On the Menu: Eggs-ellent and versatile powerhouses

A standalone source of protein, eggs offer a light meal option that is both nutritious and inexpensive


As I was growing up, eggs made a regular appearance at tea time. They were scrambled, boiled, poached or fried. A standalone source of protein, sometimes accompanied by a few baked beans, this light meal option was versatile, nutritious and inexpensive.

Over the years, our tastes broadened and their image changed. To minimise the elevation of blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommended that the public consume less than 300mg/day of cholesterol.

Since eggs are a major source of dietary cholesterol, with one large egg containing almost 210mg of cholesterol, worried consumers looked for alternative protein sources.

But cholesterol can be good and bad. It isn’t just found in your arteries but also in cell membranes and in the material that sheathes nerves. It plays an integral role in the production of hormones, such as oestrogen. It is a component of bile acids and fat digestion. Your liver and other tissue cells make about 75 per cent of blood cholesterol. The other 25 per cent comes from the foods you eat.

Genetics plays a role in your cholesterol levels. It seems that cholesterol in food such as eggs and shellfish contributes substantially to total and bad LDL cholesterol levels in only 15-30 per cent of the population. These are hyper-responders. However, the remaining 70-85 per cent of the population is unaffected by cholesterol in foods.

One of the largest egg studies, conducted by Hu et al (1999) and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined data from the health professionals’ follow-up study and the nurses’ health study. It reviewed dietary questionnaires from 37,851 men and 80,082 women.

They concluded that consumption of up to one egg a day is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) or stroke among healthy men and women. The increased risk of CHD associated with higher egg consumption among participants with diabetes warrants further research. This has most recently been confirmed by a meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal, January 2013.

Saturated fat
One reason for the lack of association between the egg and risk of CHD is that the egg is a good source of many nutrients, some of which might counterbalance the risk of heart disease.

From current research we know that saturated fat in the diet and not cholesterol in foods has the most influence on blood cholesterol levels. In light of these and other similar findings, several countries decided to drop their limitations on dietary cholesterol and focus solely on saturated fat.

Although eggs do contain some saturated fat, about two-thirds of the fat found in an egg is either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

If you’re eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, eggs are not the problem; it’s the umpteen other sources of saturated fat that are. Take the Japanese, for example: they are among the biggest egg consumers in the world, yet have the lowest rates of CHD.

Their overall diet is lower in saturated fat and higher in polyunsaturates.

With all the attention eggs get, you might be forgiven for thinking that the only thing they contain is cholesterol. But eggs are good complete proteins, with a myriad of vitamins and minerals. One egg has 7g of protein. High-protein foods are good choices for athletes and for older adults especially, as ageing tends to reduce lean body mass.

Nowadays, nutrition guidelines recommend that if your blood cholesterol levels are normal, you can enjoy up to seven eggs a week. An egg a day is okay.

For those on a cholesterol-lowering diet, there’s no need to cut them out. Just reduce to four-six eggs a week. Good news for slimmers, as the average egg contains just 87 calories and is a source of zinc, iron, iodine, vitamins A, D, E and some B vitamins.

So for most of us, it simply boils down to eating eggs in moderation. Who would have guessed.

Cold salmon frittata
I made this delicious light meal with the help of Donnagh at the Bunratty Cookery School. I left the seasoning to you. Serve with a rocket salad and horseradish dressing which is very hot and full of flavours.

To make the horseradish dressing: in a small bowl mix one teaspoon of horseradish with one tablespoon of milk and drizzle over the salad. You will need only a small amount of dressing.

Alternatively, serve with a vine tomato salad with a lemon olive oil. Slice the tomatoes thinly and arrange on a flat serving dish, grate the rind of a lemon over the tomatoes using a very fine grater and using only the yellow of the lemon as the white of the skin is bitter. Drizzle with a good quality olive oil. Leave to come to room temperature to allow the flavours to infuse.

Serves 6
300g potatoes, cooked
240g courgette
1 onion
6 medium-sized eggs
100ml low-fat milk
60g reduced-fat cheddar cheese, grated, to sprinkle over the top
1 salmon fillet, steamed or grilled

Pan fry the courgette and peppers until golden, add onion and cook until soft.
Whisk eggs and add milk and black pepper.
Slice the potatoes and add to pan.

Add egg mix and the salmon. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Turn down heat and continue cooking until nearly set. Finish under a moderate grill until golden brown. Serve hot or cold with salad.

Baked eggs with spinach & tomato
Recipe courtesy of Good Food magazine. I love this quick and simple light snack.
Serves 4

100g bag spinach
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tsp chilli flakes
4 eggs
1 tsp dried oregano
Lots of black pepper to season

Heat oven to 200°C/180°C fan. Put the spinach into a colander and pour over a kettle of boiling water to wilt the leaves. Squeeze out excess water and divide between four small ovenproof dishes. (You can take a short cut and just let the oven do the wilting.)

Mix the tomatoes and garlic with the chilli flakes and some seasoning, then add to the dishes with the spinach. Make a small well in the centre of each and crack in an egg. Bake for 15 mins or more depending on how you like your eggs. Serve with crusty wholegrain seeded bread and salad, if you like.

Serving suggestions: cube of melted goat’s cheese, drizzle of chilli oil, sprinkle of black olives or handful of capers.

Paula Mee is lead dietitian at Medfit Proactive Healthcare and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute. medfit.ie Tweet @paulamarymee

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