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Have you tried grilling eggs for essential choline?

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

grilling eggs

Story at-a-glance -

  • The husband of author Emily Farris decided to experiment and put several of their homegrown eggs on the grill after making dinner one evening, only to discover a decidedly delicious smoky-flavored perfectly cooked egg for his efforts
  • Eggs are rich in the essential nutrient choline, which your body uses to normalize metabolism, as a neuroprotective substance and to regulate homocysteine; choline deficiency may lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), one of the most common forms of liver disease in the U.S.
  • The egg is versatile, lending itself to being baked, fried, steamed, poached, boiled or added to other foods. By the 1970s concerns over cholesterol dropped the average daily consumption of eggs, but a 1999 study from Harvard University demonstrated there was no association between eating eggs and heart disease
  • High-quality, pasture-raised hens produce nutrient-dense eggs with bright orange yolks; consider purchasing from a local farmer, raising your own or seeking out store-bought eggs ranked high on The Cornucopia Institute Organic Egg Scorecard

Eggs can be made in multiple ways. And while delicious, they're also considered one of the most perfect foods as they have the highest quality protein you can purchase. Eggs have no carbs, no sugar, are naturally gluten-free and are packed with nine essential amino acids.1

Many locally sourced eggs will have a brown shell, but this has nothing to do with the flavor or nutrition. The shell color is an indication of the breed of hen.2 White eggs are more popular in CAFO productions since the breed is smaller and needs less food to produce the same number of eggs. Some chickens will lay eggs almost every day, while others only once or twice per week.3

If you cooked your eggs and now can't tell the difference between which is cooked and which one is raw, spin it on its side. Hard-boiled eggs will spin easily, but raw eggs will wobble.4 You might choose to boil your eggs, scramble them, use them in an omelet or frittata or poach them, but have you ever thought about cooking your eggs on the grill?5

Try grilled eggs for a fresh new flavor

As you likely know, eggs are incredibly versatile. They may be baked, fried, steamed, poached,6 added to other foods and, as one adventurous backyard griller found, they can also be grilled. Bon Appetit magazine7 describes the adventure during which author Emily Farris’ husband discovered the complex flavors grilling produced in fresh eggs.

During a season when their chickens were laying six eggs a day, they were searching for other unique ways of using them. One night, after grilling dinner, Farris' husband popped a few eggs on the grill and put the lid on.

Left alone for 10 minutes, the eggs cooked through perfectly with a slightly smoky flavor. After being peeled, they found the eggs had “grill marks” or two small spots on the whites of the eggs where the shell had been in contact with the hot grate.8

The shells became slightly spotted but otherwise remained intact. And, unlike smoked eggs that can take up to two hours to cook, grilling fresh eggs may be completed in six to 14 minutes — depending how soft you like the yolks — with nearly the same results.9

Eggs are not responsible for heart disease

Humans have been eating eggs throughout history. But in the 1970s concerns were raised chicken eggs may increase your blood cholesterol.10 In the 1980s the average person in the U.S. had dropped from eating two or three eggs each week to one or two a week. Data from a 1999 study by Harvard University11 changed this when they found no association between eggs and heart disease.

Enrolling 117,933 men and women who were free of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia or cancer, the researchers followed their daily consumption of eggs and the incident of nonfatal and fatal coronary heart disease and stroke over one year.

They found the data suggested eating up to one egg per day did not have a substantial impact on heart health, but did suggest further research on diabetics who eat eggs, as the study excluded diabetics at baseline.12

Although concerns were raised when scientists believed the cholesterol level in eggs were an issue, later discoveries found dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol.13 Instead, the effect eggs have on blood cholesterol is minimal when compared to trans fats.14

Unfortunately, many continue to lump saturated fat in the same category as trans fats, declaring saturated fat is responsible for triggering your body to produce cholesterol and increasing your risk of heart disease.15,16,17,18

However, as I’ve reviewed several times, research on saturated fat doesn’t uphold this theory and in fact, a reduction in healthy, organically raised saturated fat may increase your risk of diabetes and obesity. You’ll find more information in my past articles, “Great Britain’s most outspoken cardiologist sets the record straight on saturated fats” and “Could eating the right fats save 1 million lives per year?

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Eggs: Rich in the essential nutrient choline

One of the essential nutrients found in eggs is choline. This vitamin-like nutrient is involved in several physiological processes, not the least of which includes normalizing metabolism, neurotransmitter synthesis and the regulation of homocysteine.19

A deficiency in choline may trigger abnormal deposits of fat in the liver resulting in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Additionally, deficiency may also lead to muscle damage. The recommended adequate intake of choline is set at 425 mg per day for women and 550 mg per day for men.20

Choline is found in the yolk of an egg and just one large egg yolk provides 126 mg of choline.21 Research22 has found a relationship between high dietary choline and better cognitive performance. In a group of 1,391 men and women from the Framingham Offspring population, researchers found performance factors were better in individuals who had higher choline intake.

These findings add to the evidence that your nutritional intake over a lifetime makes a difference in how your brain ages.23 Animal studies have also found choline intake during gestation and early postnatal development improved brain function during adulthood, and importantly, prevented age related memory loss.24

While some believe25 most people get enough choline from their diets and deficiency only occurs in rare cases, it's important to identify your choline food sources to determine whether your intake is sufficient to meet your daily needs.

