January 11, 2024
Join Britni in this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist as she breaks down the egg essentials: the health benefits of eggs, what the latest research indicates when it comes to egg consumption and cardiovascular diseases, and what certifications to look for when shopping in order to get the most out of your eggs.
BRITNI Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to be celebrating 20 years on air discussing the connection between what you eat and how you feel while sharing practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition.
Thank you for your support and listenership throughout the years. Now, let's get started on today's two questions. I have two questions from listeners, and both are related to eggs. So, the first one I'm going to talk about, the question is, “What is the latest research on egg consumption and cardiovascular disease? I have been getting conflicting information from a pharmacologist. and dietitian.”
This is a really common question that I get because it seems like one day eggs are good for you, the next day they're not good for you, and it can be really confusing. But, I am here to tell you that eggs are great for you. I encourage my clients to incorporate them into their diet. I personally eat them most days, and my cholesterol is great. I've had clients actually consume more eggs and see that their cholesterol improves overall.
So I want to break this down a little bit further. Back in 2015, the U.S. dietary guidelines, and they are more of a conservative group, they said that dietary cholesterol is not a nutrient of concerned diet. One egg contains about 200 milligrams of cholesterol. And the reason why it's not an issue is that dietary cholesterol does not really have an effect on our blood cholesterol. Why? Well, the majority of your cholesterol, specifically about 80%, is produced in your liver. So that dietary cholesterol really has little to no effect on blood cholesterol.
In recent years there was a proposed new link between eggs and coronary heart disease that doesn't involve cholesterol. Researchers were looking into choline that's found in eggs; that's a nutrient, and the effect on something called TMAO levels. Because higher TMAO levels have been linked to coronary heart disease.
So that whole idea that eggs increase this TMAO level, that has also been debunked. So I just want to reiterate, there is no research that cholesterol in eggs or the choline in eggs contributes to cardiovascular disease. So they are safe to consume on a daily basis if you want to.
We have lots of other “Ask a Nutritionist” podcasts on cholesterol, a few of them in the past year. We have many different podcast episodes from Dishing Up Nutrition that go deeper into cholesterol and the nitty gritty of that. So, I would encourage you to check that out if you are concerned about cholesterol specifically.
I mentioned that I encourage my clients to consume them on a regular basis and I do myself. And the reason is, is eggs are actually one of the most nutrient dense foods available. One egg provides 13 essential nutrients all in that yolk; that beautiful yolk. The brighter the yolk, the more nutrient dense.
You can see drastic color differences in an egg yolk. Could be kind of a pale yellow color, or it could be a very vibrant orange color. And that's really what we're going after, is that more vibrant orange color. And I'm going to dive into how you get that, that more vibrant color later on in this episode.
So some of the nutrients that you're going to find are B vitamins, which are necessary for various different functions throughout the body, vitamin A, essential for normal growth and development. Vitamin E protects against heart disease and some cancers. You're going to find a little bit of vitamin D as well.
Eggs are rich in iodine, which is necessary for thyroid health. Eggs are also a great source of antioxidants known to protect our eyes. They are specifically called lutein and zeaxanthin. Pasture raised eggs specifically are also a good source of an essential fatty acid, omega 3, called DHA. So one egg gives you about 100 milligrams of DHA. It's not enough for your daily needs, but it's definitely something. Also, you're going to get about one ounce of protein from one egg. Eggs are a wonderful source of protein as well.
I want to move on to the next question about eggs. We have established eggs are great for you. I'd encourage them to incorporate them into your diet. The question specifically is, “Eggs: what does free range and pasture raised mean?” And the confusing part is, there are no solid definitions of what constitutes cage free range or pasture raised eggs.
So there are third party certification programs that, that these farmers can apply to. And that is really going to be the best indication of how farmers treat their hens and the quality of those eggs. The only USDA approved third party animal welfare group certification is Certified Animal Welfare approved by AGW. Unfortunately, most of the animal products in our country, they come from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO, farms.
And unless the eggs are labeled cage free range, or pasture raised, you can assume that these eggs are coming from one of these factory farms. I'm not going to go into the details of these, but they are horrifying conditions for the animals and they lead to poor quality meat and egg products.
