The Healthiest Ways To Eat Eggs (+ Decoding Egg Terminology)
Hands down, eggs are one of the best protein sources available. Many health experts consider them a superfood, for both their complete amino acid profile and the impressive amount of vitamins, minerals and good fats they provide.
Contrary to popular belief, eggs offer some serious health benefits, such as actually being able to raise HDL (good) cholesterol while not raising LDL (bad) cholesterol, preventing macular degeneration with powerful antioxidants, and supporting weight loss, among many others.
In order to get the most bang for your buck (aka, reap the greatest nutrient benefits) from eggs, learning how to prepare them correctly is key. But even before preparation, the first step is knowing which eggs to buy, which can be quite confusing.
When standing in front of the egg aisle at your grocery store, you are likely met with an onslaught of buzz words such as “pasture raised,” “organic,” “cage free,” and “natural.” Options drastically range in price, and also in health benefits. Remember, the chicken’s diet and stress level has everything to do with their egg’s nutrient value.
Egg Breakdown, Best to Worst:
These are the best choice, as the chickens are reared in a way that is natural (outdoors with access to shelter), and engage in normal chicken behaviors like eating worms, insects, fruits and plants (vs. grains). The nutrient density of their eggs is superior.
Chickens had some sort of outdoor access, but still could have been fed a sub-par diet.
Organic, Grain Fed
This simply means that the grain feed was certified organic (not sprayed with chemicals) and did not come from GMO seeds. Eggs that are both free range and organic take 2nd place.
These eggs came from chickens that are not caged in the cramped quarters found in most commercial chicken farms, and animals usually have adequate space to turn around. However, they still are confined to some sort of cage without access to the outdoors, and this has nothing to do with the diet they were fed.
While many think that this means chickens were raised on a plant based diet, it actually almost always means they were fed a grain-based diet (not natural for chickens). There is also no hint as to their living conditions.
White vs. Brown Eggs
This is easy, because there is absolutely no difference, it simply depends on the kind of chickens that laid the eggs.
Now, on to Cooking…Best to Worst Ways to Prepare Your Eggs
While poaching is not the simplest way, it is the most nutritious. Certain nutrients in the egg yolk are sensitive to heat, so they are best left slightly runny. Poaching thoroughly cooks the white, which is a good thing (needed to denature protein).
Slow and Hard Boiled
Slow boiling is superior to hard boiling (although it takes longer), as it leaves the yolk protected from oxidation while properly cooking the white. Hard boiling is a good option as well, although it will damage more of the yolk’s nutrient content.
Sunny Side Up
Slow boiling and poaching better protect the yolk, but out of all frying methods, sunny side up protects it best. Cook on medium-low heat and allow your yolk to be a little runny at the end.
Over easy exposes your yolk to higher heat, therefore further diminishing nutrient value. Opt for sunny side up, instead.
This all time favorite is probably the least beneficial way to cook eggs, as the yolk has lost all of its protective covers (water, eggshell and egg white) so will therefore be more exposed to nutrient degradation.
Quick Note on Cooking Fats
Last but certainly not least, all egg frying methods should be done with a high-quality fat that can safely be heated. Avoid rancid vegetable oils like soy, canola, grapeseed and corn (check out this “promotional” video for canola oil to see just how heavily processed and oxidized these oils are before even hitting the shelves) and opt for nourishing options like coconut or olive oil, grass-fed butter or ghee.
When it comes down to it, eggs are an all-around excellent protein source (if you don’t have an intolerance, of course). If you can take the extra steps of purchasing the best quality eggs possible and cooking them in order to maximize their nutrient value, even better.
Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel focuses on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes.