01.06.2010 Nutrition

A Good Egg

A good quality egg, from chickens on organic pasture, is excellent nutrition, says wholefood cook Jude Blereau

Following on from an article last year titled "To Eat a Fish" where I directed my focus to one particular food, now comes the egg. An egg (especially the yolk) is one of the most nutrient-dense of foods - indeed, all other protein is measured against the egg. That egg yolk? It is a treasure of critical nutrients, including:

* Choline and cholesterol, both of which are critical for the development and function of the brain. In children, choline provides insulation for the still forming nerves in the brain.
* Biotin, a B vitamin for healthy skin and nerves.
* The long chain Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acid and the very long chain fatty acids DHA and EPA, all critical for development and continued function of the brain and nervous system.
* The fat-soluble vitamins A and D, which aid absorption and utilisation of minerals and are involved in many other functions in the body, including the immune system.

A good egg, however, is a very different thing from the many that pretend to be. A good egg comes from chickens that range on lush grass, eat scraps with some organic grain, and peck for insects as they roam - those insects are their protein source. They may cost you more, but are absolutely worth it. These eggs are a far richer source of the omega 3 essential fatty acids and those gorgeous fat-soluble vitamins, and one of the cheapest ways to get nutrient density.

But what about those labelled barn laid or free range? In the case of barn laid, while the chickens are not caged, and perches and nesting boxes are supplied, there is no access to the outdoors, and they will be eating grain, including the possibility of genetically modified grain and legumes in the feed.

Free range can mean many things, but the lovely picture of chickens roaming freely over the pastures portrayed in advertising is rarely the truth. The Australian consumer magazine CHOICE, in a report on free range eggs, noted that this term can be very misleading. CHOICE notes birds are often raised in large flocks in large sheds and while there may be a door for them to go outside, the birds may never actually find that door. Again, it is highly likely they will be eating GM grains and legumes in their feed.

Stocking rates vary - the highest population density is for caged birds (approx 18 hens per sq metre indoors), slightly less for barn laid (approx 15 per square metre indoors), and less again for free range (approx 5 per square metre indoors). Organic stocking runs at approximately 5 per square metre when indoors.

Some certifications and accrediting systems can help you choose a more humanely raised egg; for barn laid eggs, look for the RSPCA approved symbol which only allows a maximum of 7 birds per square metre; for free range, look for the Humane Society International (HSI), RSPCA, and the Free Range Egg & Poultry Association of Australia symbols. When buying organic or biodynamic eggs, look for those that also say on the label "free ranging" or "grass pastured", as some organic eggs may just actually come from birds eating organic grain.

One dozen organic, grass pastured eggs will cost approx $8.50 - $9.50 per dozen. This works out to 79 cents per egg, and I would argue, that is not expensive when you consider what if offers you - premium raw ingredients with which to build, heal, or run a body. In the kitchen they are invaluable. With a little heat they bind vegetables together to form patties and fritters or thicken a custard. Provide a little more heat, and they will curdle into wonderful scrambled eggs. With a little beating they will hold and trap air, to lighten and help rise many a cake or pancake. Where there is egg in a cake or pancake batter, the crumb will be better textured.

Looking at eggs another way, they are very Yang (warming and contractive) foods - grounding could be another adjective that springs to mind. An egg breakfast is particularly grounding, and provides a large amount of nutrient for thinking and doing. When I think of an adjective to describe how I feel after an egg breakfast, it would be grounded. When I think of an adjective to describe how I feel after a grain breakfast (albeit wholegrain, properly prepared and served with some fat, stewed fruits and a handful of nuts and seeds) it would be fuelled, but less grounded.

This is not a hard and fast rule, as we are all different, but it generally holds true. But it's also good to remember that eggs are rich foods, and building foods. So enjoy, but don't go crazy. I personally find that you can't overdo them anyway, as your body will say to you, no thank you, not today. Neither have I talked about that elephant over there, sitting in the middle of the room. Yes him, cholesterol. An egg yolk is an especially rich source of cholesterol and, as noted earlier, a critical nutrient for a healthy body, brain, hormones and reproductive system. So eat away and enjoy.

Lastly, there is unfortunately a widespread belief that you should not eat raw eggs due to a fear of salmonella. It pays to remember that many animal and animal product diseases have only appeared since the introduction of intensive and industrialised farming systems, salmonella in eggs among them. I, and others over many generations, have grown up healthy and happy eating plenty of raw eggs in foods like mayonnaise and smoothies with no problems.

I can't stress enough how important it is that you source high quality, good eggs, from a farmer who raises his or her chickens on good organic pasture, lets them roam and peck, and supplements with some organic grain. I would never, ever eat a commercial egg (including organic grain fed chicken eggs) raw. I would encourage you to find a farmer you trust and form a relationship with them. I am lucky to have such a farmer and I make sure I get to the market to deal with him - such is the value an egg holds in my kitchen and nourishment.

Read Jude's article "To Eat a Fish" in the November 2009 Dreams issue on NOVA's online archive at www.novaholisticjournal.com

Jude Blereau

Jude Blereau is a wholefood cook and writer based on Perth. www.wholefoodcooking.com.au