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The rundown on eggs
Are eggs healthy? And if so, why are there so many different types of eggs to choose from? Here's what a dietitian has to say about that. - photo by Pixabay

To eat or not to eat eggs, that is the question. To choose “caged,” “cage-free,” “free-range,” or “pasture-raised” eggs that are the bigger question.

Over the years eggs have been glorified, demonized and glorified again. Along with the egg debate, grocery stores have added a few more egg varieties to choose from, leaving consumers to scrutinize through marketing jargon. So should you be eating eggs?

The Egg Debacle

Eggs are typically associated with increased serum cholesterol levels. However, contrary to popular belief, eating eggs does not raise these levels. A 2015 study from the American Heart Journal found no evidence of daily egg consumption increasing cardiac risk factors. With that being said, one egg yolk has around ­­186 milligrams of cholesterol. According to the dietary guidelines, your daily cholesterol goal should be between 100 to 300 milligrams. Therefore, if you are shooting for the lower range of that number, eggs can still be a part of your diet, but stick to one egg a day or egg whites.

You may be thinking, "why should I eat egg yolks when all I want is the protein from eggs?" Many people choose to not eat egg yolks because they feel like the calories are not worth it or the yolks do not have any nutritional value. However, before you box out the yolks, it is important to note that they contain an exceptional amount of nutrients. In fact, eggs in its entirety are nutritional powerhouses.

The Nutrition Behind Eggs

Best known for its protein content, one large egg has 6 grams of protein and all 9 essential amino acids. About 60 percent of the protein is found in the egg whites and 40 percent of the protein is found in the egg yolks. However, eggs are more than just a protein source; they also contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals.

The following are some of the great nutrients found in the yolks:

  • Choline: An essential nutrient needed to produce acetylcholine, which is an important neurotransmitter for memory, brain, and nervous system functions.
  • Vitamin A: As an antioxidant, this fat-soluble vitamin fights free radicals as well as promote good vision and immune function.
  • Vitamin D: Plays an important role in calcium absorption and bone health. This vitamin also helps to regulate blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease. Egg yolks are one of the few foods that contain vitamin D.
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin: These phytochemicals are linked to preventing age-associated macular degeneration and cataract formation.
Choosing Eggs

If you are one of the many Americans who buys and consumes eggs, you have probably seen the various marketing terms plastered on egg cartons. The terms “caged,” “cage-free”, “free-range,” and the newest term “pasture-raised” eggs are all very confusing. So what do all of these terms mean? If you are not getting your eggs from farmers directly or have access to laying hens, then it is important to understand what type of eggs you are purchasing. Eggs purchased in commercial grocery stores are typically a product of factory farming.

The following are a few important marketing terms to understand.

  • Caged: Hens are confined to 67-square-inch cages. These hens do not see sunlight and consume a diet based on soy and corn. These hens are kept in cages for their entire lives. This type of egg makes up over 90 percent of U.S. egg consumption.
  • Cage Free: These hens are confined to approximately 144 square inches of space. Their main diet is soy and corn, and despite the term, they are not actually “free” to roam as they are still confined to a barn.
  • Free Range: Less than 2 square feet of land is allocated to each hen. These ladies do have more room than caged and cage-free hens, however, if you are thinking they are roaming free, think again. Soy and corn are the hens' main diet, and the majority of these hens do not see sunlight.
  • Pasture Raised: These hens are allotted 108 square feet each. Their diet is largely made up of bugs, grass, worms, and some feed. These birds have access to both indoor and outdoor areas. These hens are allowed to graze and manage their own feed.
It is important to remember that each farm may have its own definition of what “pasture-raised” means because it is a new term and the USDA does not regulate it. With that being said, if consuming pasture-raised eggs is something that is important to you, consider purchasing eggs that have the Certified Humane logo on it. This logo ensures that each hen has 108 square feet of open pasture to roam, eat, and live life.

One more egg myth buster: Brown eggs are not more nutritious than white eggs. The color of the egg depends entirely on the breed of hen.

The Bottom Line

So, should you eat eggs? Well, that depends on if you like them or not. As stated earlier in this article, eggs are an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals. If you choose to include eggs in your diet, make sure you know where your eggs are coming from.

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