egg Products’ Instead
Eggs play a starring role in most fast food breakfast sandwiches, with many taking for granted the notion that an “egg sandwich” contains real egg. This is where the FDA’s strange egg loophole rears its ugly head, as an egg sandwich may actually be made with a heavily processed “egg product.” Ironically, fast food giant McDonald’s — hardly known for wholesome food — is among those that touts the use of a whole cracked egg in its breakfast menu, but only on its McMuffin (which still does not make it a health food).
Most of their other egg sandwiches contain “folded egg,” which is a mix of eggs, nonfat milk, modified food starch, salt and citric acid.4 Other food chains are similarly guilty of passing of unappetizing egg concoctions as simply “eggs” on its sandwiches. Dunkin’ Donuts’ bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, for instance, is made with an “egg patty” that includes soybean oil, cornstarch, xanthan gum and natural flavor, among other ingredients.5
Even Starbucks, many people may be surprised to learn, uses a “puffed scrambled egg patty” on its sausage, cheddar and egg breakfast sandwich, made with soybean oil, modified food starch, butter flavor and guar gum, to name just some of its ingredients.6 The moral of the story is that if you choose a fast food breakfast, there’s a good chance the egg it contains is a far cry from the kind you could, just as quickly, whip up at home — although Panera is trying to change that. The company wrote in a press release:7
“In developing its newest breakfast sandwiches, Panera discovered that current FDA regulations do not establish a definition or a standard of identity for eggs. Without this, companies can sell and advertise items that contain multiple additives, such as butter-type flavors, gums and added color, under the generic term ‘egg.’ Panera’s goal in petitioning the FDA is to better support and inform guests in the absence of a true definition for the term ‘egg.’”
Further, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy Sara Burnett, explained, “After discovering the FDA’s lack of definition for the simple term ‘egg,’ Panera began exploring menus from other companies in the food industry to better understand what’s in their ‘egg’ sandwiches. Panera found that 50 percent of the top 10 fast casual restaurants that sell breakfast have an ‘egg’ made of at least five ingredients, often more.”8
Fake Eggs an Actual Problem in Asia
In Asia, fake eggs are taken to another level entirely, with whole egg lookalikes appearing on store shelves since about the mid-1990s. Circa 2005, it was said that fake eggs cost about half as much to make as real eggs, whereas other reports suggest 10 fake eggs cost just 2 cents to produce,9 hence the attempts to pass them off to unsuspecting consumers.
Made with strange combinations like calcium carbonate and paraffin wax for the shells, resin, coagulant, pigment and sodium alginate for the whites and yolks, the fake eggs appear eerily similar to the actual thing, although with ingredients linked to liver, brain and nerve damage.10 An investigation by the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) in Malaysia revealed slight differences between real and fake eggs to watch out for.
The fake eggs, CAP said, were rougher on the surface and larger than real eggs, with yellower yolks and no chalazae, the ropy strand of egg white that holds the yolk in place. Further, fake eggs smell different from real eggs, with some having no scent at all, and, if shaken in the shell, you’ll hear liquid sloshing around, as opposed to a more solidified sound from a real egg.11
Reports on social media suggest the eggs become rubbery when cooked, with yolks that may even bounce on the floor. In speaking with a reported 10-year veteran in the fake egg industry, on investigation with the Qilu Evening News, reported by the Epoch Times, explained more unsettling details about how the fake eggs are created:12
“The eggshell is created in a mold; stirring the calcium mixture and applying it evenly is crucial in creating a convincing fake. In 10 minutes, the egg is complete. To reduce the strong chemical smell given off by the compounds that comprise the whites and yolk, the eggs are treated with aquarium water to recreate an authentic odor. For added effect, traces of chicken droppings can be placed on the eggs.”
Beyond Eggs for US — Ultra-Processed Isolates Backed by Gates
A different type of fake egg has already hit store shelves in the U.S. Dubbed “Beyond Eggs,” the pea-based egg replacement was created by Hampton Creek, a food startup backed by Bill Gates, aiming to replace animal foods with plant products.13
The Beyond Eggs product was intended to be used only in baking, but the company is hoping to soon release another plant-based artificial egg product made from mung beans, called Just Scramble, and intended to replace other egg replacement products used by schools and universities.
