Thursday, April 15, 2010

The "Incredible" Edible Egg? Not Exactly.

When millions of Canadians stumble out of bed in the morning and think about breakfast, the first thing they think about is eggs. And the vast majority of them cannot imagine not having eggs in the house for use in pies, cakes and cookies. But are eggs good for us, or even necessary? They come with a healthy dose of controversy in regards to their healthfulness, as well as some uncomfortable ethical questions in regards to how they are typically produced.

First, a word about cholesterol, the most common complaint leveled against the egg. It is true that eggs comprise about 35% of the cholesterol in the typical American diet. It is also true that the cholesterol in food can raise blood cholesterol, and most dietary guidelines advise you to eat no more than 300 mgs per day of cholesterol. (The average egg has 215 mgs, all in the yolk.) They have the most cholesterol of any other food. But our bodies also produce cholesterol, some people more than others. The amount of cholesterol in your blood does not necessarily relate to the amount that you consume. As well, the consumption of saturated fats and trans-fats also can raise blood cholesterol.
Most experts agree that a blood cholesterol level higher than 200 mg increases the risk of heart disease. Some people can ingest a lot of cholesterol before they reach this limit, but for other it takes far less. To make the research into this issue more difficult, those with high blood cholesterol don’t see much of an increase from eating eggs. But those whose cholesterol is low to begin with will likely see their cholesterol rise rapidly.
The science is confusing, sometimes made that way deliberately so by those who stand to gain by an increase in egg consumption. The bottom line from the American Heart Association is to eat no more than one egg a day as part of your 300 mg limit of cholesterol. So, if you do eat an egg you need to limit your consumption of other animal products accordingly.

Some eggs now come with cartons touting the fact that they are a source of Omega 3 fatty acids. This is achieved by feeding fish oils and flaxseed to the chickens, and usually come with a much higher price. You are better off both financially and from a health perspective getting your omega 3’s by eating the flaxseed yourself.
Another thing to note is that 93% of the eggs produced in Canada are raised using the battery cage system. The chickens are kept under artificial light in cages stacked several layers high, and never see the sun. The air in these barns have an almost overpowering ammonia stench, and the chickens do not have room to even stretch their wings. Each full grown hen has less space than the size of one piece of scribbler paper, and the only way they can move is if another chicken trades places with them. After about two years in these pens, the only release is when they get sent to the slaughterhouse. If you are concerned about the ethics of your food choices, choose to buy eggs from small, local free-range producers.

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