Whether you like them scrambled or fried, poached or hard-boiled, eggs play a big role in our diet. When you go to the grocery store, you can buy regular, organic, cage-free, grade a, jumbo, and/or pastured eggs. You can buy egg whites and egg substitutes. You can buy eggs from chickens given vegetarian feed or eggs from chickens given a special diet to increase omega 3s. The choices and possibilities are seemingly endless. So what’s the best for us? Are eggs even healthy to consume? Let’s dig into the world of eggs and crack open some myths along the way.
Are Eggs Considered Real Food?
I know the answer to this question seems pretty obvious. Of course eggs are real food, they come from real chickens, were eaten by our ancestors, are part of many traditional diets, and are not man-made. But I don’t think the answer is that simple. With the industrialization of our food system came many changes to the way chickens are raised and fed. Therefore, I would say that eggs are real food when they come from chickens who are allowed to wander around outside and eat a natural diet of real, non GMO food.
There are many problems with the conventional eggs you can buy at the store. Most food given to chickens today contains corn and soy. Corn and soy are two products that are very cheap to manufacture and therefore help make cheap meat and eggs. However, the cheap price we are paying for eggs may come at the cost of our health. Not only are corn and soy genetically modified, but there are 197 research articles linked to soy on the FDA database for poisonous plants. Soy that has been cooked is no longer poisonous, but I don’t know many chickens who cook their food before consuming it. Do you? Clearly, soy is not something chickens would eat in the wild and is not something they should be consuming.
Chickens who eat soy develop all kinds of nutritional deficiencies and health problems causing farmers to have to supplement their food with other vitamins and minerals. There is also evidence that the phytoestrogens in soy are crossing over into the eggs and therefore being consumed by us. While phytoestrogens do contain some health benefits for some people, the amount being consumed by the general public is alarming since soy is now in most processed foods as well as in our dairy and meat (source). It’s not good for pregnant women to be consuming all these phytoestrogens as cited in a 2010 research article called The Pros and Cons of Phytoestrogens. The authors note that the presence of phytoestrogens “throughout gestation and early infancy leads to a myriad of adverse health outcomes including malformations in the ovary, uterus, mammary gland and prostate, early puberty, reduced fertility, disrupted brain organization, and reproductive tract cancers”. (source)
Furthermore, the chickens who lay the eggs we eat are raised in cramped quarters and rarely see the light of day. Even eggs labeled ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ don’t mean much. Cage free eggs means the chickens are not in cages, they are just all crowded together in a big building or barn. Free range eggs means the chickens have some kind of access to the outdoors, but the access is usually limited, and it is most likely barren ground that doesn’t allow the chickens to forage and peck at greenery and bugs. These are just labels the food industry uses to charge more money and make people feel better about their purchases.
Are Eggs Healthy?
I hope I haven’t depressed you with all this information about conventional eggs, because the truth is, when sourced from healthy, pastured chickens, eggs are very healthy and nourishing. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride writes in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome
Eggs are one of the most nourishing and easy-to-digest foods on this planet. Raw egg yolk has been compared with human breast milk because it can be absorbed almost 100% without needing digestion. Egg yolks will provide you with most essential amino acids, many vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12, A, D, biotin), essential fatty acids, a lot of zinc, magnesium and many other nutrients…Egg yolks are very rich in cholin – an amino acid essential for the nervous system and the liver to function. (p. 132)
Also, one 2010 research study suggests that eggs from chickens on pasture are more nutritious than conventional chicken eggs. This confirms what Mother Earth News discovered in a 2007 study which showed eggs from pastured hens had one-third less cholesterol, 1/3 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin a, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin e, and 7 times more beta carotene. (source) Those are pretty impressive statistics!
But What About Cholesterol?
Like any good food, eggs must be consumed in moderation. That being said, there are a lot of people scared to consume eggs because of the cholesterol in the yolk. I used to be one of those people who cooked with egg whites all in the name of health. Dr. Campbell-McBride gives a good explanation for why we don’t need to worry so much about the cholesterol in an egg-yolk.
In the last decade there have been a number of clinical studies confirming that consuming eggs has nothing to do with heart disease or atherosclerosis. In fact people who consume eggs show a lower risk of these health problems. The majority of people do not know that 85% of blood cholesterol does not come from food but is produced by the liver in response to consumption of processed carbohydrates and sugar. So, these are the foods to avoid in order to protect your heart, not the eggs. (Gut And Psychology Syndrome, p.133)
In researching for this article, I came across so much contradictory information on this topic. You have to do what is right for your family. Nutrition science is still very much in its infancy and is changing every day. I the 1950’s people believed Coca Cola was healthy for babies for heaven’s sake! We use common sense and choose to eat real, whole foods that God designed to bring our bodies nourishment. This includes whole eggs from healthy sources.
Where Can I Get Pastured Eggs?
Finding a good source for pastured eggs can be easy or hard depending on where you live. I live in the desert and so it was a lot harder for me to find a good source. In fact, the eggs I get are from chickens supplemented with organic grains because pastures are very expensive to water.
I recommend checking Craigslist and your local farmer’s markets. Also localharvest.org and eatwild.com have great databases for searching local sources of pastured eggs. Some health food stores sell pastured eggs, although I have found them to be very expensive.
If you have the resources, you could raise your own chickens for eggs. I would love to do this someday, but it’s not allowed in our current neighborhood (I checked!).
You always want to get to know your source and ask questions about what the chickens eat and how they live. I have found many vendors at my local Farmer’s Market who feed their chickens conventional corn and soy products, so be a detective. And if you can’t find pastured chicken eggs, local is going to be better than the eggs at the store. When I have to buy eggs from the store, I at least try to buy free-range organic so I am avoiding the gmos. Remember, you can only do the best you can do with what you have, so don’t let worry get you down.
I currently pay $3.50 a dozen for eggs I get from a lady who raises them in her backyard. I have seen them priced all the way up to $7 a dozen where I live, though.
So are you an egg eater? How much do you feel is a reasonable price for healthy eggs? Is there anything in this article that surprised you?
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Lined up at Wellness Wednesday.