Eggs – A Scrambled Answer

April 9, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

I’ve been a dietitian for decades; it’s been long enough to have lived through egg controversies that have gone back and forth, yes, no and maybe. Eggs were trapped, for a very long time, in the discovery that high cholesterol is involved in an increased risk of heart disease. I studied with some very progressive professors at UCLA who did a critical research project on eggs – they were way ahead of their time. Their research claimed that saturated and trans fats were the real culprits – not dietary cholesterol. Unfortunately, it took decades for a large body of research to validate the UCLA research. Certainly they’re learned much more since those old studies, but one of the important facts is that, as is so often the case, it’s not just yes or no – some easy answer. Because of my time at UCLA I never really gave up eating eggs, during the years that many of my peers, eschewed eggs as the bane of our heart health problems.

In addition to the UCLA studies, there is the fact that mankind has eaten eggs for millennia, not just chicken eggs, but birds, reptile, amphibians and fish eggs. Read a nice review of eggs at Wikipedia.

Why do we care, why not just say ‘no’ to eggs and not have to consider the issue? My guess is that it’s really a matter of finances. Eggs are a super inexpensive source of protein, with a very long list of nutrients packed in their shells.

An extra large egg (obviously a smaller egg will have fewer calories), about ¼ cup of egg is about 80 to 85 calories. Two extra large eggs would supply about 160 calories; that’s actually quite amazing when you look at the calories of other animal protein foods. I’ll list three: 210 - 240 calories for 3 oz. lean red meat; 300 calories for 3 oz. cheddar cheese; or 3 oz. chicken breast 225 calories. The egg is such a great protein source that it has been used as the standard for protein comparison and is in the meat category in the Food Guide Pyramid.

On March 31, 2010 I posted an article called Your Food, in the Raw about cooked vs. raw foods. I didn’t write about eggs in that article, but the protein in raw eggs is about 51% bio-available, and the cooked egg is about 91% bio-available – so that means that the protein in cooked eggs is about twice as absorbable as raw eggs. So in addition to the issue of the health hazard of eating raw eggs, there’s also an issue of better absorption of the protein of cooked eggs.

When we think of eggs we so often think of vitamins, minerals and protein; but choline, which is not yet classified as a vitamin is very important in metabolic functions. One function that we do know is that our brains need choline to support the messenger service called neurotransmitters. Choline is also linked to the production of new memory cells.  And Voila! choline is in egg yolks. So if thinking clearly is one of your desires, including egg yolks in your diet can be a healthy addition.

Eggs are an excellent source of nutrients essential for heart health and are an excellent source of a very high quality of absorbable protein (cooked eggs). They are low in saturated fat and trans fat.

What are the properties of yolks and whites?


A fresh egg in a skillet will have a yolk that sits high and round on top. A not so fresh egg will flatten out; this is the result of the membrane around the yolk absorbing water from the egg white.

The yolk is often bright yellow/orange if the hen has been allowed to walk around (free range chicken) and eat bugs and grass. The pigments in the grass and plants have xanthophylls – that makes the color of the yolks much darker than grain fed chicken. Xanthophylls are plant nutrients and are nutritious and healthy.

Many of the nutrients in egg are in the yolk – all of the vitamin A, D and E reside happily in the yolk. As mentioned in the article The Sunshine Vitamin Is Not Really a Vitamin, egg is one of the few common foods that contains vitamin D. Although most of the nutrients and fat are in the yolk, about half of the protein is in the white. Only 27% of the fat in eggs is saturated fat (about 1.5 grams of saturated fat per extra large egg). The white contains no cholesterol and almost no fat. An extra large egg has about 5 grams of fat total; one ounce of cheddar cheese has about 9 grams. Maybe we should be considering cheese more carefully instead of eggs.

We often use egg yolk as an emulsifier, think about oil and vinegar (which naturally the oil floats on the vinegar) – when you beat in egg yolk it ‘emulsifies’ the mixture and you have a stable product – mayonnaise, as a result.


The egg white has a strong binding power (holds crumbs together in baked goods) and when it is beat, it makes things light and fluffy (think meringue, mousse or soufflé). The egg white is a good source of protein, but has little or no fat. Although most of the nutrients and fat are in the yolk, about half of the protein is in the white.

Many people have the idea that eggs are bad for your heart. The confusion comes as a result of the fact that eggs have about 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per yolk. If our doctor tells us that our cholesterol is high, he/she is usually referring to our total cholesterol or our LDL (bad) cholesterol. There are some really important factors that make the cholesterol in our blood high; of course, genetics is part of it and we surely can’t do anything about that. Another factor that’s very important is if we eat a diet with lots of fat, especially saturated fat and trans fat. You see, our liver produces cholesterol from fat – that’s where the trouble begins.

Ideas about egg consumption seem for decades to have been swinging back and forth between viewing them as healthy low fat addition to the diet vs deploring them as an artery clogging food. It’s too bad, because the swinging has the health professionals confused also. Researchers are still trying to have a definitive answer to the long-lingering controversy regarding the consumption of eggs and the risk of heart disease.

One recent study was led by Adnan Qureshi the director of the Minnesota Stroke Initiative at the University of Minnesota. This study followed 9,500 adults for over 20 years and found that those who consumed more than six eggs a week were no more likely to suffer a stroke or coronary artery disease than those who ate one egg or less a week. The snag is, that people with diabetes, may be in a group of increased risk if they eat more than six eggs per week. Out of the almost 10,000 people, only 349 of them had diabetes, and of those patients who ate one to six eggs a week, none were not found to have a higher risk for stroke or for cardiovascular disease.  Summing up the issue with diabetics, Dr. Qureshi, the lead researcher stated that perhaps, “the patients with diabetes who ate one to six eggs a week were not at a higher risk, so perhaps that is the tolerated threshold for diabetes.” Like all researchers, he wants more research to be done on the issue.  Keep in mind that his study exonerated eggs as leading to higher stroke or coronary artery disease for most of the 9500 people.  For the 349 who were diabetic, no effect of eating more than six eggs per week could be found for them either.  It is just that the number of diabetics was too small for the researchers to speak with confidence.

In some studies eggs have even been shown to lower blood pressure and increase the HDL  (good) cholesterol. Another nice thing about eggs is that they can help keep blood sugar from spiking and help you feel satisfied for a longer period of time.

Until the nutritional research can solidly stop the swinging, maybe a healthy decision as related to eggs is to include eggs, but embrace moderation. It is reported that Aristotle said, “Seek Moderation in All Things.” Including 6 or 7 eggs per week in your diet, is a moderate goal – in embracing that goal you can benefit from the nutrients, the low price, and the advantages in cooking and baking, while keeping any possible risk low.

Mexican Poached Eggs (Breakfast Soup)


5 – 6 extra large eggs

2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth

2/3 cup salsa

1 chopped avocado, for garnish

Options: Add a cup of chopped mushrooms, onions or chopped spinach, for variety.


Heat the broth and salsa. Turn the heat down and gently drop in the eggs. Spoon the broth over the top of the eggs if the broth does not cover the eggs, until the whites are cooked.

Serve with or on whole wheat toast or tortillas; garnish with chopped avocado.

Put the broth in a large skillet.

Put the broth in a large skillet.

Add the salsa.

Add the salsa.

Heat the salsa and broth mixture.

Heat the salsa and broth mixture.

Add the eggs to the heated salsa and broth.

Add the eggs to the heated salsa and broth.

Serve the eggs, with whole wheat toast or tortilla and garnished with avocado.

Serve the eggs, with whole wheat toast or tortilla and garnished with avocado.