Sunday, February 22, 2009

Eggs or Egg Beaters

I certainly have regard for our governments' caution flags related to general health metrics, recommended levels of nutrients, and clinical studies from which they base their recommendations. Mind you, I said "regard", not high regard. I believe these guidelines and recommendations are truly based on scientific research, but I also believe there are political influences on that research, and therefore we may be swayed in one direction or another to benefit, say, The American Dairy Association or The National Cattlemen's Beef Association. It is for these reasons that I heed the information provided to us as Americans, but also do my own due diligence with a critical eye.

One of those areas I'm mindful of, but still cautious of, is dietary cholesterol levels. Should I eat eggs or Egg Beaters?...and if I choose eggs, how many per week?...and what happens if I eat too many eggs?... The issue with eggs is the saturated fat (and hence, cholesterol) contained in the yolk. Here's a little breakdown on our friend, the egg: Of the 5.5 grams of fat in the average large egg, 2-3.5 grams (depending on the source) are saturated and found in the yolk of the egg. Saturated is the kind of fat we're supposed to limit in our diets to less than 10% of our calories per our "American Authorities". Additionally, of the 210 mg of cholesterol in the average large egg, all of it resides, again, in the yolk.. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day, and if you have heart disease, no more than 200 mg per day. Dietary cholesterol, or that which we get from food, is considered a non-essential nutrient because our bodies (mainly our liver) manufactures all we need on its own. If you're interested, you can read more about what the AHA has to say about cholesterol at their website.

So, for those who consume cholesterol containing foods throughout their day (meat, poultry, fish and dairy) and who regularly have 2 eggs for breakfast (=420 mg of dietary cholesterol), you're exceeding the recommended limit before lunch...that is if you personally subscribe to the recommended limit. Now, enter the egg substitute.

I think Egg Beaters was the first, or one of the the first, "brands" on the market, although now there are several. Each grocery chain probably has their own generic version as well. The egg substitute concept made loving the taste of eggs without the yolk possible for many Americans. By taking just the white of the egg and adding coloring (of course, because if it's yellow it will taste like an egg), flavoring (to simulate the palatable, umami-like fat "feel" we get from the yolk) and, of course, preservatives. For most of us, the scrambled egg substitute takes hauntingly like whole eggs when served up scrambled.

The questions that arise from making this change to better our health by, once again, eliminating an alleged disease-causing natural food from our diets are:

  1. Are we truly concerned that it is the saturated fat in the yolk of that egg that contributes to heart disease. Unlike other saturated fats (butter, animal fat), that yolk isn't solid at room temperature...heck, it's not solid at refrigerator temperature.
  2. Are we at all concerned that whoever created the chicken that laid the egg we want to eat may have intended for us to ingest the nutrients from that yolk? I've only commented on the bad so far, but there's a lot of good in the yolk of that egg, specifically a decent source of phosphorus, selenium, folate, B12, vitamin D and Riboflavin, among others.
  3. Why were our grandparents, who had less of an incidence of heart disease, able to eat whole eggs daily for breakfast and not suffer the same incidence of heart disease that our generation(s) do?
  4. And finally, why do other countries who consume whole eggs daily, not have the same fear of the yolk as we do, and don't have the same incidence of heart disease as we do?

All of these are questions you need to wrestle with on your own, and determine what you feel is accurate, health-oriented and honest research/data. Personally, I hate wasting the yolks by cracking the egg and separating it just to use the white. But I hate using a man-made egg substitute even more. And really, I'm not so sure about the whole yolk/cholesterol thing. We're running our own little test case on this, as my husband, with a history of heart disease on both sides of his family, has returned to consuming whole eggs in addition to the other sources of saturated fat in his diet. Prior to this change, his cholesterol levels were perfect, certainly after a huge correction in his diet and activity level (See "Congratulations Hubby"). So, in about three months when he has his annual physical, we'll see what the results are.

In the meantime, use what we are given by the government as guidelines, throw a few egg whites in from time to time for balance, search for quality sources of eggs when eating the entire egg (organic, free-range/cage-free, antibiotic free, etc., etc., etc.). You have to feel good about the reason you make your choice, not because a label says "our chickens are raised in Ritz-Carlton-like facilities with rolling green pastures on which they run and are fed only the most natural foods". The choices you make for the food you eat and the food you feed your family are 100% within your control.


DL said...

Great post! I can add some research data for you... Ive been eating a pseudo-paleo diet for the past year. Pseudo in that I eat/drink an increased amount of blood-sugar-increasing foods/drinks before and immediately after I workout (eg. gatorade before, sweet potatoes w/ the first meal after). I have a minimum of 3 whole, extra large eggs per day (sometimes up to 5 if it is after a really intense workout) and I just went to the Dr for my yearly physical. All cholesterol and blood protein levels in the "excellent" range for my age fact they would be in the excellent rage if I were 21. The best part of the visit was when the Dr started saying things like "You must be eating a low fat diet" etc, and the look on his face when I told him what I consume everyday. Long story short, I include eggs in my diet regularly and have excellent cholesterol levels.

RebelHealth Chick said...

DL, thanks for the update/comment. I certainly am hoping that when "Mouth" has his annual in a few months I can quote the same for our family. You have to believe that organic, quality eggs (maybe not factory-farmed), being a whole food source, should be an unlimited option for our diets, and that all the media/FDA hubub about yolks way back when and even their caution flags now are not due to the egg itself, but "our" (American's) over-reliance on other crap foods and sedentary lifestyle. I'll definitely use your example to quote that there are people out there who are physically active, eat healthy and include whole eggs in their diets without adverse health effects, and probably WITH postive health effects.

If I may ask, how old are you, and (post again, if you would), what's your theory on the higher fat content of the post workout meal? (5 eggs) - or is it the protein you're trying to incorporate?

DL said...

Ill get the Statistics out of the way first:
31 yrs old, male. 6' ~180-185#
Ive had to do some meal juggling lately since Ive moved my workouts from the a.m. to early afternoon. Before the switch, I would eat post-workout breakfast foods that: 1)raised the level of my blood sugar as fast as possible (Gatorade mostly b/c it's uptake is easier and quicker than fruit juices) 2) provided my system with high quality, easily digestible protein to give it material to re-build and 3) have some naturally occurring animal fat. The Gatorade provides a quick increase in blood sugar, which starts to replace the spent muscle glycogen (energy stores embedded in the muscle) which the fats are being added slower to the system to bring me (somewhat) back into equilibrium. Ive been doing some reading as well, but havent confirmed it yet, that one of the best ways to shed body to eat fat. The analogy can be made to not eating enough. The body holds on to as much as it can if you try to starve it, protecting the vital organs at the expense of muscle fiber. If the body doesnt get enough fat, it keeps what it has and makes some to keep in balance. Fat is also one of the best sources of energy for long endurance events. Here is where I first read about it ( All that aside, I think your approach of natural, organic foods (for this discussion eggs) is the best way to go and has enormous advantages for an active lifestyle to improve overall healf and recovery.