While eggs have been a major part of the diets of body builders and other athletes for decades, there are sizeable portions of the general public who avoid them like the plague. The worlds media has been full of egg stories this week, however, after a 10 year long Chinese led study was published in the medical journal Heart showing that, contrary to the cholesterol naysayers claims, eating an egg a day can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
The Pros and Cons of Eggs
Eggs are one of nature’s most nutritionally dense foods. They contain high levels of protein, Vitamins A, D, B and B12, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin that can help prevent eye damage in old age. They also contain a significant amount of fat, part of which is cholesterol.
The truth about cholesterol is that we need it in our diet. We need cholesterol to help produce natural steroids and allow our bodies to repair themselves. The issue with cholesterol and eggs (and protein as you’ll read below), is that eggs are often combined with other high fat foods eg cream and butter, or processed foods eg a burger, which are also high in cholesterol. In these cases, the nutritional benefits of eating eggs pales into insignificance against the volume of cholesterol being consumed.
The edge eggs have over processed foods is that, inherent within nature is balance. Ever had to take iron tablets and the doctor asks you to drink orange juice before taking them? We need the vitamin C in the orange juice to be able to absorb the iron. Natural food sources, such as eggs, come packaged with essential vitamins and minerals in the right balance to allow us to utilise all the nutrients of the food stuff effectively. With very few exceptions, eggs are good for us.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that nature’s balance can be disrupted. The animal rights campaigners, vegans, proponents of Paleo diets etc will point us towards the ill effects of battery farmed produce for not just the animals but us. If we’re eating animal products from ill treated animals, the background essential vitamins and minerals aren’t there in the right balance and can cause issues. If you’re eating animal products, taking the time to ensure they’re responsibly sourced is worth it.
Can you eat too many?
How does the old saying go “too much of a good thing…..”. Ultimately the right diet is about balance. The general advice given is that we shouldn’t eat more than two eggs a day purely because, if you’re eating more than this, you will be missing out on other foods and the nutrients that these other foods contain.
According to Heart UK, one average egg (58g; 2oz) contains about 4.6g of fat, about a teaspoon. But only a quarter of this is saturated, the type that increases cholesterol levels in the body. So on their own there’s nothing to worry about. As mentioned above though, if we start combining them with other foods high in cholesterol, eating them can be damaging.
The other thing you need to consider is that eggs are a great source of protein. Similarly to cholesterol however, western diets tend to contain a lot of protein and too much (two or three times the recommended daily amount) can cause kidney problems.
The simple solution to both of the above issues is to eat eggs in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Storage and Cooking
It’s recommended to pay attention to best-before dates as most eggs have a shelf-life of 28 days from the date they were laid and any broken or cracked eggs should be avoided incase they’ve been infected.
When storing them put them in the fridge, in their box or a separate covered container. Whites last for up to three weeks in a container. Yolks will last up to three days. Both should be covered in cling film. Both can also be frozen for up to three months.
Many will know the trick of putting an egg in a bowl of cold water to check it is still fresh. If the egg sinks to the bottom of the bowl, it is fresh. If it sits on the surface, it is less so.
Boiling or poaching eggs is the best way to cook them as scrambling eggs, frying eggs, making egg mayonnaise etc all add extra fat which can lead us towards issues.
What About Salmonella?
Chickens commonly carry the Salmonella bacteria which can be easily passed on to the surface of the egg and thus potentially on to us.
In the UK there was a major health scare in the late 1980s which led to a massive vaccination programme in the 1990s. As a result, eggs in the UK have the Lion Mark printed on the shell if they have been laid by a hen vaccinated against salmonella. If you’re reading this outside of the UK, you avoid commercially available hen eggs due to animal rights beliefs or are eating other eggs eg duck or quail eggs, basic kitchen hygiene should be followed and cooking them thoroughly is the safest option.
It is quite common for children under five to be allergic to eggs but rare for this to develop in adulthood.
Most reactions are mild:
- redness and swelling around the mouth
- stomach ache
Egg allergies rarely cause a severe or life-threatening reaction but, in the case of a reaction, always seek medical advice.
Optimal training requires optimal nutrition and, on balance, eggs provide an excellent option for your menu.
If you’re going to take the time to practice, practice like the elite.