Eggs…part 1: good or bad…?

Go to work on an egg!!
That’s what the egg people told us for years and we did as we were bid, but then the tide turned and eggs got egg on their own faces for being suddenly unhealthy. To the eggstent (sorry) that when the industry applied to re-run the ads in 2007, to mark their 50th anniversary, the request was refused as it was deemed that eggs were not healthy. Fools. Of course, the tide has turned and now we can gorge on them…apparently. Well, at least until the pendulum swings back the other way and we are warned off them…again…
When Egg-Gate reigned and Eggwina Curry was causing a scandal, eggs became vilified as evil purveyors of disease and cholesterol and the word on the street was even rubbing up against one by accident might kill you one way or another. Salmonella is rare now and time and studies have shown that the negative claims about cholesterol are not, in truth, er…true. Waves of attitude and decisions ricochette off the back of a breaking news story and eggs have never quite recovered in some ways and the UK is still the lowest consumer of them in Europe. Salmonella aside, people still think of cholesterol as a deadly enemy…but by now you must be on to the whole good and bad cholesterol thing, right? Right?!?
Okay, just in case, here’s the deal…basically there are two types: Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). One has been labelled good (HDL) the other bad (LDL). Not the best terms, or easiest to remember, but they serve a purpose. So Bad is in animal fats and animal products (that’s why eggs got tarred with the same brush) and good from plant sources like avocado and nuts. Bad, naughty LDL has the function of carrying cholesterol to the cells for its vital purpose but when there’s too much and it cannot find a taker, it just dumps it in the arteries (like a flyer distributor just junking the flyers in a lay-by). You NEED the good as it is not only part of the structure of every cell in your body, but it synthesises vitamin D, heals you, protects your nerves, helps your brain work and carries fat away from the liver etc. AND most importantly carries stray deposited LDL out of the blood stream and back to the liver to be recycled. Ok, so it’s now accepted that eggs are good cholesterol and so hoorah! Let’s hear it for eggs…!
Apart from this whole eggs are a complete protein (sometimes referred to as a high quality protein). This means they contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs to build, repair and sustain and subsequently recommended for all age groups. They are low calorie and yet one of the single best sources of complete protein that exist. They also contain loads of vitamins (especially B5, B12, B2, E and D) and minerals (especially harder to get ‘trace’ ones like selenium, iodine and molybdenum). It is regarded as one of the best sources of a vitamin grouped into the B complex called choline (essential from brain development and function and protection of the liver). However, research shows that a hen fed on decent natural foods (hens are naturally omnivores and this range of food directly affects the eggs) can produce eggs with nearly 200% more high quality vitamins like E and D than a caged bird. Similarly, the yolk has beneficially omega-3 fatty acids but, again, only if the hen has been fed properly as…and this will be a almost tedious reoccurring theme…the egg is only as healthy as the food the hen has been fed. This is utterly key to the entire subject of the health benefits of eggs, so pay attention throughout please!! So, they are healthy and will keep you fuller for longer as well so we perhaps should return to the old , seemingly very sound , advice and go to work on an egg…but crucially the right kind of egg…
There are a zillion websites expounding at great length regarding the health benefits of eggs so I’ll leave you to have a look at those because I really want to concern this set of posts with the nitty gritty of working out how to find a decent egg!
All is not as straight forward in the world of eggs as we might hope (when is it ever these days?!?) So how do we know a good egg from a rotten egg? How can we be sure the egg is a good quality product from a carefree and jolly hen? The subject is messy though (a right scramble) it’s part nutrition, part ethical and more besides – throw in a silly politician and a few layers of what could be labelled as ‘deceit’ and we have a right good mystery, no? So it’s on with Miss Marple’s felt Garbo hat and time to find out what’s really going on…
The real nub of this wrangle is the quality of the eggs and more specifically where they come from. Before any smartypants retort with ‘out of it’s____!!’, I’ll say I know it is ‘laid’ out it its ‘vent’ and how and why, but the point is what journey has that egg been on, and how has the hen been treated. The better the journey the better the nutrients in the egg. And as a perfect egg is clearly a perfect form of protein, keeps you fuller longer and has just about every key vitamin and mineral encased in them, surely  it is rather important isn’t it to know the true bigger picture?
See part 2…

Vitamin D…

It seems only pertinent at this time of the year when the sun is hibernating and the whites of our eyes are greying, to mention one of the hardest vitamins to uptake…the ‘sunshine vitamin’.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble. This is something I’m sure many people read and think ‘ah okay’ but just in case you don’t actually know what that means…it means that the vitamin is absorbed into the body along with fats through the intestine walls and also stored in fat in the body and is eliminated much more slowly than water-soluble vitamins (and therefore you can have too much of a good thing) but, crucially, this means you need to consume some fat to absorb the vitamins…think on.

