Up Close & Edible: Eggs

Once considered cholesterol-laden no-no's, eggs are making a comeback. That's great news for egg lovers who have avoided them, "thinking it would put them in an early grave," says Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietitian at University Hospitals of Cleveland. "Eggs are an almost perfect food."

Eggs lost their breakfast staple status when nutritionists linked dietary cholesterol (the  cholesterol found in foods such as meat, seafood, eggs, dairy and poultry) with a person's overall serum cholesterol levels (the cholesterol level in your bloodstream). But new research shows that dietary cholesterol does not play as big a role in boosting cholesterol levels as previously thought.

In a meta-analysis of 224 dietary studies carried out over the last 25 years, researchers from the University of Arizona found that saturated fat is the culprit behind high cholesterol levels, with dietary cholesterol having little to no effect on blood cholesterol for most people. And researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found no relationship between egg consumption and cardiovascular disease in a population of more than 117,000 nurses and health professionals who were followed for a period of eight to 14 years. In fact, there was no difference in heart-disease risk between those folks who ate less than one egg a week and those who ate more than one egg a day.

For a cheap, readily available and potent source of nutrition, you can't beat the egg. Although one medium egg is only about 70 calories, it is considered nutrient dense, meaning that it is loaded with good-for-you vitamins and minerals. The egg white is an amazing source of protein (about 5.5 grams). The protein found in eggs rates a "biological value" of 93.7, higher than that found in milk or beef. (The "biological value" is a measurement that determines how efficiently a protein is used by the body.)

Eggs are also a great source of chemical called choline, which allows your nerves to communicate with your muscles. And they are high in lutein, which may help prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Eggs are relatively low in fat. One large egg contains about 5 grams. Most of that fat, which is contained in the yolk, is of the good-for-you unsaturated variety. And since it is a whole food, it contains no manmade trans-fats.

While there are no specific recommendations as to how many eggs you can eat in a day, there are some guidelines. For example, one egg contains about 213mg of cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that you shouldn't eat more than 300mg of dietary cholesterol per day as part of an overall healthy diet. That means an egg a day is just fine if you are not sensitive to dietary cholesterol, and if you load up on fruits, vegetables, low-fat diary and lean meats as part of your overall daily diet.

The biggest problem with eggs is what you might eat with them. So skip the fried egg (unless you use low-fat margarine or a nonstick pan), hash browns and bacon. Your best bet is to keep it simple. A smart breakfast, for example, is one hard-boiled egg with a side of oatmeal, which will give you a dose of fiber.

And to settle the age-old dispute, brown eggs are not higher in nutrition. According to the American Egg Board, white shelled eggs are produced by hens with white feathers and ear lobes. Brown eggs come from hens with red feathers and red ear lobes.