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White, brown, organic or cage-free eggs — which are best, or is there a difference?

Posted March 31, 2014, at 11:18 a.m.

I get a lot of questions from patients about eggs. They want to know if they should eat them if they have high blood cholesterol.

I’m always glad to let people know that over the years eggs have been given a bad rap because of their cholesterol content. Yes, eggs contain cholesterol, but that shouldn’t be a reason to avoid them. One large egg contains about 185 milligrams of cholesterol, which is about 14 percent lower than previously thought. The recommendation from the American Heart Association is that serum cholesterol levels should be managed by lowering intake of trans and saturated fat, not through managing sources of dietary cholesterol. Patients are often quite surprised to know that it is the saturated fat from foods that raises blood cholesterol, not dietary intake of cholesterol.

What happened initially was that scientists found high blood cholesterol was associated with heart disease, so foods high in cholesterol were shunned, thus the egg. But after more than 25 years of research, it became evident that the cholesterol in foods was not the problem, but that saturated fat has a much bigger effect on blood cholesterol. Whole-fat dairy products — milk, sour cream, cheese, cream cheese, etc. — and fatty meats are examples of foods that are high in saturated fat, which causes the body to produce cholesterol. Cutting back on these products and others such as prepackaged snacks and fast foods including doughnuts and french fries helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.

If you are going to eat eggs, is it better to choose a certain kind? Is one more nutritious than another? Eggs are available now as choices labeled cage-free, omega-3 containing, vegetarian-fed, organic, Grade AA or A, white eggs and brown eggs. The cost of some eggs is twice as much as others.

Investigators at Consumer Reports tested and tasted batches of scrambled eggs. They found the cooked eggs to be a typical yellow color, but some were slightly brighter than others. The main difference was found in the yolky flavor and sulfur flavor from the egg white. In some eggs the sulfur flavor was clean while in others it had a haylike or spinachy taste found in older eggs. Regular supermarket eggs had a slightly better flavor balance than most others. They found that freshness matters. Even though all of the eggs tasted were used by their sell-by date, taste was found to be diminished as eggs reached the deadline.

Nutrition

Large whole eggs provide 70 calories, 4-5 grams of fat, 6-7 grams of protein and about 185 milligrams of cholesterol. The vitamin and omega-3 content vary depending on the diet of the hens. The eggs tasted in the scrambled batches from hens fed a vegetarian diet had more of certain vitamins and omega-3s than those from hens that were fed a traditional diet. Nature’s Yoke Omega 3 eggs contained 225 milligrams of omega-3s compared with most typical large eggs that provided only 30 milligrams.

Grade

The grading of eggs by the Department of Agriculture is a completely voluntary program for which companies pay. Grades are AA, A and B and are all dependent on the quality of the yolk and white and the condition of the shell. The size can differ within any grade. To receive USDA grading eggs must be washed and sanitized.

Label date

Eggs that received a USDA grade shield must have the date the eggs were placed in the carton. This is usually coded and not necessarily easily deciphered by consumers. The Department of Agriculture does not require a sell by or expiration date, but you’ll see it on many cartons regardless. It is recommended that you purchase eggs before the buy date listed and that eggs be consumed within 3-5 weeks from the day you purchase them, even if the date has passed. Eggs should be stored in their protective carton inside your refrigerator, not in the egg holder on your refrigerator door.

Omega-3

The level of omega-3 fatty acids in eggs is boosted by feeding hens flax, marine algae, fish oils and other ingredients.

Cage-free, free-range

This means that the hens are uncaged inside warehouses. They can walk around as desired, nest where they want and spread their wings freely, but usually can’t go outside. There is no standard for free range when it comes to eggs.

Organic

When eggs have a USDA organic seal it means they come from a facility that has been checked by accredited certifiers and from hens that have been raised on feed that is declared grown without synthetic pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers or herbicides. Supposedly the hens have outdoor access, but it is questionable whether this is enforced. Organic eggs cost more because of the price of food, the fact that flocks are smaller and the cost of certification.

Pasteurized

Eggs are heated until just below the temperature at which they coagulate in order to kill pathogens. Then they are considered safe to use in recipes such as eggnog that call for raw eggs.

Vegetarian

The hens that produce these eggs have been fed only all-grain feed with no animal byproducts.

White versus brown

The difference in the color of the shell depends on the breed of the hen. The color of the shell doesn’t affect the flavor, quality or nutritional composition.

Hormone-free, antibiotic-free

These are considered empty claims that no hormones or antibiotics are used in the production of eggs for human consumption to begin with.

Eggs are a mainstay of our diets. They are an inexpensive, excellent source of protein. They are versatile and can be used in so many different ways in cooking and can be served at any meal.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

 

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