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Eggs and nutrition

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (baltimoresun.com/pictureofhealth), which is reprinted here. This week, Elaine Pelc weighs in on eggs.

Are eggs really incredible? Yes! Eggs are affordable, a great source of lean protein, full of vitamins and minerals and low in calories, weighing in at about 70 calories each.

Over the years eggs have received a bad rap for their cholesterol content. While eggs do contain cholesterol, that may not necessarily be a reason to avoid them. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one large egg contains 185 milligrams of cholesterol, which is 14 percent lower than previously thought. The American Heart Association recommends managing serum cholesterol levels by lowering your trans and saturated fat intakes, not through dietary sources of cholesterol. This means cutting back on full-fat dairy, fatty cuts of meat, butter, pre-packaged snacks and fast foods such as donuts and French fries. Multiple studies have shown that consuming one egg daily is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Composition of an egg

One egg contains 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of (mostly healthy) fats (1.5 grams saturated), 125 mg of choline, 24 micrograms of folate, vitamins A, D, E, B12, B6, riboflavin, thiamin and multiple minerals (calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron and zinc.) Eggs also contain 166 micrograms of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants which are essential for eye health.

The white of the egg is mostly protein, while the yolk contains the fat, cholesterol and the majority of the vitamins and minerals, as well as approximately one-fifth of the total protein content of an egg.

The nutrients as well as vitamins and minerals that make up an egg provide a myriad of health benefits:

Protein: The highest quality protein is found in eggs and is often used by scientists as a standard for measuring the quality of other protein sources. The minimum recommended daily allowance for protein for an adult is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (2.2 pounds = 1 kilogram). So for a 150 pound person, 55 grams of protein would be the minimum RDA.

Protein and weight loss: Protein contributes to increased satiety, a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, which can lead to decreased intake overall, assisting with weight loss or weight management. Research has shown that eating eggs during the first meal of the day leaves people feeling more satisfied, reducing their overall calorie intake throughout the day, and decreasing snacking between meals.

Protein and muscle loss: Optimal protein intake can also play a role in decreasing or slowing the effects of sarcopenia: chronic age-related muscle loss. Research shows that muscle protein synthesis (growth) is inhibited in elderly patients who consume less than 20 grams (3 ounces) of protein-rich foods at each meal.

Choline: Eggs provide 23 percent of the daily value of choline. Choline is essential for all cells, especially those involved in memory, metabolism, brain and nerve function, and nutrient transport throughout the body. Choline promotes brain and memory development in infants and plays a role in the prevention of birth defects. Other foods sources of choline include milk, liver and peanuts.

Selenium: Eggs provide 27 percent of the recommended daily allowance of selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant and works along with vitamin E to protect cells from chronic damage. Brazil nuts, canned tuna and poultry top the list for food sources of selenium.

Riboflavin, vitamin B12 and phosphorous: Eggs are a good source of riboflavin (a B vitamin), vitamin B12 and phosphorous, which help provide energy to cells, assist with cell function, healthy bones and teeth as well as energy production in the body.

Cooking with eggs

Anyone who cooks knows that eggs play a huge role in the cooking and baking world. The whites can create and hold foams that provide the main structure of meringues, angel food cakes and soufflés. The yolks also have the ability to foam, however they are also great binders, which is essential when making mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce and sponge cakes. Yolks are often used to add an element of richness to sauces or soups.

Incorporating eggs into your diet

Most people should limit intake of whole eggs to 1 per day or 7 per week.

Try a breakfast omelet with 1 whole egg and additional whites or egg beaters along with your favorite veggies.

Make low-fat egg salad with 1 whole egg, 1-2 additional whites, dill, pepper and 1 TBSP of light mayonnaise.

Add a chopped hardboiled egg or egg whites to a salad to bump up the protein and make it more filling.

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