Eggs, including the yolks, are the good guys–not the bad guys. Truly a superfood (for those not sensitive or allergic to eggs) if there ever was one, they are packed full of nutrients that are not as prevalent in other foods. Don’t worry, the charges have been dropped and egg yolks have been been cleared of previous accusations that they cause heart disease. Eggs are not all equal in nutritional content, but they all provide an inexpensive, quick, high quality protein that can enhance your health and appearance!
Egg yolks are the highest food source of the B-complex vitamin choline (over 100 milligrams/egg), which is associated with better memory, reduced inflammation and possibly even better mood, as it is needed to produce serotonin, dopamine and norephinephrine, which contribute to our sense of well-being. The average person in the US only gets about 300 milligrams of choline per day, and yet the recommendation is 425 for women and 550 for men.
A sluggish thyroid gland can keep us from burning calories and leave us feeling tired. One egg contains almost a quarter of the selenium we need in a day to reduce the risk of having an under-active thyroid. Those who avoid seafood and mushrooms, also rich sources of selenium, are at an even greater risk of not eating enough selenium. An excellent source of iodine, which is also important for thyroid health, eggs are often the main source of iodine for those of us who use almost exclusively non-iodized salts like sea salt and kosher salt, and especially for those who skip yogurt and milk.
Eggs are also an important source of high-quality protein (7 grams per egg), molybdenum, phosphorus, vitamin B5, vitamin B12 (a nutrient lacking among the elderly and in those who avoid meat and dairy products) and vitamin D (another nutrient we usually need more of ). They are a good source of riboflavin, folate, panthothenic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B2, as well as the minerals zinc, copper, phosphorus, iron, potassium and magnesium.
If that’s not enough, eggs are rich in phytonutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which help to ward off macular degeneration and cataract development. Packed with antioxidants, cooked egg yolks are at least equal to apples in their antioxidant content, as reported by the University of Alberta. Eggs are a nutrient-dense food; full of so many vital nutrients for only about 75 calories per egg!
All egg yolks contain omega-3 fatty acids, but conventional eggs have fewer total omega-3s in the active form. By providing hens with a pasture-based diet, the omega-3 levels in the eggs can be doubled naturally. The average U.S. diet contains far too little omega-3 fatty acids, but eggs from pasture-raised chickens can provide significant amounts of these anti-inflammatory fats. Don’t be tempted to purchase the designer 0mega-3 fatty acid-enriched eggs, since those eggs are often high in the inactive form of the omega-3s, or ALA. Poultry growers do this by giving more of the cheaper chicken feeds like flax and canola to the hens rather than the more expensive fish meal and algae, which are high in active omega-3 fatty acids. All eggs are not equal! Farm-raised eggs contain 3-6 times the amount of vitamin D that conventional eggs have, and usually contain more of the active omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, than even omega-3 enriched eggs!
Egg yolks have gotten a bad rap for their high cholesterol content. Assuming that the more cholesterol you eat the higher your blood cholesterol will be (with a corresponding risk for artery and heart disease), the high amount of cholesterol in egg yolks (213 mg) could be seen as a problem. But it doesn’t work that way. The research has consistently shown that the cholesterol we eat has very little impact on how much cholesterol is in our blood. This is because our bodies make 5-10 times the cholesterol in a large egg everyday. When we eat more cholesterol from foods like eggs, our body produces less of it. Conversely, when we eat less cholesterol, our body produces more. That’s because cholesterol is an important nutrient. It’s in every cell of the body and is required to produce hormones that regulate our bodies. Diabetics and the 0.2 percent of the population with familial hypercholesterolemia may be the only possible exception, since the research is not conclusive for these groups. Just recently the American Heart Association amended its guidelines on eggs, so there is no longer a specific recommendation on the number of egg yolks a person may consume in a week.
Just as a caveat, eggs are also high in sulfur, an essential nutrient that helps with everything from vitamin B absorption to liver function. Sulfur is also needed for the production of collagen and keratin, which help to create and maintain shiny hair, strong nails and glowing skin.
Nutrient-rich eggs may be nature’s superfood, provided that you don’t have an egg allergy, and choose the best quality. Take Septembers (2013)’s Healthy Challenge and eat organic, pasture-raised eggs to cash in on their great nutrition. Shopping for the eggs that contain the most nutrients can be confusing, but stick with barnyard-raised eggs if you can. Otherwise, look for both organic and pasture-raised eggs. Phrases like “free-range” and “cage-free” on egg cartons are misleading, since these terms are allowed even if the egg-laying chickens spend little or no time outdoors in a pasture to increase the nutrient levels in the eggs. The organic label alone doesn’t guarantee a natural lifestyle for the hens, either. To find organic, pasture-raised eggs, ask at your local farmers’ market or check out these websites, www.localharvest.org and www.eatwild.com, to find small local farms in your area. Both sites are searchable by zip code. Good luck and tell us about it!