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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

How to safely consume eggs

Updated: 7 days ago


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The nutritional benefits of eggs are well-documented. In this article, I'll outline the nutritional properties of eggs, cooked and raw. I'll offer advice about how to safely consume eggs, especially as it relates to pregnant and breast-feeding women.


I've changed my mind!

As nutritional science advances, it's estimated that up to 70 percent of the dietary advice we provide today could later be proven partially or entirely incorrect. As a health professional, it's essential to acknowledge this fact and be prepared to modify my recommendations accordingly. For example, readers may notice that some of my advice regarding raw egg consumption has evolved to align with current scientific knowledge.


Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse

Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, containing a wealth of essential nutrients that are particularly important for brain development in the early years. The yolk of a raw egg is especially rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are important for maintaining healthy vision, strong bones, a robust immune system, and normal blood clotting.


In addition to these vitamins, egg yolks are also a rich source of protein, providing the body with the necessary building blocks for growth and repair. Eggs are also a good source of biotin, a B vitamin that's important for healthy skin, hair, and nails. They also contain the amino acid methionine, which is essential for growth and tissue repair.


The nutritional profile of eggs is indeed impressive, offering a plethora of essential nutrients that are foundational to our well-being. Yet, the spectre of salmonella looms over this otherwise wholesome food. In the following section, I'll scrutinise the safety of consuming raw eggs and provide strategies to mitigate the risk of infection.


Why consuming a mix of cooked and raw eggs is nutritionally valuable but not essential


The nutritional quality of an egg undergoes several changes as it transitions from raw to hard-boiled:


  1. Protein Structure Alterations: Cooking eggs causes the proteins to denature, meaning they unfold and then reconnect in a different structure. This change makes the proteins more digestible and easier for the body to utilise. For instance, the digestibility of protein in cooked eggs is about 90 percent, compared to 50 percent in raw eggs.

  2. Vitamin Reduction: The cooking process can lead to a decrease in certain vitamins, especially those sensitive to heat and oxygen, such as vitamin A, B vitamins, and vitamin D. The longer an egg is cooked, the more potential there is for vitamin loss, though the reduction in vitamins for which eggs are a rich source is generally minimal.

  3. Fat and Cholesterol Oxidation: High-temperature cooking can cause the oxidation of cholesterol and fats within the egg yolk. Oxidised cholesterol and fats may be detrimental to health, contributing to inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease. However, boiling eggs results in minimal oxidation compared to frying or cooking at higher temperatures.

  4. Antioxidant Levels Increase: Cooking enhances the levels of certain antioxidants in eggs. For example, the bioavailability of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial for eye health, increases with cooking. Boiling or poaching eggs boosts the concentration of these antioxidants.

  5. Fat Quality Remains Unchanged: The quality of fat within the egg doesn't significantly alter when boiled, as the temperatures aren't sufficiently high to cause harmful oxidation or the formation of trans fats, unlike frying or other methods involving high temperatures.

  6. Texture and Moisture Content: As an egg cooks from raw to hard-boiled, there's a slight decrease in water content, and the texture changes markedly. Both the egg white and yolk become firmer, which may influence the digestibility and absorption of some nutrients.

  7. Anti-nutrient Reduction: Raw egg whites contain avidin, a protein that binds to biotin (a B vitamin) and prevents its absorption. Cooking inactivates avidin, thereby enhancing the body's ability to absorb biotin more effectively.


So, on the balance of my investigations, I conclude that the cooking of eggs is the most favourable of choices, with the consumption of some eggs in raw form being secondary. Cooking eggs improves protein digestibility, reduces anti-nutritional factors, and enhances the bioavailability of some nutrients. Cooked eggs remain a highly nutritious option, offering a balanced mix of high-quality protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.


Debunking the salmonella myth

Salmonella, a bacterial scourge often synonymous with food poisoning, lurks in raw eggs, poultry, meat, and unpasteurised milk. Its symptoms are misery: diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. In its most severe form, it can lead to hospitalisation and, in tragic instances, death.


Yet, the likelihood of contracting a salmonella infection from raw eggs is infinitesimal. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that merely one in 20,000 eggs are tainted with salmonella. In practical terms, one would have to consume 20,000 raw eggs to face a 50 percent chance of salmonella poisoning.


By contrast, the threat of foodborne illness from more ubiquitous items is significantly greater. The CDC's figures suggest that one in six individuals will succumb to food poisoning from chicken meat annually. This implies that consuming cooked chicken is a more precarious endeavour than partaking of raw eggs. These risks probably apply equally to New Zealand as they do for the USA.


To mitigate the risk of salmonella from raw eggs, several measures can be taken. Purchase your eggs from reputable sources, store them in the fridge, and use within a week or two. For those particularly vulnerable — the expectant, the elderly, or the immunocompromised — abstaining from raw egg consumption may be their choice, bearing in mind the extremely low risk of infection.


If you still want to enjoy eggs, including raw, but want to further decrease your already tiny chances of getting sick, I've outlined several measures you can take:


Spotting and avoiding contaminated eggs

Here are some guidelines to help in the identification of eggs that may be tainted and best cooked or discarded (feed them to the cat or dog):


1. Inspect the eggshell for any fissures. A discerning eye can prevent the ingress of bacteria, such as Salmonella, through any fissures in the egg shell.

2. Check the expiry date. Eggs don't last forever. Their consumption post-expiry is a gamble with a foodborne illness.

3. Purchase eggs from trustworthy vendors. Purchase eggs from reputable stores or farmers' markets that maintain proper refrigeration and follow food safety guidelines.

4. Store your eggs correctly. Eggs should be kept in their protective carton in the fridge. For additional safety, gently wash the eggs in warm water with an added dash of household bleach. Dry, then store in the fridge.

5. Wash your hands before handling eggs. Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling eggs, particularly after contact with raw meat or poultry. This practise is vital in preventing cross-contamination and the proliferation of bacteria.

6. Cook eggs. Cooking eggs until their yolk and white are firm removes harmful bacteria.


Bear in mind that the greatest risk of infection from eggs may be from poorly stored egg products such as mayonnaise, and things like egg sandwiches that sit on display for too long before consumption.


Adhering to these guidelines can markedly diminish the threat of tainted eggs.


Precautions for pregnant and breastfeeding women

There are valid nutritional reasons for a diet incorporating both raw and cooked eggs. Although the risk of contracting Salmonella from fresh, uncooked eggs is minimal, pregnant or nursing mothers may opt for avoiding raw eggs while still consuming up to four cooked eggs per day.


Conclusion

Eggs remain a cornerstone of a healthy diet, offering indispensable nutrients. However, the tiny salmonella risk reminds us of the need for informed, cautious consumption, especially for vulnerable groups like pregnant and breastfeeding women.


The balance between harvesting eggs' nutritional rewards and avoiding health hazards highlights the importance of staying updated with nutritional science and adopting a balanced dietary approach.


By choosing, preparing, and storing eggs wisely, we can enjoy their vast benefits safely, guaranteeing a diet that supports our health and wellbeing.



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2 Comments


dtk
Mar 31

Thanks Gary, eggs can last for many weeks in the fridge & since each egg shell has ~18,000 pores it pays to put the carton inside a plastic bag to prevent dehydration.

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Gary Moller
Gary Moller
Mar 31
Replying to

Wow - thank you!

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