Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’
So much fuss has been made over the poor little egg. Eggs have pretty consistently gotten a bad rap in recent dietary history. Are they good for you, bad for you, neutral, or really good for you? New research points to the latter.
When talking about the “egg” from here on out I’ll be mostly talking about standard white chicken eggs, but most bird eggs have a similar nutritional profile, and are equally delicious (although I have a particular fondness for duck eggs).
Who, besides Zooey Deschanel, doesn’t enjoy eggs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? For me, the three most beautiful words in the English language are “breakfast served anytime.”
Yolk It Up
While there are numerous parts of an egg, when we talk about eggs as food we generally discuss only two parts: the yellow egg yolks and egg whites, known scientifically as the albumen. Nutritionally the whites are a good source of protein… and little else. Given the cholesterol scare of the past half century many people have started eating egg white omelets or otherwise avoiding the yolk. Why so much fuss about such a tiny little yellow embryonic sac?
Is it because of the saturated fat? A single egg yolk contains only 1.5g of saturated fat, and contains about 80% of the calories of both the yolk and white combined, since the egg white consists of about 90% water, which has zero calories. An average large egg white has around 17 calories, whereas a whole egg (white + yolk) is between 70 and 100, depending on size (for calorie counting purposes I always record a 100 calorie egg regardless of whether I’m eating large or extra-large eggs).
While an egg’s protein is split nearly an even 50/50 between the yolk and the white, the yolk contains dozens of nutrients, and is rivaled only by wheat grass juice in packing a nearly complete nutritional profile for humans in such a small package. The only major nutrient you can’t get from eggs is Vitamin C. So drink a glass of orange juice with your breakfast (or better yet, eat an orange, the fiber is better for you than the juice).
Eggs are one of the most perfect sources of protein available to the human diet, supplying all nine essential amino acids necessary for proper health. They’re high in Vitamins A, D, B12, E, riboflavin, folic acid, iron, calcium, potassium, and choline, an essential nutrient for brain development, especially in fetuses and babies. Some eggs are “fortified” with omega–3 fatty acids (the same found in avocados and fish oil) by feeding the laying hens kelp meal, whose nutrients are then passed through to the eggs.
The Vitamin A in the yolk actually helps your body to better assimilate the protein, so when you make an egg white omelet you’re doing yourself a disservice both in missing the nutrients present in the yolk, but also in degrading your body’s ability to process the protein you get from the whites, which we should once again mention is the only real nutrient in the egg white.
Is it an added bonus that egg yolks are delicious on just about anything? Drop a poached egg onto just about any sandwich and you’ll greatly improve the quality of that sandwich. I can’t remember the first time I ate a burger with a fried egg on top, but my pupils dilated like in Requiem For A Dream.
Most eggs produced in the United States are white, although in New England brown eggs are more common than elsewhere in the country. There is no difference in taste between different colored eggs, whether they’re uniform in color or speckled, or even their size. Different colored eggs are nutritionally all the same. I’ve noticed that brown eggs in my local supermarkets tend to be more expensive than plain white eggs, so unless you want brown eggs for their aesthetic properties, you may as well stick to the cheaper and more plentiful white eggs.
Health Scares Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be: Egg Myths Debunked
Myth: Cholesterol in eggs raises your blood cholesterol.
British researchers have determined that there’s little evidence to support the common wisdom that the cholesterol found in eggs has any effect on raising blood cholesterol in people who consume them.
From the British Nutrition Foundation’s publication:
The egg is a nutrient-dense food, a valuable source of high quality protein and essential micronutrients that is not high in SFA or in energy. In the current difficult financial climate, eggs can play a useful role as a relatively inexpensive source of nutrition for all and especially for people on low incomes. The high protein content of eggs may help with weight maintenance or loss, a significant factor in the context of the current fight against obesity. It is high time that we dispelled the mythology surrounding eggs and heart disease and restored them to their rightful place on our menus where they can make a valuable contribution to healthy balanced diets.
That’s why I eat eggs but pass on Egg Beaters™. Given the choice, I’d rather consume a food made by nature than one manufactured by a giant corporation. You don’t always have that choice, at least not without the tradeoff of convenience or price, since locally grown eggs from chickens who haven’t been raised on a diet of corn feed and growth hormones are not as readily available at the supermarket as those from mass chicken farms, and even when they are available they can cost several times more (although many would argue that they’re worth it, as they taste better).
The diet-heart hypothesis [that suggests that high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease] has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and yet, for complicated reasons of pride, profit and prejudice, the hypothesis continues to be exploited by scientists, fund-raising enterprises, food companies and even governmental agencies. The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century.
Consider also that Japan, the country with the highest consumption of eggs in their diet also has one of the lowest rates of heart disease. That can’t be a coincidence.
