Have you been serving your eggy breakfast with a side of guilt and worry? It may be time to to reconsider. After decades of dietary warnings, the federal government’s latest guidelines leave more room for eggs, by removing its warning about dietary cholesterol for most people.
“Eggs pack a lot of nutritional benefits, and they can definitely be part of a healthy diet,” says Katie Jeffrey, RD, a dietitian and sports nutritionist, based in Stonington, CT. She points out that eggs are a great source of protein and contain more than 10 essential vitamins and minerals. They’re also a source of antioxidants, like lutein and zeaxanthin, which can help protect eye health.
Of course, if eggs aren’t your thing there’s no reason to force them into your diet. And you shouldn’t overdo it. There is some research that suggests a link between regular egg consumption and increased risk for certain cancers and diabetes.
But, if every once in a while you like to start your day by cracking one open, have at it. To get the most out of your egg, follow this advice:
Cook ‘’Em Good
Before you drop that pat of butter into the frying pan, consider this: Each tablespoon of butter has 12 grams of fat — more than half of it saturated. Olive oil, while still high in fat, consists of mostly monounsaturated fats. “That’s a much healthier choice for your heart, and still delicious,” says Jeffrey.
Cooking sprays can also be a low-calorie alternative. Or you can reach for water instead. Poaching an egg involves cracking it raw into a pot of simmering water. “A lot of people don’t do that because the results can be tough to perfect,” Jeffrey says, “but it’s a nice way to experiment, with no added calories or fat.” Ditto hard-boiled eggs, which are also portable (bonus!) and easy to prep in advance because they keep in the fridge for up to one week. “I tell my clients who are athletes that hard-boiled eggs are the easiest way to add a pop of protein to your meal on the go,” she says.
Mind Your Mix-Ins
While eggs may not raise an immediate red flag, a three-cheese and sausage omelet certainly does. For the biggest health benefits, think plants, not animal products, when putting together a breakfast dish: Reach for fresh veggies and herbs to flavor your omelet, says Jeffrey, or swap the fatty breakfast meats in an eggs Benedict dish with thick slices of tomato or avocado.
Be Smart About Storage and Safety
The United States is one of the few countries around the world where egg refrigeration is the norm — but it’s about more than just our American neuroses. American egg producers wash their eggs, something that the USDA says helps prevent salmonella. As a result, however, the washing also rids the egg of a protective layer, says says Paul Patterson, PhD, a professor of poultry science at Penn State University.
The way to combat the protection lost? Cool temperatures. In fact, it’s the law for retailers to keep them at 45 degrees or below — so follow suit and keep your store-bought eggs in the fridge. As long as they’re in the fridge, raw eggs will last three to five weeks. Other ways to avoid Salmonella infection include discarding cracked or dirty eggs, and cooking them firm.
Decode the Carton
There are a dizzying number of claims on some egg cartons. If you’re scratching your head in the egg aisle, here’s a cheat sheet to what all of those labels actually mean:
- Color: Some people think brown eggs are more natural than white, but “there’s no nutritional difference between brown and white eggs,” says Patterson. In fact, the color of the shell has more to do with the color of the laying hen than the quality of the egg.
- Omega-3 Enriched: “Eggs are pretty easily manipulated based on the hens’ diet,” Patterson says. By feeding the hens a fattier diet, farmers can produce eggs that have almost 10 times the amount in a standard large egg (which contains about 30 milligrams each).
- Cage-Free and Free-Range vs. Certified Humane and Animal Welfare-Approved: This means hens were not raised in a cage, but according to the ASPCA, they could still be raised in “enclosed, windowless sheds.” It’s a step toward better treatment of animals. But for more peace of mind, look for Certified Humane or Animal Welfare-Approved labels, which have stricter requirements for things like indoor space minimums, required perches, outdoor access, and prohibiting antibiotics.
- Organic: The USDA Organic label denotes a cage-free environment for hens and prohibits use of antibiotic or growth hormones. In January 2017, stricter animal-welfare laws were passed, although implementation has since been on hold.
- Antibiotic-Free: Use of antibiotics in agriculture can contribute to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. To avoid antibiotic-treated eggs, go organic or antibiotic-free. According to the US Poultry and egg association, antibiotic-free labels can be applied only to egg cartons containing products produced without any antibiotics in hen feed or water.
- Hormone-Free: This label actually is nothing more than a marketing tool. The use of hormones is prohibited in poultryin the US, so consider this just a nice reminder — but don’t shell out more cash for the label.
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