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Should eggs be part of diet for optimal health?

Eggs have been a staple food for humans for thousands of years and for good reason. They are packed with an abundance of nutrients important for health.

Eggs could be labeled a superfood for these reasons: First, they have a high protein content and are a “complete” protein as each egg contains all the essential amino acids needed for health. They are high in vitamins A and D, folic acid, and minerals like choline, potassium, sulfur and phosphorous. Finally, they are also a great source of energy supplying B vitamins (B5, B12 and B2).

But is there also a dark side to eggs?

One question I often get from clients is whether eggs will raise the bad cholesterol because they are naturally high in cholesterol. The simple answer is no. Recent research shows that the cholesterol found in eggs only affects the larger, fluffier kind of LDL cholesterol for most people, which is not associated with heart disease. However, if high cholesterol is a part of your family history, you may want to keep eggs in moderation.

Let’s get back to the many health benefits of eggs.

They are great for brain health because of their choline content, which helps keep cells (the building blocks of the human body) happy and flexible improving neurotransmitter activity related to concentration, focus and memory. Egg consumption has even been shown to help in cases of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, choline neutralizes homocysteine, a substance that can otherwise damage blood vessels, thus supporting heart health.

Eggs are also great for reproductive health, as they contain essential nutrients like choline, folic acid and vitamin B12, which are critical for pregnant and nursing women, as well as for the health of their developing babies. The egg yolk is a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin. Getting adequate amounts of these nutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, two of the most common eye disorders.

When it comes to choosing the best eggs, there are several factors to consider, such as what is the chicken is eating, the quality of its food, and its exposure to sunshine and exercise. For example, eggs from vegetarian-fed chickens are not necessarily good for you because chickens need protein to develop properly and may be fed genetically modified soy and other unhealthy grains. Organic eggs come from chickens that eat feed and grains that were grown without pesticides. These chickens are not given hormones or antibiotics.

Here is the quick and dirty about how to decipher the various options:

  • Free-range chickens usually have a covered shelter and access to an outside scratch yard, but generally have limited space to roam and eat bugs and worms.
  • Pasture-fed chickens generally have much more space outdoors with access to worms and bugs that are ideal feed for the chicken’s health and strong immunity. These are typically the healthiest eggs you can find.
  • Cage-free chickens typically live inside a hen house close to many other chickens without access to the outdoors.

Eggs are a healthy and nutritious food choice, but it’s important to choose the best ones. Look for organic pasture-raised eggs or free-range eggs for the most health benefits. Don’t be fooled by labels like “cage-free” or “vegetarian-fed,” as these terms do not necessarily mean the chickens had access to the outdoors or were fed a healthy diet. By choosing the best eggs, you can reap the many health benefits that eggs have to offer.

Fran Sutherlin, RD, MS is a local registered dietitian, specializing in using digestive wellness to prevent or manage chronic disease. She has a master’s degree in nutrition, is a personal health coach, speaker, and owner of Sustainable Nutrition. She can be reached at (970) 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.