Organic Eggs: Incredible, Edible, Affordable

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.

This just in: leading trend trackers say consumers want foods that deliver value, health benefits, and taste (1). No surprise there. With our plummeting economy we’re all trying to get by with less, but we don’t want to sacrifice our family’s health or the pleasure of eating good food. That’s where eggs roll in.

There is no better bargain on the market when it comes to high-quality protein for the price. Each oval beauty contains a whopping 6 grams of protein plus a lengthy list of health-protecting nutrients. From French toast to frittatas, eggs are one of the most versatile ingredients for quick and easy great tasting meals.

Humpty-Dumpty: Health Ambassador

Eggs have taken a beating in the press over the years. Much maligned for their cholesterol content, we rarely hear about their unique health benefits. It’s high time we gave eggs the lofty credit they deserve.

For one, eggs are considered a near perfect food. In addition to their complete, easily-digestible protein, and wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals, the yolk contains two important anti-oxidants: lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds give the yolk its bright yellow color, help protect our eyes against age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in older adults) and lower our risk for heart disease. (2)

The yolk is also a rich source of choline, a vitamin necessary for fetal brain development and memory function later in life. Choline also appears to protect us against inflammation, which is linked to heart disease and other chronic conditions (3). So what’s not to love?

Years ago our thinking about eggs became scrambled over cholesterol. When researchers declared high blood cholesterol a risk factor for heart disease, all foods containing the compound were demonized. We didn’t realize that the cholesterol in food had less to do with elevated blood cholesterol than other types of fats in our diet, namely the trans or hydrogenated fats found in highly processed snack and fast foods, and certain saturated fatty acids.

It’s true that one large egg yolk contains over 200 milligrams of cholesterol, but that cholesterol doesn’t go straight to our arteries. In fact, Harvard University reports the only large study to look at the impact of egg consumption on heart disease found no connection between the two (4). Heredity and other diet and lifestyle factors seem to play a much greater role in heart disease risk (5).

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Heart disease is complex, and having high blood cholesterol is just one red flag for your doctor to evaluate. Increasing age, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, type-2 diabetes, smoking, lack of physical activity, high-sodium diet, and a low intake of fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables all increase our risk. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, and eating well are key to a healthy heart, but getting adequate sleep and having quality relationships also protect our hearts from damage. If you are at risk for heart disease or have elevated blood cholesterol, talk to your doctor and dietitian about making dietary and lifestyle adjustments. (2)

Organic Eggs = Golden Eggs

The best eggs come from organic family farms where chickens are raised humanely, with access to sunlight, fresh air and ample space to enjoy their natural, instinctive behaviors.

Organic eggs deliver both a personal and environmental advantage, because they come from healthy chickens, fed nutrient-rich organic feed. By law, organic feed must be produced without the use of genetically modified grains, sewage sludge, or synthetic pesticides.

However, Organic Valley egg producers go “above and beyond national organic standards,” explains David Bruce, Organic Valley’s Egg Pool Director, who oversees over 80 small family egg farmers. Bruce says once the chickens start laying eggs, “they all enjoy access to the outdoors.” In fact, Organic Valley currently has one of the most stringent outdoor access requirements around. Birds on pasture—weather permitting, of course—eat a seasonal variety of plants which further ensures nutritionally superior eggs  (26).

Unfortunately, most of the eggs consumed in the U.S. come from concentrated animal feeding operations, or “CAFOs,” where thousands of chickens live confined in cages stacked several rows high  (7, 8). In addition to the birds’ cramped living conditions, the mass of manure can release pollutants such as ammonia into the air, harming community and farm worker health. (7, 8, 9).

Organic agriculture focuses on enhancing soil fertility, preserving air and water quality, and promoting biological diversity and animal welfare  (2). By choosing organic eggs, you make a wise investment in your family’s health and nutrition, as well as the safety of our planet for future generations. Healthy soil, plants and animals produce healthier food for humans. Now there’s a bargain worth clucking about.

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Did You Know?

* All of the cholesterol in an egg is found in the yolk. The egg white is fat free.

* Eggs are perennial harbingers of spring, associated with renewal and rebirth. From religious ceremony to children's backyard hunts, eggs are central to seasonal tradition and celebration.

* The breed of the hen determines eggshell color. The color of the shell does not significantly influence nutrient content.

* When a hen's diet includes flax seed, she produces eggs with higher amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

* Eggs for breakfast might be just the trick to help us control our weight. Compared to women who ate a bagel-based breakfast, those who included eggs in their morning meal felt satisfied longer and consumed fewer calories during the rest of the day. (10)

Meet the Food Sleuth

Dietician-Mother-Gardener-Writer Melinda Hemmelgarn encourages readers to Think Beyond the Plate. meet Melinda

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