Myth: Eggs cause type2 diabetes in adults.
It was once thought that eggs (specifically the yolk) was a cause or major contributor of type 2 diabetes in adults, but that myth was also recently debunked.
Myth: Egg pasteurization reduces their nutritional content.
Nope. Eggs are pasteurized through applying a little heat to a simple water bath. Unlike many vegetables, eggs lose none of their nutrients through cooking (although runny yolks are delicious on just about anything).
Myth: Raw or undercooked eggs may contain salmonella.
Okay, this one’s real. While getting salmonella from eggs is rare, it still does happen. Salmonella is a dangerous (to humans) bacteria that is found in many chickens. You can reduce your risk by:
- Only eating eggs where both the white and yolk are fully-cooked.
- Ensure that the raw egg doesn’t touch anything else that you plan to eat.
- Eat only pasteurized eggs (most eggs from the supermarket are pasteurized, but read the label).
Granted, while we tend to buy pasteurized eggs I love a good runny yolk, and will even order over-easy eggs at a restaurant.
If you want to be scared about egg safety, though, you can read Scrambled Eggs a publication produced by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI, which sounds like a government agency, but isn’t) which describes both the problem and suggested solutions for how the government can help to reduce our risk of contamination, like requiring more frequent inspections of egg-producing farms and requiring that farms refrigerate eggs sooner.
The Egg and I
I enjoy eating eggs. I’m an egg-enthusiast. If I’m going to eat a bunch of vegetables together, I’d rather wrap them in some ovum protein in an omelette than eat them any other way. Omelette possibilities are endless – you can basically stuff them with anything – vegetables, cheese, meats, or any combination of the three. I tend to not add more than three fillings to keep the flavor from becoming too much of a melange, and of course some things go better together than others. Add some spinach, tomato, olives, and feta cheese for a Mediterranean flavor. Bacon, tomato, and cheddar make for a nice burgery sensation. Avocado, shallots, and goat cheese and you’ll eat like a Californian (provided all of the ingredients are local, sustainable, and organic).
Sometimes I just want to experience the pure joy of eggs themselves. For my money, the perfect expression of the egg is poached. I even bought a fancy egg poaching spoon produced by celebrity chef Michael Rhulman for easier separating of the white and then retrieval of the eggs from the poaching liquid.
If you’re looking for ways to introduce more eggs into your diet, indulge me on a Bubba from Forrest Gump exploration of the various ways eggs may be prepared:
- eggs benedict
- spanish torta
- french toast
- croque madame
- egg salad
- egg foo young
- huevos rancheros
- loco moco
- toad in the hole / egg in the basket / bird in the nest / one-eyed jack
- scotch egg
- eggs in purgatory
So now that we know that eggs are both delicious and nutritious, won’t give you high cholesterol or diabetes, you can eat your unfertilized chicken embryos without guilt, apology, or having to worry about getting any metaphorical egg on your face.
The egg white is actually comprised of two parts, a more solid protein and another watery part. When you make scrambled eggs you usually just crack the whole thing into a bowl, but most chefs will actually separate out the two parts of the egg white before poaching an egg as it makes for a prettier finished product (and you don’t end up with little strands of the thinner albumen in your poaching liquid). ↩
I’ll concede the point that the eggs we buy at the supermarket also arrive there by way of a large corporation and are as much a product of chemistry as cultivation, but given the two evils, I’ll take the one with the shorter ingredient count. Plus, I try to avoid things that are known to cause death in rats. ↩
Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss
Yes, it’s really that simple. Calories are a unit of energy, and your body literally burns calories to power itself. Most of your caloric expenditure is spent keeping your body at a constant ~98.6F temperature. The rest is used to move your muscles, fuel your organs, etc. Thinking deeply about something burns more calories than passively watching TV or listening to music. The first time I played in a chess tournament (I’m not all that good, but the tournaments are fun) I was surprised by how physically exhausting it was.
Certain foods take more calories of energy to consume than others. Fat happens to be a really efficient means of storing calories for use later, which is why you get fat if you take in more calories than you need. Your body simply stores it for a time when it may need that extra energy later, like a squirrel collects a cache of nuts for the winter. Why is it so hard and take so long to lose weight? Because one pound of fat takes about 3,500 calories to burn, so you have to create a deficit of 500 calories per day (on average) to lose one pound of fat per week. Of course, when you’re overweight, your body has to work harder just to maintain itself, so if you follow a 1900-2100 calorie plan (like I am) you’re probably taking in only half to a third of the calories you burn, and the fat will come off pretty quickly. There may be such a thing as too quickly, too. I can’t stress enough that you should talk to a doctor before getting started on any kind of diet or fitness plan.
