Eggs are cheap, convenient, and an eggcellent part of a well-balanced diet.
Yet for decades, eggs have been controversial because of their high cholesterol content.
As a nutrition professional who is personally egg obsessed, I had to uncover the truth. Rather than a perfect food, might eggs actually be causing our bodies damage or disease?
It all comes down to how you eat them.
So what is the healthiest and unhealthiest way to eat eggs? It depends on the cooking method, the type that you have, and what you combine them with. Eggs are incredibly healthy if you cook them well enough to kill bacteria but without overcooking them to destroy important nutrients. When frying them, it’s important to use oil that has a high smoke point. And it’s best to use natural, pasture-raised eggs, combined with lots of vegetables.
Let’s scramble up the research and uncover the healthiest and unhealthiest ways to eat eggs.
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Macronutrient Make-Up of Eggs
If there was such a thing as perfect food, eggs would be pretty darn close. They are rich in protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals while being relatively low in calories and carbs.
When it comes to protein, eggs are a complete protein source, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks).
According to the USDA, one whole, large egg contains the following nutrients:
Eggs are rich in many nutrients which help build muscle and improve overall health. They are rich in iron and folate which help carry oxygen throughout the body and maintain healthy cells. They’re packed with B vitamins such as vitamin B12 which helps with energy and metabolism.
Egg.ca teaches us that eggs have superfood benefits such as choline which helps improve our brain function. Selenium and vitamin E act as antioxidants, protecting your body from free radicals and slowing the aging process. And bonus nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin are known as important vision improvers.
Healthiest Way to Eat Eggs
In the legendary movie, Rocky (1976), he guzzles down a tall glass of raw eggs first thing in the morning. After this movie, raw eggs were thought to be the bodybuilder’s breakfast. But this was before the salmonella, food borne illness scare.
1. COOK TO PLAY IT SAFE
As with most foods, there’s a fine balance between cooking eggs long enough in order to kill harmful bacteria while not overcooking them to the point of damaging the nutrients it contains.
According to NutritionFacts.org, in 2010 more than half a billion eggs were recalled due to salmonella outbreaks. This is why there are currently strict guidelines around how to properly store and cook your eggs.
The Egg Safety Center, states that egg safety starts when you shop for eggs. Open the carton and make sure there are no visible cracks or leaking eggs. Check the date on the package and use your eggs within three weeks of the sell by date
A general rule to follow is that if any egg looks or smells strange, it should not be used. Try cracking it into a bowl and smell it before cooking it.
Refrigerate your eggs at 45°F or below. When you cook the eggs, make sure to wash your hands before and after touching the eggs so you don’t cross contaminate. When you cook the eggs, aim for a temperature between 144 and 158°F.
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2. COOK TO RELEASE MORE NUTRIENTS
Cooking eggs makes them safer to eat and makes it so the nutrients are easier for your body to digest and absorb.
In fact, one study found that cooking eggs makes it so the body can use almost twice as much of the protein found in raw eggs.
Cooking also increases some of the nutrient availability such as biotin. This is a B-vitamin that helps your body convert food into energy to use, supporting your metabolism. It’s also helpful for your hair, skin, and nails.
3. DON’T OVERCOOK THEM THOUGH
Thoroughly cooking eggs can help keep them safe and make some nutrients easier to digest, but overcooking can actually increase some unhealthy substances.
Free radicals are molecules that wreak havoc in your body, causing damage to cells, proteins, and DNA. They’re linked to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Excessive cooking at high heats can deplete eggs of their antioxidants. Antioxidants are healthy nutrients that protect your body from those harmful free radicals. One study found that boiling, frying, or microwaving can reduce the antioxidant content in eggs.
When eggs are heated at high temperatures, such as with frying or processing, the cholesterol can become oxidized. This has been linked to some health concerns and disease.
Best Ways To Cook Eggs
The best way to cook and prepare your eggs are simple. Boil, poach, bake, or low pan fry and use minimal oils or sauces.
Hard-boiled eggs are healthy and portable! Making them a perfect pre- or post-workout snack and ideal if you’re on a powerlifting diet.
To hard boil eggs, bring a pot of water to a boil. Gently add eggs using a spoon, so the shells don’t break as you put them in the pot. Boil eggs for 8-10 minutes, depending how well cooked you want the yolk.
Poached eggs are cooked in a similar way as boiled eggs but cooked for less time, and outside of the shell. Vinegar is helpful to coagulate the white but it’s not required.
To poach an egg, heat water in a pot until it reaches a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Crack your egg(s) into a small bowl, then gently slip the egg into the simmering water. Turn the heat off, cover the pan, and cook for 4 minutes or until the whites are completely cooked. Gently remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, serve and enjoy.
Baked eggs are a highly nutritious and easy dish. They are very adaptable. You can serve them with your choice of toppings of mix-ins.