Protect your gut health and protect your heart

Researchers have identified a complex relationship between microbiome and heart health associated with trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO).26 In 2013, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine27 suggested there was a new link between heart disease and eggs involving TMAO. However, in his analysis, Functional Medicine clinician Chris Kresser came to some interesting conclusions about the study:28

"Finally, this paper did not prove that eating choline-rich foods (or any other foods) increases TMAO levels over time. In fact, the researchers themselves seem to suggest this is unlikely in the discussion section of the paper.

The lack of association — or inverse association — between egg consumption and CHD is even more impressive when you consider that those who eat more eggs are also more likely to smoke and be physically inactive.29

Some studies suggest that eggs may even prevent heart disease. Egg consumption leads to the formation of larger, less dense LDL and HDL particles, which may be protective against atherosclerosis."30

Within your gut, microbial metabolism of choline produces trimethylamine, which converts to TMAO. In animal studies,31 researchers have found TMAO increases the development of atherosclerosis. However, the microbes contributing to the productions of TMA and the extent of the diet and bioavailability of dietary choline continues to be unknown.

Research published in the American Society for Microbiology32 attempted to answer some of those questions. Using human intestinal isolates, they identified nine strains of microbes producing TMA from choline in vitro. They found low levels of colonization of these microbes reduced choline available to the host, which was more pronounced as TMA producing bacteria increased.

They believe their work suggests TMA-producing gut microbiota should be considered when making recommendations about choline intake.33 This information provides yet another link to the relationship of the health of your gut microbiome and your cardiovascular system.

Long-term risks of fatty liver disease

In addition to being important for healthy fetal development,34 your nervous system,35 DNA methylation36 and mitochondrial function,37 choline deficiency may also be a primary driver for NAFLD. This is the most common form of liver disease in the U.S.,38 which may be triggered in part by obesity and insulin resistance.39

Another identified trigger for NAFLD is choline deficiency. Chris Masterjohn, who has a Ph.D. in nutritional science, believes choline deficiency may be a more significant trigger than excess fructose. It his review40 of the medical literature, he discusses supporting scientific evidence of the links between choline and NAFLD.

Additionally, researchers evaluating the effects of treatment and long-term health conditions associated with NAFLD using animal models create the condition through the use of methionine and choline deficient diets.41

There are two forms of fatty liver disease not associated with alcohol consumption. The first is called nonalcoholic fatty liver in which the liver suffers from fatty deposits but has little to no information or cellular damage.42

The secondary form is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a condition that occurs when you also have hepatitis. In this condition, the liver is also inflamed, and cellular damage is present as a result of the hepatitis. This may cause fibrosis of the liver, leading to cirrhosis or liver cancer.43

In one animal study44 evaluating the importance of choline, researchers found choline supplementation in the diet normalized cholesterol metabolism. This appeared to prevent nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and also demonstrated improvement in liver function.

The perfect hard-boiled egg

If you don’t have access to a grill, or there’s 2 feet of snow on the ground — or other weather calamities that make grilling difficult or impossible — you might be in search of how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg for your salad or snacking pleasure. To enjoy the best taste and nutritional value, seek out organic, pastured eggs as I discuss below.

There are several cooking alternatives, so I recommend you try each method until you find the one that suits you best. In each case you’ll not want to crowd the pot with eggs, leaving enough room for water to circulate freely between them. Cover the eggs with at least 1 inch of cool water and turn the burner on high to bring to a boil.

Here is where the different methods diverge. Adding 1 teaspoon of white vinegar helps the eggs from cracking while boiling, especially fresh eggs. Some prefer adding a teaspoon of baking soda or salt to older eggs instead to help loosen the shell when you’re peeling.45

Once the eggs come to a boil you may choose to continue to let them boil at a slightly lower temperature for up to seven minutes. Remove them from the stove and run them under cool water or put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

Another option is to bring them to a boil, turn off the electric burner, cover the pot and allow them to sit.46 If you’d like a softer center remove them at seven minutes. However, even left this way up to 15 minutes they won’t get over cooked. These can then be run under cold water or placed in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

Overcooked eggs will have a grey-green ring around the yolk. While they are safe to eat, they may not be pretty if you’re serving guests.47 Test the cooking times at your altitude, pot size and number of eggs. Once you have a time that works best for you, stick with it.

If you’re making deviled eggs and would like the yolks centered in the egg, stir them clockwise for several minutes while they’re boiling and then counterclockwise for several more.48

Peeling hard-boiled eggs is easier when the eggs are warm to room temperature. If you refrigerate your eggs to use later, remove them approximately five minutes before peeling to make the process easier.

Seek out local, organic, pastured dairy products

Unfortunately, producers have used terms giving the public the illusion they're purchasing organically grown and pastured dairy products when they're not. The terms “free run,” “free-range” and “pastured” may sound interchangeable but in reality, the definition isn't necessarily what you might expect.

In my past article, “How do different eggs stack up in terms of flavor, nutrition and animal welfare?” you'll discover more about the confusing number of labels used on eggs. While they are a part of a healthy diet, the type of eggs you purchase and eat are important.

As a general rule, you can tell the difference between pastured eggs and not by the color of the egg yolk. Hens allowed to forage will produce eggs with a bright orange yolk as opposed to the dull, pale yellow yolks you've found from caged hens raised on CAFO farms.

You have several choices to find high-quality, pasture-raised hens producing eggs. Local farmers, selling in farmers markets, is one option. Another alternative is to raise your own backyard chickens, which is a choice I have made.

Your third choice is to look for store-bought eggs with the right label. Be sure to check out The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard rating 136 different producers based on 28 organic criteria.49