People are asking me what I’m doing to lose weight. I tell them I’m eating better and exercising (go figure). I’m not following any particular diet plan. Diets suck and are hard to follow, especially if you live in the world and want to go out and do things with people, so I was pretty sure when I started that I didn’t want to follow anything as strict and dull as Atkins, “The South Beach Diet,” “The Jolly Bean Diet,” the “Feel Miserable The Entire Time You’re On the Diet Until You Go Off The Plan And Put All The Weight You Lost (Plus BONUS Pounds!) Diet,” &c. I really needed to change my lifestyle, and my relationship with food (more on that abusive relationship later).
The Art of Losing Isn’t Hard to Master
The real truth about dieting that any nutritionist will tell you, is that it almost doesn’t matter what you eat if weight loss is your only goal. As long as you keep the calories you consume below the threshold of the calories your body needs every day, you’ll lose weight. Yes, by eating more nutritious and healthier foods you’ll be able to eat more for a lower amount of total calories, feel better, and perhaps be happier in your weight loss (as I am), but you could probably eat a Big Mac three meals a day, and you could still lose weight if your body needs more than 1800 calories a day (as mine likely does). So if you really love fast food, there’s probably a plan you could follow to eat at your favourite take-out place every single day if you wanted, albeit probably in smaller portions than to which you’re accustomed.
Part of the problem is that I like to taste things that are delicious. I love cooking. I love going out and spending time with friends and loved ones. So rather than limiting myself to certain foods, I’m developing a strategy for eating. It only took a few weeks to feel comfortable with it, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that lately I’ve been eating more delicious foods than I was when I was getting delivery 3-4 days a week. I mean, I love pizza, but it’s not the most flavourful food on the planet.
One thing’s for certain: pre-packaged highly-processed food costs a whole lot less than fresh stuff. Go to the supermarket and you probably have more fresh vegetable and meat choices than ever before in history. Multiculturalism is in, too, so it’s now pretty easy to find some of my new favourite foods, like Greek yogurt, hummus, various low-cal Asian sauces and marinades, &c. However, this stuff isn’t as cheap as say, a box of macaroni and cheese, but it sure tastes better and leaves me feeling better, both physically and emotionally.
So I feel better, and I feel better. For each of my personal fitness vectors, the eating-better part is the easiest. I almost never feel like I’m depriving myself of anything because I’m eating things with lots of flavour and I’m finding that a balanced meal (or at least a balanced daily diet, even if I don’t perfectly balance every meal) is far more satisfying than most of the junk food I consumed en masse. Personal Fitness Vectors sounds pretty technical, but it just means I’m waging the war on several fronts (maybe I should pick a metaphor that doesn’t sound like I’m attacking myself). In addition to eating better, I’m also studying nutrition and fitness, biology, the science of how my body processes food and nutrients, how the body burns fat, why it stores fat in the first place, etc.
Working Out Is Hard To Do
I don’t have a regular exercise routine either (although I am lifting weights and am meeting with a personal trainer twice a week). Exercise is important to keeping a healthy body and feeling better. Being active will mean you don’t have to be as strict with counting calories, but you’ve never seriously exercised before, you may be as dismayed as I was to learn that exercise has a nominal impact on weight loss. You can pedal your heart out for a solid hour on an exercise bike until you’re out of breath and sweating profusely and you might burn a thousand calories (if you’re my size, height, and age). That’s about the equivalent of a medium sized value meal at a fast food restaurant, which is actually not bad – if you can exercise at high-intensity for an hour straight without passing out or dying.
In reality, I’m generally burning only a few hundred calories an hour. Exercise also raises your metabolic rate, but it raises it so little as to be insignificant to helping with weight loss (although every little bit helps, right?). Another potential weight loss benefit – exercise may curb your appetite (I know it does mine) by increasing a protein in your blood called BDNF, which lowers your blood pressure and suppresses the hunger reflex.
Of course, my goal it to be fit and healthy, not simply to lose weight as fast as I can, so I’m getting other benefits from working out, too. More muscle means you’re increasing your body’s caloric requirements – those muscles need energy to move – and getting stronger from exercise means that it’ll get easier over time, and more enjoyable. It’s already nice to be able to keep up with healthy people when walking. Previously I had a hard time keeping up with friends and coworkers who all walk at a pretty swift pace. Now they have a hard time keeping up with me.
Actually, my legs have been getting much stronger and much faster than anything else. Granted, most of the leg exercises I’m doing are just using my own body weight as resistance (gravity is a harsh mistress) but I’m already seeing marked improvement.
Overall, I’ve been happy with my progress so far, albeit impatient with the speed at which I’m improving. But I’m only in week ten, and I expect I have another 150 or so weeks to go before I’m even close to being fit. In the meantime, I’m getting in progressively better shape.