healthy eating for healthy aging

Eggs are on my protein radar screen

Eggs are on my protein radar screen

I should eat more eggs.” I remind myself of this quite often. Why? Quality protein, convenience, cost, versatility and taste. What more reasons does a person need? Yet we’ve been taught to fear and shun eggs for decades, and some people still stick to those antiquated guidelines.

The war on eggs started in the mid-20th century. Egg yolks contain cholesterol; arterial plaque contains cholesterol. Therefore eggs cause heart attacks. This simplistic conclusion led to a massive decrease in egg consumption. Did heart attacks go away? No. Heart disease became more widespread. Oops.

But who needs evidence? By the time health experts realized avoiding eggs wasn’t the solution. fake egg substitutes and egg white omelets were entrenched in our food supply. Never mind that this stuff is loaded with chemicals, in a futile attempt to create something that looks, acts and tastes like a real egg. Plenty of people now think fake eggs are “normal” because that’s what they’re used to. This is sad.

There is no substitute for real eggs. The flavor is unique. Eggs cook into unique textures that can’t be replicated with chemicals. And they have the highest quality protein of any food eaten by humans. Not just quality protein but convenient and inexpensive quality protein. That alone makes them invaluable for older people who need to pay attention to protein intake.

According to the America Egg Board, humans have eaten eggs since the beginning of time. Prehistoric humans found wild bird eggs. Domesticated birds have supplied eggs for thousands of years. Commercial mass production of chicken eggs evolved in the US during the early 20th century. Eggs were initially very local: local farmers who kept chickens sold their eggs locally. Agricultural research encouraged farmers to establish large indoor facilities to control pests, diseases, food supply and chicken-on-chicken bullying. The term “pecking order” comes from chicken behavior; dominant chickens will chase less aggressive chickens away from the food.

Now mass production of eggs is criticized. Pricey local eggs are hot, laid by chickens that wander in the yard, eating bugs and fighting over food. Grocery egg cases have a variety of eggs: brown eggs, grass fed eggs, organic eggs, cage-free eggs, and free range eggs. The nutrient content may or may not be that different from one variety to another. Flavor can be better, but it comes with a cost.

Per capita consumption of eggs is just shy of 290 eggs per person. That’s less than 1 egg per day. And that number accounts for all eggs, not just eggs you cook for breakfast. Eggs are used in hundreds of prepared foods, from ice cream and cakes to mayonnaise, egg noodles and batter-fried foods. But you really can’t take advantage of egg nutrients by eating mayonnaise or ice cream. 

One large egg contains:

  • about 70 calories
  • more than 6 grams of protein
  • significant iron, zinc, B2, B12, choline, lutein and zeaxanthin
  • trace amounts of many other minerals and vitamins

For a fast, easy meal you can’t beat eggs. Boiled (hot or cold), scrambled, poached or fried eggs are part of a quick simple meal. Make an omelet with cheese and/or vegetables for a more filling meal. Add a cooked egg to salads, or just make egg salad. Experiment with egg serving ideas from other cuisines: put a soft cooked egg on top of a hot grain bowl (Asian custom), on a pizza (popular in France) or a hot sandwich or stirred into soup.  I like to keep hard cooked eggs in the frig and have one chopped up with minced celery and a splash of olive oil for a high protein and very satisfying snack.

Still worried about eggs? The most recent version (2015) of the US Dietary Guidelines ditched the obsolete limit on cholesterol that started the widespread fear of eggs in the first place. I personally was never concerned about the cholesterol thing. I’m definitely concerned about protein to maintain muscle strength. Sarcopenia — loss of muscle mass as we age — can be slowed by eating adequate protein. That’s why eggs are on my radar screen.