The Almighty Egg

We went on an egg hunt and found that the little oval guy has many impressive health benefits. Ready to get crackin'?

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The Sunny Side of Eggs

Health experts consider eggs to be "the perfect protein."

Some believe they're second only to breast milk in terms of nutrition. The reason? Complete proteins are those that contain all nine of the amino acids that your body can't produce on its own—and that it needs for good health. Eggs deliver all nine, and those amino acids are especially high quality, experts say.

Eating eggs could help you lose weight.

According to a recent study at the University of Missouri, people who ate a protein-rich breakfast that included eggs felt fuller longer, had fewer food cravings, and snacked less than those who either skipped breakfast or had a carb-rich morning meal—say, a bagel. And one study found that when dieters ate two eggs for breakfast over two months, they lost 65% more weight than those who had a breakfast that contained the same number of calories but no eggs. Researchers think that the protein-rich egg breakfast was so satiating that the people were less likely to overeat later in the day.

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If you're a healthy adult, eggs don't put your ticker at risk.

Starting in the 1960s, eggs were off the menu for many of us because it was thought that the cholesterol found in yolks raised the cholesterol levels in your blood, upping the risk of heart disease. But over the past several decades, research has debunked that myth. It turns out that most cholesterol is made in your body, not drawn from the foods you eat. (And trans/saturated fats are the real culprits that have an unhealthy effect on your cholesterol levels.) The latest egg endorsement comes from research in the British medical journal BMJ: Healthy adults who ate higher amounts of whole eggs (up to one a day) were no more likely to develop heart disease or stroke than those who ate the least. So go ahead, eat up!

Yolk + White = Healthy

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If you eat only the whites, you're missing lots of amazing nutrients. Check out all the goodness a whole egg has to offer.

The Yolk

  • You need fat to feel satisfied, and all 5 grams in a large egg are in the yolk. That includes beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
  • The yolk contains more of the egg's vitamins and minerals than the white—including 95% of its folate, which helps reduce heart disease and stroke risk, and vitamins B6 and B12, which fend off fatigue and memory loss. All of the egg's vitamins A, E, K, and D are in the yolk. In fact, eggs are one of the few natural food sources of D, which promotes bone health and can even help reduce hypertension.
  • Almost all of the choline in eggs is found in the yolk. That's an important nutrient for brain and liver function.
  • Yolks are a big source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids help promote eye health, and not many other foods have them!

The White

  • One egg white has virtually no fat and just 17 calories (a whole egg has less than 80).
  • More than half of the 6 grams of protein in an egg is found in the white.
  • The white contains most of the egg's niacin, riboflavin, and magnesium. Niacin helps nerves function, riboflavin plays a role in red blood cell production, and magnesium aids in keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check.

Egg Safety 101

Don't leave your eggs out at room temperature. The good news is that salmonella is not as much of a risk with eggs today as it was a few decades ago. In fact, only 1 in 20,000 eggs is contaminated with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "But on the off chance that the eggs do have salmonella, keeping them out would allow the bacteria to multiply," says Elizabeth Andress, Ph.D., head of the National Center for Home Food Preservation and a professor of food safety at the University of Georgia. So keep 'em at 40°F or lower. But even in the fridge, eggs don't last forever. Scope out the sell-by date on the carton—your eggs should be good for about a month past that date. Yes, that's a smart reason to keep them in their original carton, rather than in the egg holder that came with your fridge.

Freshness Test

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If you drop an egg in a bowl of water, the older it is, the more likely that it will float to the top. P.S. Fresher eggs are ideal when frying or poaching because they hold their shape better. Those you've had for closer to three or four weeks are best for boiling (they're easier to peel).

Best Way to Crack an Egg

Use a flat surface, says Adrian Westrope of the New England Culinary Institute. Why? Fewer shell bits (and contaminants) end up in the pan or bowl.

Your Egg Carton Decoder

This label is about what's in the egg:

Omega-3: Farmers fortify eggs with healthy omega-3 fatty acids by adding rich sources, like flaxseed or algae, to chickens' feed. You'll definitely get a boost over the 47 mg in nonfortified eggs, but how much more varies.

These labels tell you about the way the chickens were raised:

Cage-free: The hens are corralled inside a barn or warehouse together, rather than a cage. The problem with this label is that the government doesn't regulate how much space the birds get—they could be packed in together like sardines, for all you know.

Pasture-raised: The government doesn't have any hard rules for this term. But typically it means that the hens live outdoors for most of the year in open fields and get to do all the stuff they'd do in the wild, like perch and forage, says Patricia Hester, Ph.D., a professor of animal sciences at Purdue University.

Free-range: The chickens don't live in cages and do have access to the outdoors, although exactly how much space they have to run around in isn't defined—it could be acres or a postage stamp–size plot of land, according to Josh Balk, director of food policy for the Humane Society of the United States.

Certified humane: This stamp added to terms like "cage-free," "pasture-raised," or "free-range" means strict standards were set for things like the size of living space and the quality of the hens' feed—and a third-party organization audits farms to make sure there's compliance, says Balk. If chicken treatment matters to you, "certified humane" are the words to look for.

Certified organic: These eggs come from hens that are uncaged and given access to the outdoors, although the amount of space they have to roam is not regulated. Their feed doesn't contain chemicals, fertilizers, or antibiotics. Look for the "USDA certified organic" seal; you can trust it more than a general "organic" label.

A few more labels, demystified:

Hormone-free: Whether a carton has this label or not, rest assured: The USDA doesn't allow hormones to be pumped into birds in the U.S.

Farm Fresh: "Fresh," along with "natural," is just a comforting word that many companies add to their cartons. All eggs, thankfully, are fresh and natural.

Antibiotic-Free: Not so meaningful, because all eggs produced in the U.S. are free of antibiotics. (When sick chickens get antibiotics intheir feed, the eggs get tossed.)

Brown Eggs: People think they're wholesome, but brown ones are the same as white eggs. Get this: If a chicken has white earlobes, you get white eggs; red earlobes = brown eggs.

Grade A: Means the egg inside is thick and firm. (Grade B eggs have thinner egg whites.)

So, which eggs do top doctors buy?

USDA Organic. They may cost a bit more, but the extra buck or two per dozen is worth it to top docs such as David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Yale-Griffin University Prevention Research Center, who like knowing that the chickens were fed a pesticide-free diet. "It's true that you are what you eat," Katz says—but you're also eating what your meal ate.

This story originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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