Chew on this: 07/14

Bad egg… or good egg?

By Jayne Powers

 

Back in the day, when my mom reached for a carton of eggs at the grocery store, she only had one option: white eggs. OK, and maybe brown eggs.

But except for size—medium, large and jumbo—there weren’t any other choices. It was just a quick peek inside the carton to make sure none of the eggs were broken.

She certainly didn’t have to stand in the grocery aisle for minutes on end to decide whether lutein-enhanced eggs were better than those enriched with Omega-3s. And, there wasn’t the dizzying array of labels to decipher and interpret. Does cage-free, for example, mean that the eggs are more nutritious than free range?

Or, is organic the healthiest and safest choice? What does the Animal Welfare Approved label mean?

For one thing, eggs with these labels generally mean they will cost more.

If you’re a bit confused over what these and other labels mean and whether you should pay attention to them, here are some answers.

They are worth knowing, given that the cost of eggs has increased because of a devastating bird flu outbreak that hurt America’s chicken flock in unprecedented numbers.

Nationally, a dozen Grade A or better eggs rose from an average of $1.59 the week of June 4 to $2.11 last week, according to the July 2 USDA National Retail Report on eggs.

Despite higher prices, eggs are still a relatively inexpensive source of protein and provide some important nutrients. Moreover, the notion that eggs are bad for you because of their high cholesterol content is not as unfavorable as once thought. While an egg yolk contains about 186 mg of cholesterol, its impact on blood cholesterol is minimal.

Individuals with diabetes, however, should still limit their egg consumption, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Now, for the answers…

First, brown eggs are not any more nutritious than white eggs. The color of the eggshell has to do with a hen’s genetics. For example, the Ameraucana chicken, or the Easter egg chicken, lays eggs that range from bright blue to green turquoise to deep olive.

The color of the yolk depends on what the chickens eat. A light yolk means that a hen was fed wheat and barley, while a medium-yellow yolk results from a corn diet. A dark yellow yolk stems from hens eating marigold petals.

Darker yellow yolks often have more carotenoids, such as lutein. That’s a good thing because many studies have shown that lutein reduces the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

As for fertile eggs, you won’t gain any nutritional benefits by eating them, though they are considered a delicacy in some cultures. The other thing you should know about fertile eggs is that they spoil more quickly.

If the inside of an egg has a red spot, it doesn’t mean that the egg was fertile. Rather, it indicates that a small blood vessel broke while the egg was forming. Use the tip of a knife to remove it.

Thinking about buying eggs enriched with omega-3? Look closer: You’ll want to find out what type of omega-3s the hens were fed to determine its nutrient value.

In other words, hens’ feed that was enriched with flaxseed meal will have increased levels of a plant form of omega-3 fat. This form of omega-3 fat is known as alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA.

But once you eat it, only a little bit of this form of omega-3 gets converted to the kind that is good for your heart, which is known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This kind of omega-3 comes from fish oil or marine algae.

The next popular label on egg cartons is Certified Organic. This label means that hens ate a vegetarian feed, with no added hormones, antibiotics or pesticides.

Certified Organic hens also aren’t caged and must have outdoor access. The length of time outdoors and the quality of their space, however, is not defined, and hens are still subject to forced molting and debeaking.

Again, organic eggs will cost more. If you’re OK with that, look for the green and white USDA Organic seal. Organic eggs aren’t necessarily safer from bacteria either, and they aren’t more nutritious than conventionally produced eggs.

Let me address cage-free, free-range or free-roaming eggs. Under these labels, hens have access to the outdoors, but there are no national standards that define the amount of space or time they get to spend there. In fact, there is no way of knowing whether hens have actually gone outside.

The meaning of the wordnatural” is even fuzzier (just marketing hype).

If you’re into humane rules and auditing standards, then you should buy eggs with the Animal Welfare Approved label. Hens are cage-free and are allowed to do all the things that hens would do on a small neighborhood farm—nest, spread their wings, bathe in dust—and no beak-cutting is allowed.

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at masterscorefitness.com, or email your fitness questions to jayne@masterscorefitness.com

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Jayne Powers
Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at masterscorefitness.com.

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