By Tejal Pathak, MS, RD, LD
These days, one of the most popular questions about eggs isn’t whether the chicken came first. It’s whether eating an egg a day is OK, especially when it comes to cholesterol. While most of an egg’s fat and cholesterol are found in the yolk, so are most of its iron, thiamin, choline, folate and vitamins A, D and E. The yolk also contains lutein and zeaxanthin—carotenoids that may contribute to eye health. The white contributes most of an egg’s protein, which has a biological value of 100 and is the standard by which all other protein sources are measured.
One large egg contains 70 calories and 213 mg of dietary cholesterol, which fits into the diets of healthy individuals as long as total cholesterol intake is less than 300 mg per day.
For people with or at high risk for cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes, for whom recommended total cholesterol is 200 mg per day, eating eggs regularly may have negative effects on serum lipids and lipoprotein cholesterol levels. (Also remember that some individuals are hyper-responders or hypo-responders whose responses to cholesterol intake can be significantly different.)
Egg allergies, particularly with egg whites, are the second most common food allergy in children. However, nearly 70 percent of kids outgrow egg allergies by the time they reach age 16. And despite the long-standing recommendation to delay the introduction of certain foods to infants with a family history of food allergies, recent research suggests feeding cooked egg to a 4- to 6-month-old infant does not increase the risk of egg allergy, and in fact may even offer a preventive effect.
Adults with egg allergies must strictly avoid eggs and foods containing egg and egg products. Although the FDA requires egg be listed as a potential allergen on the label, checking the list of ingredients is recommended. Allergic reactions can occur within minutes or hours of ingestion and range from skin rashes, hives or eczema to vomiting or inflamed nasal passages, but rarely are they as a severe as anaphylaxis.
Cooking With Eggs
By Carol White, MS, RD
Though often pigeonholed as a breakfast item or baking ingredient, eggs are used in all kinds of dishes and across all cultures for their versatility and unique cooking properties. Eggs lend flavor, body and richness to ice cream, baked goods and pasta. Yolks, which contain lecithin, work as emulsifiers, suspending fat and liquid in creamy sauces such as mayonnaise and hollandaise. Egg whites provide volume and structure to foods such as meringue, angel food cake and soufflés. Egg whites also provide volume and structure to gluten-free bread products.
Hard-boiling is the simplest preparation for eggs and makes for a brown bag-friendly food. Added to vegetables, cheese and herbs, eggs can make a hearty, healthy scramble, omelet, quiche or frittata– perfect for any meal. Quiches and frittatas are especially good as leftovers and pair deliciously with lightly dressed salad greens. For dinner, serve fried, scrambled or poached eggs over sautéed leafy greens and whole grains, or poach an egg in a broth or vegetable soup for a one-dish meal.
For vegans, vegetarians or people with egg allergies, egg replacers are sold commercially and can be used in almost any recipe calling for eggs. Read the labels carefully though, as many egg substitutes designed for people avoiding cholesterol contain egg white.
An egg is graded by the quality of its shell, white and yolk, and on the size of its air cell—the space between the membrane and the shell. Higher grade (generally fresher) eggs will have clean, strong and regularly shaped shells; a clear, firm white; a round yolk and a small air cell. “AA” grade eggs are the highest quality followed by “A” and “B” (the lowest quality usually only used in commercial operations). Eggs are sized according to the weight of one dozen eggs, and most recipes that call for eggs are referring to “large” eggs. Chicken eggs are the most common, but other kinds are commonly eaten around the world, including duck, quail and ostrich eggs.
Using Eggs in Foodservice
By Amorette Hinely Reid
One of Mother Nature’s greatest contributions to the food world, eggs can remain edible for several weeks when handled properly. Store them at 33 to 45 degrees F in their cases to prevent the loss of moisture and keep eggs away from foods with strong odors. Eggs should be taken out of the cooler only when they are to be used immediately. Never stack egg flats by a grill or counter. Eggs accidentally left at room temperature should be discarded after two hours, or one hour in warm weather.
Salmonella enteritidis in eggs is a primary culprit in foodborne illnesses, making egg safety of utmost importance, particularly in food service operations serving customers with compromised immune systems. Because bacteria can grow readily once the shell is cracked, pooling raw eggs (cracking large quantities of eggs in advance) is discouraged.
The best way to reduce salmonella risk is to cook eggs thoroughly, which fortunately does not mean until they are hard and rubbery. Cook whole eggs until the white is set and completely coagulated and the yolk begins to thicken so it is no longer runny, but not hard. Scrambled eggs and omelets should be cooked until they are firm throughout with no visible liquid egg. Sauces or casseroles with eggs should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
Food safety guidelines do limit some culinary applications, such as eggnog or Caesar salad dressing, and may disappoint customers who prefer soft-cooked eggs. Consider using pasteurized eggs, available in shell, dried, frozen or liquid forms. When serving more vulnerable populations, the FDA recommends using pasteurized shell eggs, which are not considered a potentially hazardous food and can be kept at ambient room temperature for up to eight hours.
Once cooked, hot egg dishes should be held at 140 degrees F or higher for no longer than 30 minutes. Cold egg dishes, such as deviled eggs and egg salad, should be kept cold below 40 degrees F. To avoid the green color that sometimes develops on scrambled eggs held on steam tables, add citric acid crystals or lemon juice to the egg mixture before cooking.
Egg Labels and Claims
- Cage Free: Hens are not kept in cages and may or may not have outdoor access.
- Free Range: “Cage free” plus the birds must have continuous access to the outdoors.
- Vegetarian-Fed: Hens eat feed with no animal by-products (feather meal and hen meal are allowed in conventional chicken feed).
- Omega-3 Fortified: Hens are fed diets with flaxseed or algae, increasing the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in the eggs by up to 20 times that of non-fortified eggs.
- Organic: “Free range” plus hens cannot be given antibiotics and the feed is organic per the National Organic Standards.
- Pasture-Raised or Pastured: (Not legal terms.) “Pastured eggs” come from hens that forage on bugs and grass (their natural diet). Usually found at many farmer’s markets.