So let's dive into what do each of these definitions possibly mean. So cage free comes from hens that are not caged. They have access to food and water. And unless again, third party certified, there isn't necessarily a certain amount of space that each hen gets to roam. So what this means is sometimes cage free eggs, these hens could be living in wing to wing conditions with other hens, so they're really don't get much, much room for movement. And often these hens do not have access to the outdoors.
A couple examples of these certifications and what cage free might mean: the United Egg Producers certified cage free, their definition means that hens are able to roam vertically, unhorizontally in indoor barns, and have at least one square foot of floor space each.
They may not have access to the outdoors. The American Humane Certified Program states that cage free hens must have a minimum of 1.25 square feet of floor space each, plus have access to perches and nesting boxes. So although this is better than hens or eggs that are coming from These CAFO farms, it's really not that much better.
Free range is similar to cage free eggs, except the hens have access to the outdoors. The tricky part is fenced cement porches outdoors are allowed in this free range label. So they may get fresh air, but they may not have any access to grass or dirt.
So here are some of the third party certification definitions of free range. The Food Alliance Certified defines free range eggs as those that come from birds that do not live in cage and have access to natural daylight or a vegetation covered outdoor area for at least 8 hours per day. And each bird must have at least 1.23 square feet of floor space and able to nest and perch and dust bathe.
The American Humane Certified Program states that in order to be considered free range, each bird needs to have at least 21.8 square feet of outdoor space. And the Certified Humane Program, meanwhile, states that free range hens must have at least two square feet of outdoor space that they can have access to for at least six hours per day.
So moving on to pasture raised eggs, this is going to be the best quality to look for. Again, it's going to vary from brand to brand. Hens that are pasture raised have regular access to larger outdoor spaces that are covered in grass or other vegetation. And this is their pasture that they're living on.
A couple examples of certifications, so the animal welfare approved, they provide the highest standards for animal welfare in general. And all of their hens live outdoors their entire life. And the American Humane Certified Program states that each hen must have a minimum of 108 square feet of outdoor pasture that has substantial cover of living vegetation.
And the Certified Humane also requires 108 square feet of outdoor pasture. I would look for one of these certifications, so certified animal welfare approved, or American Humane Certified, or Certified Humane on the carton of eggs that you're purchasing. Otherwise, if you're purchasing pasture raised eggs without one of these certifications, you may not get the best quality that you could.
So in addition to looking for pasture raised, I would also look for organic. So pasture raised is not synonymous with organic and vice versa. Organic does not mean that it's pasture raised or free ranged or any of that. So you really do want to look for both of those labels on the egg carton itself. So to be considered certified organic, animals are provided with outdoor access, eat organic feed, and are not given hormones or routine antibiotics. If the hens are treated with antibiotics, they must be removed from the program.
Again, this seal does not explicitly include any sort of animal welfare requirements. And therefore, that's why we want to look for that pasture raised certification in addition. For example, if you purchase free range eggs that are not organic, they may still be fed GMO feed and the feed may be grown with chemical pesticides or herbicides, none of which are allowed in organic production.
Another option is to find a local farmer to get your pasture raised eggs from. And you can go to eatwild.com and you click on your state and then it pulls up a list of different farmers. So this would be great because you can talk to the farmer themselves and really ask the questions of how these hens live. Most likely these small farms are not going to have any of these certifications because they can be expensive to get. But again, if you ask the right questions, you can identify the quality of these eggs that you're getting.
In addition to just the more humane living of pasture raised eggs, that research has also supported that they are more nutrient dense and you're going to see that. Again, I mentioned that yolk earlier. A pasture raised egg is going to have a more vibrant yolk and I have even noticed differences between brands too.
So again that goes back to making sure you're looking for one of those certifications. Studies show that commercially raised eggs are up to 19 times higher in pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. Whereas pasture raised eggs increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acid up to three times the level of conventionally raised chickens.
So that's why earlier I specifically called out the pasture raised eggs as being a good source of DHA because those commercially raised eggs are going to have very little DHA in them. Eggs that are coming from pastured chickens also have the higher levels of that vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and those antioxidants, zeaxanthin and lutein that I also mentioned.
So, you are overall getting much more nutrient dense eggs choosing those pasture raised. So I hope you learned a lot about eggs today and start to incorporate them into your diet if you haven't already. And now you know what to look for when you are bombarded with all of the different options at the grocery store.
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