Eggs are an absolute staple to my Paleo diet. I can’t think of any other food with such a high quality source of protein and fat that costs as little as eggs do.
Eggs have gotten a bad rap ever since the lipid hypothesis emerged in the 1950’s. It’s a damn shame, because eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Yes they have cholesterol, yes they have saturated fat, but if you recall from the Cholesterol Myth, these are necessary nutrients for our bodies to function the way they were evolved to. These nutrients aren’t the bad guys. Still, the FDA would have you believe that anything more than 3 eggs a week is too much and you will die of heart disease if you eat too many eggs! It’s just not the truth. More important than these two nutrients are the proteins, amino acids, and 39 vitamins and minerals found in eggs. The only other protein found in nature that is more complete is human breast milk.
The beauty of eggs extends beyond nutrient content. Perhaps no other food on the planet is as universal as the egg. Beyond race, borders, culture, and economic status, everyone knows what an egg is and what it brings to the table. In Judaism eggs are symbols of life and fertility. In Christianity, Easter wouldn’t be Easter without eggs. In this sense they are symbols of rebirth, of life everlasting. Take a moment to think that you grew from a single tiny fertilized egg in your mother’s womb. Think about all the cultural and linguistic references to the egg: Humpty Dumpty, Rocky Balboa chugging raw eggs for strength, Aesop’s golden-egg-laying-goose, the Eggman, putting away a nest egg, being called an egghead, egging one on, and walking on eggshells to name a few.
Eggs can be prepared in an endless number of ways. They can hardboiled, or, once free from the shell, scrambled, fried, poached, steamed, or baked to name a few. I even like them raw! You can make deviled eggs, or you can do like certain African tribes do and crack ostrich eggs over hot coals then bury it in dirt for a few hours to cook, then dig them up and chow down (I’ve been told this taste incredibly nasty though). Eggs are important ingredients in several dishes. From a traditional standpoint, eggs are in bread, pasta, cookies, breaded meats, cakes, deserts, French toast, dressings, mayonnaise, quiche, and much more. Several Paleo Recipes call for eggs due to their versatility, nutrition, and affordability.
Although the most economical and convenient to find, we are not just limited to chicken eggs. Duck eggs, quail eggs, ostrich eggs, and whatever exotic bird eggs you can find are all fair game. Don’t forget fish eggs like caviar either.
Decoding the Labels
I’m going to provide a breakdown of egg carton labels so you know what everything means. Some of the labels are meant to simply entice you into thinking you are buying a better product when in actuality you are not. Other labels actually walk the walk. I don’t necessarily believe there are “bad” eggs (except for Salmonella tainted ones), but I do believe there are bad ways of producing eggs. The way the egg is produced determines its end nutrient content. Grain fed caged chickens will produce eggs that are still healthy and taste ok, but chickens that are fed a natural diet and are allowed to roam will produce eggs that are superior in taste, aesthetics, and nutrition. From a moral standpoint, it is best to buy eggs from free range chickens since these animals are treated more humanely.
1. Grade A-this is a marker of appearance. It has nothing to do with nutrition. Grade AA has thicker white and yolks that maintain their consistency when cracked in a pan.
2. White/Brown-The color of eggs has to do with the type of hen that laid it. Contrary to belief, it does not affect taste or nutrition. Nutritional value is determined by feed, not breed. Brown eggs are generally more expensive because they come from larger birds that require more feed.
3. Cage-Free- Hens are not caged and can run about in huge chicken houses, but not outdoors.
4. Free Roaming-Chickens have access to outdoors at least 51% of their lives. Keep in mind there are no regulations on the quality or size of the outdoor space.
5. USDA Organic- Laid by hens whose feed is organically grown, free of pesticides, animal byproducts, and chemical fertilizers. No cages are allowed and birds must have constant access to the outdoors.
6. Omega 3- High in Omega-3 fat content because good sources of omega-3 fatty acids have been mixed in with the chicken feed.
7. Size-Eggs range in size from the 15 oz. Peewee, to the 30 oz. Jumbo. It is personal preference. Nutrient density is the same across all sizes, bigger eggs just have more total nutrients.
8. EG, or Eggland’s Best- This is nothing more than a brand name owned by Cal-Maine Foods, one of the largest egg producers in the US. It carries no nutritional weight other than the company’s quality control standards. I don’t know much about them, so I can’t tell you whether or not the EG label is better than others, but if they are also labeled with Organic or free roaming they are probably pretty good eggs.
9. Natural, naturally raised, no antibiotics, no hormones- Carries no meaning and is unregulated.
For a complete guide to how labels relate to the humane treatment of chickens, check out the US Humane Society Site.
Conventional vs. Cage Free
As we see from above, all eggs aren’t created equal. How does this break down nutritionally? Quite a bit actually. Here is an analysis comparing plain ‘ole grocery store eggs to Eggland’s Best cage free eggs:
Comparing the two, we can see that per 50 grams, conventional eggs have slightly more fat, cholesterol, and even carbs. This isn’t a huge deal, though. What is a big deal is the fact that the EG eggs have so many more minerals and vitamins. The regular eggs probably have the same miconutrients, just in trace amounts not even worthy of listing. Given the choice, it is probably better to choose higher quality eggs to get the best nutrient benefit and taste. If you would like to delve a little deeper into the difference between supermarket eggs and free pastured eggs, checkout this article by Mother Earth News. Their findings indicate pastured eggs have way more vitamins A and D, and Omega 3 fatty acids.
One easy way to tell good eggs from so-so eggs is the color of the yolk. Richly colored yolks indicate the presence of lutein and high concentrations of fat-soluble vitamins. Almost all of the egg’s calcium, zinc, and vitamins A,D, and E reside in the yolk. Nearly all of the egg’s fat and cholesterol also lie in the yolk with these wonderful nutrients. So, if you only eat the white in fear of the yolk fats, you are not only giving up high quality fats that are GOOD for you, but you’re also throwing away most of the vitamins. The whites themselves do contain more than half of the egg’s protein and minerals such as niacin, magnesium, riboflavin, sodium, and potassium though.
If you want the absolute best eggs, harvest them yourself! Backyard chickens have become very popular over the last decade, especially among followers of the Paleo Diet and other natural diets. It’s an interesting trend to me since in the first half of the twentieth century, a large portion of Americans raised chickens anyways. I suppose it fell out of favor with the population shift from rural to urban, and the rise of super farms, but now that we’re realizing the perils of these super farms, backyard chickens and gardens are making a comeback. Checkout my page about Chickens to learn more about this topic.
So, I hope you find this article helpful in what to look for in eggs and how to use them as an important part of the Paleo Diet. If you’d like to see anything added, please leave a comment and I’ll look into it.