Whole Food Adventures: Eggs

Whole Food Adventures is a weekly discussion of the new dietary strategy that Catherine and I have been embarking on, by attempting to eat (as much as possible) foods with a minimal amount of processing and refinement. The theory of this is largely based on the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation, who promote health by returning our eating habits to more traditional foods.

Eggs have traditionally been a staple of many people’s diets. In 1950, it was estimated that the average person ate 389 eggs per year, however that number has been in steady decline ever since, due to the cholesterol content of the eggs. Nowadays, the average egg consumption is less than 180 eggs per person per year, and frankly, I think that number is likely skewed by people who don’t eat eggs and people who eat a lot of them.

The Weston A. Price foundation argues that the research that links cholesterol to heart disease is deeply flawed, but given that the popular knowledge is that cholesterol is bad (and I’m not sure I’m willing to accept that cholesterol shouldn’t be restricted), why should the humble egg be so villianized?

Eggs (specifically egg yolks) are one of the most vitamin rich foods available in nature, particularly Vitamin’s A and D. Furthermore, they contain fatty acids vital to proper brain function. In China, for generations, eggs have been considered such a powerful brain food, that pregnant women who could afford to do so have been known to eat ten eggs a day. Given that the Chinese unlikely have some sort of inborn knowledge of neurology, it seems likely that there was some form of positive correlation between egg consumption and brain function observed in historic China.

Eggs are such a vitamin rich food, that it is generally regarded that the only food that has as much Vitamin D as the average egg yolk, is cod liver oil, and at least eggs are far more palatable. However, there is a caveat to this. The humble egg is only as healthy as the chicken who laid it, and like pretty much every animal that means that they require a few things, like being able to go outside and forage.

Alas, the average chicken is not so lucky, being instead kept in a dark room, where they only interaction they have is food being dropped in front of them, and their eggs being pulled from behind them. Raising chickens in confined quarters is incredibly bad for the birds, as without exposure to sunlight (or at minimum a UV-B lamp) our humble chickens can’t produce any Vitamin D, and hence we can’t get any from them.

Partially because of this, many egg aficionados have made their way to buying ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’ eggs. Ironically, a ‘free-range’ chicken won’t necessarily ever go outside. ‘Free-range’ only requires that the bird have room to move around, and they don’t live in cages. Luckily, most free-range birds have better access to light, and the eggs from these birds are considered to be vastly healthier than their caged counterparts.

However, they’re still raised indoors, and they’re kept from eating the things that chickens have traditionally eaten, like bugs. In fact, in some jurisdictions, organic poultry must not eat any meat at all (the USDA has no rules for ‘certified organic’), which is just plain unnatural for the birds.

The best eggs, if you can find them, are from pasture raised. You can raise them yourself, if you’re so inclined, or you can buy them direct from someone else. The trick is, of course, finding them for a reasonable price. At the Moscow Farmers Market, a vendor was selling them for $5 a dozen, but I know you can do better than that.

Eggs, with their richness in vitamins, really are good for you. You owe it to yourself, and frankly the chickens, to find the best source of this goodness you can. And for health’s sake, don’t forget the yolk. That’s where all the goodness is.