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The Nutritional Benefits of Eggs

My mom often sent my sisters and me to school with our bellies full of scrambled eggs, telling us we needed our protein to get through the day. Turns out she was on to something. "Eggs are a phenomenal source of protein," says Elizabeth Ward, RD, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler (Alpha).

What's the big deal? Egg protein supplies all the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks for hormones, skin, tissues, and more in the body. They are considered essential because our body cannot make them on its own; we have to get them from food. Because eggs are relatively easy to digest (compared with, say, a hamburger), you absorb the protein well, says Cynthia Sass, RD, of Tampa. In kids, protein is vital for growth, while adults use it to maintain lean tissue, repair muscle after exercise, and keep the immune system in tip-top shape.

In addition, one egg contains just 75 calories and offers a healthy portion of choline, "which plays a role in brain development," says Ward. This nutrient is important for memory storage in kids and adults and for reproductive health.

Omega-3s

It seems the "good egg," once scoffed at for its cholesterol, is getting even better. Nowadays, it's not unusual for your local grocery store to carry eggs that supply omega-3s (Christopher Eggs and Eggland's Best are two examples). This healthy fat may aid in kids' cognitive development and could help prevent conditions such as heart disease and arthritis in adults. "While fatty fish are the best source of omega-3s, most kids don't like fish, and adults don't often eat it on a daily basis," says Sass, "so this is certainly a good way to work these healthy fats into the diet."

So what about the cholesterol? One egg supplies about 215 milligrams. (The recommended daily amount in those ages 2 and up is 300 milligrams.) However, some brands, like those mentioned above, may contain less due to the way the hens are fed, and smaller eggs will also supply less. If you're concerned about cholesterol, substitute egg whites (use one whole egg and two whites, for example, in an omelet).

Kids, known for finicky taste buds, generally like eggs. Plus, they make a healthy meal for your family any time of day, says Elizabeth Ward, RD. Some innovative ways to serve 'em:

  • Hard-boiled eggs make the perfect easy-to-pack snack.
  • French toast and crepes, which have an egg base, provide nutrients and taste.
  • Egg salad in a whole wheat tortilla is a big hit with kids and adults alike.
  • Frittatas, omelets, and quiches are good vehicles for eggs (bonus: you can easily sneak in veggies).
  • An egg sandwich on whole wheat or oat-bran toast, cut into quarters, gets fiber in your kid's diet.
  • Eggs in flour tortillas with salsa and shredded cheese make for a simple south-of-the-border entree.

Over Easter week, 93 million dozen eggs fly off dairy shelves. Of course, some of those eggs will be decorated and eventually tossed in the trash, but over any given week, Americans buy 72 million dozen eggs.

Everyone loves decorating Easter eggs and watching kids dressed in their Sunday best hunt for them in the yard. To make sure your family's holiday is healthy, follow these pointers from Hilary Shallo Thesmar, director of the Egg Safety Center:

  • Keep your hands clean. Wash them between cooking, cooling, dyeing, and decorating.
  • Make sure the decorating materials you use are food safe. The packaging should say so.
  • Adhere to the two-hour rule. "This is the longest that eggs can be kept out of the refrigerator," says Shallo Thesmar.
  • Dye the eggs in water that's warmer than the eggs. Otherwise, the egg will absorb water and dye.
  • If you hide eggs outdoors, choose locations where pets, birds, or other animals can't get to them. You should also make sure the eggs don't come into contact with lawn chemicals. Another solution: Shallo Thesmar suggests making one set for eating and another set for hiding.
  • After you've found all the hidden eggs, throw out any that have cracks. And don't forget to discard those that have been at room temperature for more than two hours.

Suzanne Farrell, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, separates egg fact from fiction.

Myth: Eating more than two or three yolks a week can dangerously boost cholesterol and the risk for heart disease.
The facts: While eggs have cholesterol, they're low in saturated fat -- the chief heart disease culprit. As part of a healthy diet, an egg or two a day is okay.

Myth: Brown eggs are more natural, and more nutritious, than white.
The facts: An egg's color is determined by the hen it came from, so they are equivalent nutritionally.

Myth: Eggs keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.
The facts: Fresh eggs last in the fridge for four to five weeks; toss hard-cooked eggs after one week. Store eggs in the back of the fridge, where it's coldest.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2007.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.