The main benefit of Vitamin D is it works in conjunction with calcium and phosphorus to build strong bones and teeth. Recent research has shown that vitamin D is, however, no ordinary vitamin (because it’s not technically a vitamin but that’s another story…) and has a far reaching, vital role to play. Vitamin D is thought to be the access code, as-it-were, to the DNA options each and every cell has, and without vitamin D the cells cannot operate at optimum levels. Receptors that use vitamin D as their trigger are in every type of cell in your body from your vital organs to your bones. It is thought that the cells respond to a vitamin D trigger and open up their ability to fight infection, inflammation and a host of common chronic diseases like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, flu, eczema, dementia and heart disease. The MS Society’s recent research suggests a link between lack of vitamin D in early childhood, or even before birth, and an increased risk of developing MS later in life. Other developed diseases in children like rickets (weak muscles, soft bones) are linked directly to the lack of absorption of bone building minerals due to the absence of vitamin D. The elderly (especially those housebound or in care homes), or those for whom their beliefs require their skin to be completely covered, may also be susceptible. And, for ladies, bear in mind that as your oestrogen production declines you may need to consider a touch more vitamin D to give your body a helping hand with it’s calcium absorption.

Although your cells do have other ways to access their DNA, vitamin D is the most natural and efficient. So how can we make sure we get the RDA? Following are the EU recommended daily amounts for different ages:

0 – 12 months : 25µg/day (1000IU)

1 – 10 years : 50µg/day (2000IU)

11 – 17 years : 100µg/day (4000UI)

17+ : 100µg/day (4000UI)

µg means micrograms (one millionth of a gram, so how much of a vitamin is in the tablet). IU means international units (used for fat-soluble vitamins and states their potency).

The recommended amount varies so much from country to country, which makes sense for some places, but think about the fact that Canada has a RDA of only around 600IU. On the other hand an American organisation the Vitamin D Council says that a healthy human body utilises around 3000 – 5000IU of vitamin D each day, which is vastly higher than any recommended dose. Pregnant and lactating mothers needing a whopping 6000IU, they say. One of the UK’s leading nutrition experts, Patrick Holford concurs that the RDA falls woefully short. The amounts need by children and adults coping with MS, cancer, heart disease or obesity may be double this. It’s worth noting that you can end up with dangerously high levels of calcium in your system from over intaking vitamin D supplements. Always check with a doctor before taking very high doses of, well, anything really!

Very few foods contain vitamin D. A few products are fortified with it like milk, cereals, margarine and spreads, but it occurs mostly in oily fish like wild salmon, herring, tuna and mackerel (including the tinned variety). Eggs, cod liver oil and mushrooms are also a source (shiitake – especially those dried in the sun – and white button mushrooms). Incidentally to reduce the loss of the vitamin in these foods cook them with no oil. Bake or grill instead of frying.

However, it is unlikely that you can get enough vitamin D through diet alone, and the best known method of getting your requirement of the vitamin is well documented – sunshine. A scant few minutes in the sun a day provides you with all the vitamin D you need. Ultra violet sun rays react with the oils and fats on, in and under the skin and produce the vitamin (specifically cholecalciferol – D3), which is then absorbed into the body. The general rule regarding sunlight is that approx 15 minutes a day on bare skin, depending on your skin colour and how much of your skin is actually exposed to the sunlight, is ideal. Some reports say three times a week is adequate and, as long as you get this requirement through the spring and summer, will last you through the sunless times! Other reports disagree…hmmm…

A couple of things to bear in mind. The vitamin D produced doesn’t immediately absorb so showering immediately after sun exposure will likely wash any health benefits away. Sunscreen inhibits the production of the vitamin so the vitamin producing sun exposure has to be direct. This goes for exposure through glass, as glass blocks the UVB which is the part of the solar spectrum that triggers the vitamin production (but glass does allow UVA through which has potentially harmful effects…just can’t win can you?!?) Obviously, be aware that over exposure or burning your skin is very dangerous! But you knew that right…?!?

As there doesn’t seem to be a definitive ruling on all this sun exposure malarkey, and the naysayers are unsure that the exposure rate is safe enough to ensure you meet your vitamin D needs without increasing your risk of skin cancer (cheerful lot aren’t they?), it seems the best way forward, for those of us who seem to endure endless grey skies and rain, is through our diets with additional assistance from supplements. Looking around it seems like 25µg (1000IU) is suggested in the winter and 15µg (600IU) at other times.

Full spectrum lighting (the definite way forward regardless), SAD lamps, light boxes etc are sometimes heralded as the answer but check that the light is emitting UVB or there’ll be no triggering of the production of vitamin D how ever long you sit under it, although you might feel jollier, of course…