Along with the fake eggs, the company also makes a plant-based mayonnaise and is working on plant-based ice cream and butter, along with a lab-grown meat product. It’s the latest lineup of ultra-processed food created from isolates and cultures that is being passed off as healthier than the real thing. The “Beyond Meat” Beyond Burger is another example that’s already sitting on U.S. grocery store shelves.
Made from a heavily processed concoction of ingredients like pea protein isolate, canola oil, gum Arabic, modified food starch and cellulose from bamboo, it’s far from health and a far cry from real food.
The Impossible Burger, a meat substitute made from soy, wheat, coconut oil, potatoes and plant-based “heme,” the latter of which is derived from genetically engineered (GE) yeast, is another example of the fake food fad that seems to be rising in the U.S., as is the meat substitute known as Quorn, a fungus-based ferment that hit the U.S. market in 2002.
It’s important to remember that a key feature of healthy food is being as natural and unprocessed as possible, and meat alternatives such as the Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger and Quorn involve the highest level of processing imaginable. These products are manufactured from start to finish and involve the use of man-made ingredients.
Even more importantly, real, whole food such as meat and eggs contain a complex mix of nutrients and cofactors that you cannot recreate by an assembly of individual components. As a general rule, man-made foods are vastly inferior to natural, whole foods and always will be.
Real Nutrition Comes From Real Eggs
Getting back to eggs, if you’re interested in real nutrition, forget the fake egg patties, powders and replacements and opt for the real thing instead. Eggs became largely vilified over recent decades, in part because of misconceptions regarding their cholesterol content. In reality, eggs, particularly the yolks, provide valuable vitamins (A, D, E and K), omega-3 fats and antioxidants. They’re also one of the best sources of choline available.
Choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications, prevents the buildup of homocysteine in your blood (elevated levels are linked to heart disease) and reduces chronic inflammation. Choline is also needed for your body to make the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is involved in storing memories.
In pregnant women, choline plays an equally, if not more, important role, helping to prevent certain birth defects, such as spina bifida, and playing a role in brain development.
According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, only 8 percent of U.S. adults are getting enough choline (including only 8.5 percent of pregnant women).14 Among egg consumers, however, more than 57 percent met the adequate intake (AI) levels for choline, compared to just 2.4 percent of people who consumed no eggs. In fact, the researchers concluded that it’s “extremely difficult” to get enough choline unless you eat eggs or take a dietary supplement. One egg yolk contains nearly 215 mg of choline.
Why else are egg yolks good for you? They’re rich in the antioxidant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial for vision health. Egg yolks are also an excellent source of healthy fat and protein, while providing you with vitamins that many Americans are lacking. Eating egg yolks may even be an ideal way to resolve other common nutrient deficiencies beyond choline, including vitamins A, E and B6, copper, calcium and folate.15
Free-range or "pastured" organic eggs are far superior when it comes to nutrient content, while conventionally raised eggs are far more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella. You can usually tell your eggs are pastured by the color of the egg yolk. Foraged hens produce eggs with bright orange yolks, and this is what most people who raise backyard chickens are after. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign you're getting eggs from caged hens that are not allowed to forage for their natural diet.
Where You Get Your Eggs Matters
Since the FDA currently does not allow eggs to be defined, be aware that “egg” dishes may take on a variety of processed forms in restaurants. You can easily avoid falling for this fake egg loophole by being choosy about where your eggs come from and preparing them yourself at home. Unfortunately, loopholes also abound in terms of eggs sold in U.S. grocery stores, allowing CAFO-raised chickens and eggs to masquerade as "free-range" and "organic."
The Cornucopia Institute addressed some of these issues in their egg report and scorecard, which ranks egg producers according to 28 organic criteria. It can help you to make a more educated choice if you’re buying your eggs at the supermarket. Ultimately, however, the best choice is to get to know a local farmer and get your eggs there directly.
Alternatively, you might consider raising your own backyard chickens or picking up organic, pastured eggs from a local farmers market or food co-op. This way, there’s no confusion over what’s a real egg and what’s not — regardless of what the FDA definition ultimately turns out to be.