To bake eggs, preheat your oven to 350ºF. It’s best to use a non-stick pan but if you need, add a bit of cooking spray such as coconut oil. Crack egg(s) into a muffin tin. Bake the egg(s) for 14-18 minutes or until the whites are fully cooked and the yolks are to your liking.
4. LOW PAN FRY
Frying eggs is a classic. Whether you like them over easy (cooked on both sides), sunny side up (fried on one side) or scrambled (whisked in a bowl), they can be a healthy addition to your well-rounded diet.
What Can You Add To Eggs?
What you add to your eggs can have a big impact on how healthy your eggs are! For instance, some bacon can be a healthy part of a bodybuilding diet, as long as the rest of your day is focused on protein foods.
But take a look at this table to see how quickly your egg additions can add to your calories!
LOAD UP ON VEGETABLES
Eggs pair perfectly with vegetables. It can be one of the easiest ways to get your daily recommended two to three cups per day.
Keep leafy greens like arugula or spinach in the fridge and throw a handful into your morning eggs. Or top your eggs and toast with some microgreens or fresh herbs.
Heat up some leftover vegetables such as asparagus or zucchini and make a simple and healthy omelette.
Add some fresh salsa to your eggs to give your eggs a Southwestern flare — Breakfast taco recipe to come!
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Unhealthy Ways to Cook Your Eggs
1. AVOID HIGH TEMPERATURES
If you cook eggs at high temperatures, especially for extended periods of time, you may lose nutrients and damage some of the healthy properties of the eggs. As we learned earlier, it may also oxidize cholesterol.
2. USE OILS THAT CAN HANDLE HIGH HEAT
When pan-frying your eggs, use oils that can handle high heat temperatures, called a high smoke point. If you heat oil past this smoke point, it can lead to the healthy fats being damaged, producing free radicals that can cause inflammation and toxic chemicals in your body.
A good rule of thumb to know if you’ve passed the smoke point is if you see a grey-colored smoke while heating, or if you hear cracks and splats.
Some oils with a higher heat temperature include: peanut oil, expeller pressed canola oil, and avocado oil.
Different Types of Eggs: Does it Make a Difference?
Healthline breaks it down for us. There are different types of eggs and the nutritional content varies depending on how the hens were raised and what they were fed.
Free-range means that the hens have the option of going outside.
Cage-free simple means that they aren’t raised in a cage; they could still be in a stuffy house.
Omega-3-enriched means that the feed is supplemented with omega-3 such as flax seeds.
Pasture-raised eggs are allowed to roam free and eat natural food (plants and insects) as well as conventional feed.
Organic is not treated with hormones and only receive the organic feed.
Conventional are standard eggs that are usually fed grain.
Studies have shown that when conventional, organic, and omega-3-enriched eggs were compared, they had different nutrient profiles.
The omega-3 eggs had five times as much heart-healthy omega-3 as the conventional eggs. And there was little difference between organic and conventional eggs.
When comparing conventional versus pasture-raised eggs, studies show that pastured eggs are more rich in vitamins A and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. The hens who have access outdoors lay eggs with a lot more vitamin D.
To Yolk or Not to Yolk
The primary function of an egg yolk is to supply food and energy for the developing embryo, making it rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, and essential fatty acids.
In the 1980’s eggs (and in particular their yolks) got a bad wrap because of the high cholesterol content.
However, health experts such as Mayoclinic explain that eggs are naturally high in cholesterol but eggs don’t seem to raise blood cholesterol levels the way other foods that are high in trans fats and saturated fats do.
They explain that although previous studies have found a link between eating eggs and heart dis
ease, there may be other reasons for these findings such as the fact that the participants also ate a lot of processed foods and meats such as fried bacon, sausage, and ham.
Mayoclinic goes on to describe that most people can eat up to seven eggs per week without increasing their risk of heart disease. Some studies have even shown that this level of eggs may even help prevent certain types of stroke and eye conditions.
Other thorough research, such as a 2015 review of 40 studies, has suggested that as long as your body is in a healthy state, it will regulate the amount of blood cholesterol it produces. So the amount of eggs you eat is not necessarily a concern — within reason of course.
Eggs are cheap, high in protein, and very nutritious.
Keep in mind that just because eggs can be healthy, doesn’t mean that they are best for your body. For instance, avoid them if you have an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance to them.
If you suffer from a chronic disease such as high cholesterol or diabetes, you may want to consider limiting your intake. If you aren’t sure, ask your doctor!
But if you’re healthy and eggs make you feel great, they’re an amazing addition to a standard healthy diet, bodybuilding diet, or powerlifting diet.
When you’re experimenting with the many ways to cook eggs, make sure to heat them enough to kill bacteria but without overcooking them. Use oil that has a high smoke point and cook at a lower temperature. Aim to best to use natural, pasture-raised eggs, and add lots of vegetables.
What’s most important is focusing on a healthy diet and active lifestyle that promotes balance and makes you feel your personal best.
About The Author
Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.
Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.
She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.