Both the white and yolk of an egg are rich in nutrients, including proteins, vitamins and minerals. The yolk also contains cholesterol, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins D and E) and essential fatty acids. Eggs are also an important and versatile ingredient for cooking, as their particular chemical make-up is literally the glue of many important baking reactions.
Since the domestication of the chicken, people have been enjoying and nourishing themselves with eggs. As a long time symbol of fertility and rebirth, the egg has taken its place in religious as well as culinary history. In Christianity, the symbol of the decorated egg has become synonymous with Easter. There are lots of different types of egg available, the most commonly raised are chicken eggs while more gourmet choices include duck, goose and quail eggs.
The Cholesterol Question
For years, eggs were considered more of a health risk than a healthy food. This is because they were considered a high-cholesterol food, so those with high cholesterol levels were advised to avoid them. We now know that the cholesterol found in food has much less of an effect on our blood cholesterol than the amount of saturated fat we eat. If you’ve been advised by your GP to change your diet in an attempt to reduce your blood cholesterol levels, the best thing to do is to keep to daily guideline intakes for saturated fat (20g for the average woman and 30g for the average man) opting instead for monounsaturated fats found in olive and rapeseed oils. It's also a good idea to increase your intake of vegetables, wholegrains, lean meats and low-fat dairy while minimising sugars and refined carbs.
If you are concerned about your cholesterol or are unsure whether it is safe for you to consume eggs, please consult your GP.
Help! What do all these labels mean?
Label claims can be confusing. Here's what all of those designations actually say.
Cage-Free: According to the USDA, cage-free hens must be housed in a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and water. Cage-free does NOT mean that the hens have access to the outdoors.
Free-Range: Free-range hens must be housed in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food and water. However, these hens must have continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle. This outdoor area may be fenced (in a backyard or garden if raised on a heritage farm!) and/or covered with netting.
Pasture-Raised: This term is not currently regulated by the USDA, but pasture-raised eggs should mean that the hens spend most of their life outdoors, with a fair amount of space to roam in addition to barn access. The hens can eat a diet of worms, insects, and grass, along with their feed, which replicates a chicken's natural diet and environment. Look for the HFAC's Certified Humane Label.
Farm-Fresh or All-Natural: These labels aren't subject to federal regulation, nor do they have specific meaning. They're often used for marketing purposes, per the USDA.
No Hormones Added: Contrary to popular belief, the egg industry does NOT use hormones in the production of shell eggs, no matter if the label says this or not.
Antibiotic-Free: Similarly, all eggs produced in the U.S. are antibiotic-free, even if it's not specified on the carton. If hens become ill, a veterinarian can administer antibiotics, but these eggs would not be used for human consumption, according to FDA regulations.
Vegetarian-Fed: According to USDA rules, the egg producer using this claim must maintain documentation that the source hens do not eat any animal byproducts. However, chickens in the wild are omnivores (i.e., not vegetarian) and get most of their protein from worms and insects.
Gluten-Free: All eggs are naturally gluten-free. If the hens producing the eggs are fed a gluten-containing grain, the gluten is broken down during digestion and not passed on to the eggs.
Organic: In order to certify eggs as "organic," the hen's feed must be grown without most synthetic chemicals. 100% of the ingredients must be certified organic, the hens must be free-range, and the use of antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited. Management must present supporting documentation from an accredited certifying agent to the USDA to verify that the flock is organic.
Zero Trans Fats: This claim indicates that an egg contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fatty acids, which is true of all eggs.
AA, A, or B: You may have noticed that eggs are graded as AA, A, or B, in descending order of quality. According to the USDA and the American Egg Board, there is no difference in nutritional values. Grading is based on standards of appearance, such as the conditions of the white or yolk and the cleanliness and soundness of the shell.