Note to Reporters: The following column is written by Shirley Perryman, an Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University.
As we think of outdoor projects for spring, some of you may be considering joining the new trend of raising backyard chickens. You may be motivated by the convenience of having a quick and convenient source of protein – with the push to eat locally, you can’t get closer than your back yard. However, people new to this small-farming venture may not realize the necessary steps to keep your chicken eggs safe to eat.
Whether you raise your own backyard chickens for eggs, purchase eggs from a local farmer’s market or from a supermarket, there is some recent news about this longstanding, high-protein food. The egg, which was on the ‘eat less often’ list, just got moved to the plus side. If you enjoy eating eggs, read on for details.
With so much focus on heart health, the cholesterol naturally present in eggs may cause some people to omit eggs from their diet. Recent nutritional data from U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers indicates that the yolk of a large egg contains 64 percent more vitamin D, and the cholesterol in egg yolks is now lower than test results from 2002. Cholesterol is down 14 percent to185 mg per large egg from a previous 220 mg. These changes may be due to improvements in the quality of feed given to laying hens during the last 10 years. The American Heart Association recognizes the research which shows that egg consumption does not alter heart disease risk.
Considering the high nutrient density of eggs, their reasonable cost as a protein source and lower cholesterol levels, the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans include eggs as an acceptable lean protein source. The recommendation is to limit dietary cholesterol intake to 300 mg. Should you choose to eat an egg a day, that will fit with the guidelines as long as you consider how much cholesterol you eat on a regular basis from all animal sources. Hint: cholesterol only comes from animal foods, which makes it easy to estimate your intake if you’re also monitoring your portion sizes.
Other prepared foods, especially baked goods, are made with eggs. Remember to count those eggs toward your daily cholesterol limit. If you want to save on your cholesterol budget, use only egg whites that are cholesterol-free. To eliminate cholesterol when cooking, substitute two egg whites for a whole egg. Another option is to use cholesterol-free egg substitutes that are made from egg whites with added coloring. Powdered egg whites are handy to keep on hand for convenience. Combine two teaspoons of powdered egg white with two tablespoons of warm water to magically produce the equivalent of one egg white. The other nice feature of powdered egg whites is that it can be used safely in uncooked dishes.
In addition to cholesterol and protein, eggs contain several other valuable nutrients including lutein for eye health. Another one that is gaining a lot of notice is choline. The National Academy of Sciences recently recognized choline as an essential nutrient with a recommended adequate intake or AI for men, women and children. A large egg contains almost 50 percent of the recommended AI for most population groups. Studies in animals indicate that choline plays an essential role in brain function. With today’s focus on brain development in infants and age-related memory loss in adults, watch for new research results related to choline.
An egg alone is a 70-calorie healthy choice. When making egg dishes or planning egg menus, consider the added ingredients. For example, make your omelet with one egg plus two egg whites, fill with veggies sautéed in a small amount of fat, and sprinkle lightly with cheese. Serve with a side of fresh berries and whole-wheat toast. If the extras are loaded with saturated fat and sodium, unfortunately your healthy high-protein meal just landed on the other side of the equation as a less-than-healthy choice.
You can find a helpful fact sheet on home-produced chicken eggs at http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09377.html.